Whenever there's a disaster, the television
cameras show us people who we never get to know. We see them for a few seconds; they tell us their story
, and then they're gone forever. Soldiers firing their guns over walls, people running away from napalm, children too weak from hunger to wave off flies, that kind of thing. Their lives boil down to a moment repeated and then they're gone.
Yesterday, on British television, I saw some of the following people over and over again. I'll only see them again in retrospective news footage, and I'll probably never know who they were, and what happened to them.
This node was inspired by a line in today's Guardian. I'm not sure that 'cowering' is the word I would use, but then again I don't write for the Guardian. The more I think about the word 'cowering' the less I like the Guardian.
- The camera moves along a street. It turns left to duck behind a car. There are two terrified women hiding behind it. We see them over and over again. Were they hurt? Did they move on later? Are they also reporters?
- A shaven-headed man who looks like Michael Stipe. He saw a man with his skin hanging off. He saw 13 or 14 people jumping.
- A man in a red jumper. He is interviewed about the events from which he has escaped. Unused to television, he smiles nervously throughout his interview.
- An overweight man from a distance, blue t-shirt, bag, big belly. Sauntering unconcerned from a dust cloud, as if nothing was wrong; does he know, does he not know, does he not care any more?
- A short woman is asked how she escaped from the towers. She is not sufficiently entertaining, and the camera moves onto a loud black woman who is more engaging. She is asked if she saw blood. She did. Her own leg is bleeding; look.
- A middle-aged man, his face a mask of blood, as if somebody had smeared jam all over his head. He seems shell-shocked, and doesn't seem to realise how badly injured he appears. This is why the news crew chose to focus on him. He answers questions, and then he is dragged off by a paramedic. His t-shirt is torn to bits.
- Stephen Evans of the BBC. Normally he's a business journalist dealing with Wall Street, and isn't the kind of reporter who would be sent to cover a disaster. But he's in the right place at the right time, and with the airlanes closed down the big reporting guns can't get there. Evans talks about the 'terribleness' of events and appears lost for words. A trained reporter, he keeps talking whilst he's thinking, but then there's a loud noise and he ducks. Behind him, a building collapses. The camera goes haywire and everybody retreats. He's not the un-named person; his cameraman, however, says 'Let's get out of here', a line that has appeared in every bad movie ever, but here, from the mouth of a non-actor, it actually means something. Evans must be thrilled to bits with his good fortune.
- The camera is following a fireman through dusty rubble, we don't see his face. It looks like something from 'Threads'. The camera follows. The fireman stops and the camera bumps into him. It doesn't matter. They carry on.
- Peter Jennings, an American newsreader who also commentated on the Munich Olympic massacre, is talking to somebody on the telephone. 'Did you say, the whole side of the building has collapsed?' he asks. The man replies, 'The whole building has collapsed', as if trying to convince, not just Jennings, but himself.
- A man in a blue shirt, seen from below, the camera looking past him to the towers. A plane dives into one, the man looks up. And pauses for a second, defeated by the speed of thought. Then he jumps back as if struck in the face.