Thursday, May 31, 2007

The American Consciousness

When I was growing up, I can remember a conversation that always puzzled me. The conversations were always on television (just because I rarely watch now does not mean I did not watch as a child). And the conversation concerned the assassination of John F Kennedy. All of the conversations, among different shows, were the same: "Where were you when you heard Kennedy was assassinated?"

I remember that question being asked on several shows. There are certain events that the whole nation, or most of it, understands. A shared consciousness.

An image of the Challenger Accident.Challenger Accident
January 28, 1986 - 73 seconds after launch, the space shuttle challenger exploded. I was in high school, and I can remember the social studies teacher wheeling out the television after the accident occurred. School stopped that day, and we were all glued to the televisions. There was a hushed silence in the school that day, for several minutes.

Those 73 seconds were played on the news that night, that day, that week. We heard a lot about space exploration after that. Really, NASA, which had been in the background for a few years, took center stage again. We heard about all seven astronauts that day, especially Christa McAuliffe – who was supposed to be the first teacher in space. The same Christa McAuliffe, when asked about the dangers of the mission, said, "Every shuttle mission's been successful."

Those older than me will remember Sputnik, they will remember Apollo 11 (Neil Armstrong, 'Buzz' Aldrin and Michael Collins) and Neil Armstrong's moon walk. Sort of reminds me of something Alan Shepard once said: "It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract."

The Day After
I was in middle school in 1983, when it seemed everybody watched "The Day After." Okay, I don't remember much about the movie, but it was a much anticipated movie, showing the effects of world war involving nuclear weapons. It was not the movie that was so important – but our reactions to the movie. This was in an age where newspapers had things about SALT and SALT II (Jimmy Carter), and Star Wars (Ronald Reagan). I was a child, so I did not pay close attention to it all. All I knew was that we had nuclear weapons, the USSR did as well, and we did not know if anyone could survive a "nuclear winter." This movie popularized the concept of a nuclear winter.

9-11
I remember hearing the news – about one, perhaps two airplanes that accidentally ran into a building in New York. Preliminary reports were very sketchy, and then when all flights were being grounded, we knew this was not an accident. I remember when there were 8 unaccounted for planes, one eventually running into the ground in rural Pennsylvania. And when we remember 9-11, most don't even recall the plane that hit the Pentagon. Sort of like it hit a military site, not as shocking as hitting a civilian structure. I did not really get that, but whatever.

Point is that this generation remembers what they were doing, whether it was getting breakfast, on the way into work, or waking up to a phone call from a friend or family member.

The point, I guess, is that there are certain events that grip the United States. Where we remember what we were doing when we heard. It is part of the American Consciousness.

14 comments:

~Deb said...

I find it amazing how each person can recall every single little detail about their day during those events. Does it hit the brain as "traumatic event" or just a "shocking episode"? It's almost as if it's scarred into our brain somehow.

As far as that movie, "The Day After", I still can't get the image out of my head of that woman walking down the road lighting up into pure dust. I was about 6 yrs old or something...and I still remember it. What a scary flick that was!

Prata said...

I did not see "The Day After". It sounds low budget, I'll have to go have a gander at it.

I don't recall anything much about 9/11 though, because I was listening to a CD in the car rather than the radio. I do recall that as I was driving down the street I had this weird little flash of light in my eyes. It was very weird it was like off in the distance and it looked so bright that it was burned into my retina for a second and looked like a negative of a huge explosion or something similar. When I got to work my boss was watching a slow motion video of the first plane slamming into the tower. Probably not related though. Or maybe it is, but I don't recall enough of my day to say I'm part of the American Consciousness. 9/11 just was not that important to me. I'm sure it was a wake up call to many people that didn't know any better. You are just like everyone else. Glad it took hundreds of deaths to get that through some people's heads.

Leesa said...

~deb: certain events just freeze the entire day.

prata: "You are just like everyone else." What an insult. What did the hundreds of deaths get us to think about? That some people hate Americans? I would have thought the Cole would have woken us up to this, if not other events.

LarryLilly said...

I remember when President Kennedy was shot. I was at home, taking a "sick" day and the TV was on in the den. My mom make an audible gasp when they broke the news on the TV.

I remember when Alan Shepard flew into space, I was at school, and they had it on the radio over the speaker system. (may 1961)

I remember when the space shuttle explosion, I had just been laid off, was at home, putzing around the house with the telly on. I happened to walk by just as they said throttle up, then saw that picture. I thought, that doesnt look right. The speaker was continuing to speak, then he stopped, then the announcement was made.

