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9/11 Jumper Photos and Taboo Memorial

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Think about the photographs and videos you remember from 9/11. Now think about which ones you weren’t supposed to see. Is the taboo fading?

A more ethically acceptable version of a jumper from Lyle Owerko

A little over a year ago, I wrote a post for my (then class project) Sight of Suffering blog about the ethics of viewing bodies from the September 11th attacks. Nearly the whole of the blog is about Americans, and others in the West, and their viewing of bodies from other places or other people. But when it comes to one of the deadliest single attacks on American soil, there are almost no images of bodies available to the public. That’s quite an interesting difference, isn’t it?

The one possible exception was “The Falling Man” by photographer Richard Drew, and he was absolutely lambasted for publishing it. The man’s daughter even disowned him in a comment to a journalist about it. Susie Linfield, a journalism professor from NYU gets at why the photo is so disturbing:

The jumper photographs make clear to us the utter vulnerability of the victims; they present us with terrorism as a human experience, not just a political crime. Those trapped in the Towers had only two choices—to jump to their deaths or to be incinerated—which is to say they had no choice at all. To moralize either “choice”—to despise one as cowardly and valorize the other as heroic—is to misunderstand both. What the 9/11 victims faced was the absence of options.

The further in time we get away from 9/11, I think we’ll find a little more acceptance of it. Every year around the anniversary we find a piece in the media about “rare” or “unforgettable” photographs of the event. For someone like me, who lived very far away from New York City and Washington, DC at the time and had never even visited those places, the media of the day is the memory.

For this year’s anniversary, an Australian outlet has published a collection of jumper photos. These are actual photos that exist in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, so they carry a certain weight of authority behind them that makes it less sleazy to look at.

What do you think? What media from the day stuck in your mind the most? Sixteen years later, do you think maybe time has taken the sting out of some taboos in remembrance?

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