COPING WITH TRAGEDY: How are we supposed to react?

By Emma Guerard, 14, Venice HS
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Illustration by Emma Guerard, 14, Venice HS

After one afternoon of listening to CNN telling me to pray, I was getting sick of patriotism. But now I’ve made peace with my television and the good folks at CNN and I have nothing against patriotism at all. I am patriotic. I don’t have one of those flags that hooks onto your car window, but I do like being an American and I do like being alive and well.

People seem to be especially patriotic right now. I think it may be because they saw our country as a huge, unstoppable power or at least as a place where bad things don’t happen to us. We have had the freedom to travel, pursue careers, study, work and generally live as we please, protected by our country. When we watch two of our largest buildings tumble to the ground, we have to wonder how well these freedoms are protected.

Since September 11, I started to notice how much media floods our lives. It’s suddenly hard to block out the shrill chatter of radio DJs with their early morning rants. Advertisements that used to be simply annoying suddenly poke at something deep within me, and the television blasts at me. If there’s anything that I think will make this war different from any other, it’s the amount of information that’s being fed to the public.

And I can’t help but notice different groups taking advantage of that. I’m not sure what Old Glory means to people exactly—it could mean "give peace a chance" and it could mean "give me a chance at a piece of Osama bin Laden"—but it is quick becoming a powerful advertising tool. People who used to sell roses and oranges from the cement islands on our streets, are now selling little American flags. T-shirts that used to show basketball players, wrestlers or the concert star of your choice now say things like "Remember our heroes" or "God bless America." The kind of commercials that usually try to sell us hair removal products now promote American flag window ornaments, peel-and-display Old Glory graphics, and, if you call in the next 30 minutes, a limited edition American flag pin as our gift to you. But wait! There’s more! One car commercial suggests that it’s your duty as an American to buy a car, offering 0 percent financing "to keep America rolling." A cable commercial shows a white screen with the message "The power to unite is greater than the power to divide," which fades into the company’s logo. Maybe I’m cynical, but I don’t see how buying a car or cable television will help in the war against terrorism.

The point is that we are surrounded by a great amount of messages—some that may try to speak to us and some that may try to manipulate us. I believe this is a very important time to remember that not everything we are told is true. This is an important time to pay attention to what we are being told and to remember what our values are and what we as individuals believe is right.