I was three blocks away from the Murrah Building in OKC when Tim McVeigh blew it up. I had just left the Oklahoma Water Resource Board Building, which was katty-corner across the street, down a slight hill from the Murrah building. I was walking north towards my car and I had four two-story buildings between me and the spot where the truck was parked when it went off. I used to work at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, and had moved with several other people to a different state agency and was there to shoot the breeze with ex co-workers before heading to my new office across town. The blast knocked me to the ground, flat on my face. I turned around, saw the black smoke from the small parking lot in front of the Murrah building and thought it was a gas line blast. It wasnt until 30 seconds later that looking at the Murrah building I saw the rubber roof sheet hanging down, then realized that the front third of the building was gone. I knew two people that were killed.

I was working at EPA in Dallas when 9-11 went down. I heard two small planes had hit the building, then the days that followed showed the carnage.

I remember when Dubya stood before the American people and lied his ass off to start a war for no good reason. My wife, a woman that has the largest bullchit detector of anyone I know, said it, "He is lying like man with a big sin to hide".

T said...

Leesa, Maybe because I'm a bit older than you and sadly there have been too many events that could be burned in to my consciousness.... or I'm just getting old, but I have never logged the exact details of wher I was or what I was doing. I remember seeing and hearing and have an image that is stored in my consciousness. The first Apollo spacecraft that burned, the Kennedy's, Martin Luther King, and on and on. I'm glad that you mentioned some positive events as well, because there have been many of those too. Unfortunately they don't make good "News" anymore for the talking heads on TV.
THis summer marks 40 years since the "Summer of Love" that started a movement that changed this country and gave voice to alot of people. I may be an old ex hippie, but it is sad to think that people can not be affected by the thousands... not hundreds of deaths and the thousands that continue in this senseless war just because it isn't important to ME! Peace....

LarryLilly said...

T

amen man, amen.

Want to end the war? Bring back the draft. Make it a SHARED war, shared costs, shared convictions, shared consciousness. Not one of the few, fought by the few.

Ian Lidster said...

Actually, even though the events you mentioned as vivid memories in the American consciousness were equally vivid outside the US, from the Kennedy Assassination, to the Challenger debacle, and on through 9/11, I was just as stunned as a Canadian. In all cases I was utterly aghast and remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. Good blog.
Ian

Leesa said...

larry: sounds like a blog entry. Thanks for the many thoughts and memories.

t: hundreds, thousands, or one death. All are tragic.

larry: seems to me that public sentiment has turned.

ian: I was unsure if non-Americans noticed as much. Most Americans don't seem to care what goes on with the rest of the world.

RWA said...

I never saw "The Day After," but I do recall where I was when The Challenger exploded and when I heard about 9/11.

I would think that those two incidents probably stick out for a lot of people (with a few exceptions, such as prata).

kathi said...

I don't remember ever seeing The Day After. I've probably seen it, I'm going to have to look it up now.
Kennedy, I was on the school bus when a teacher ran up to tell the driver and they started crying. We didn't know what was going on.
I was watching t.v. live when Bobby got shot and ran to tell my parents.
9/11 I was getting my yearly pap done while we (the dr., nurse and I) watched it on a small t.v. in the office...while I was on my back. We still talk about that, never can forget what time of year I'm 'due'. :)

GW Mush said...

I remember watching JFK get shot and I recall seeing a second gunman out of the corner of my eye.

It was Senior Bush who was working in the CIA at the time.

I have kepted this secret to myself now for decades but I feel it is time to come out with the truth.

Leesa, thank you for letting me use your blog to bring truth to light.. thank you my dear.

T said...

Leesa, you are right. We have lived through the tragic loss of one. I had an older brother killed in Vietnam. He had just turned 20. So many families have suffered the loss of one.

Leesa said...

rwa: Oh, and I forgot about Olympics '80 and when the Americans beat the Russians in hockey, earning a spot in the finals.

kathi: I know someone whose b-day is on September 11.

t: yeah, I know about one being enough to be a tragedy. Hugs!

Prata said...

I'm not exactly sure what you find insulting about Americans being like everyone else, but okay..and I'm sorry to point it out to you but...

Americans aren't special, and so far everyone seemed to believe (in american society) that we are/were beyond any sort of consequences for foreign meddling and beyond any sort of reprisal from organizations that believe we are not in the right with regards to how we handle foreign relations. And how we as a country stomp on culturally sensitive issues and lives.

If it's insulting to say that Americans are just like everyone else, well here's to being just like everyone else.