McAlister talks on terrorism
Melani McAlister gave a speech outlining how terrorism has
been playing out on American TV screens for three decades.
McAlister, Assistant Prof. Of American Studies at the George
Washington University in Washington D.C., gave a talk this past Monday
titled, "A Cultural History of Fear, U. S. Television, Terrorism,
and the Middle East." She focused on U.S. understandings of terrorism
as partly molded historically by the American media and "fashioned"
extensively in U.S. popular culture. Notably, she discussed the prominent
American sentiment of terrorism post-Sept. 11 as closely related to Iranian
protests in the mid 70s.
In support of her argument, she showed a picture of an Israeli
Superman (with a Star of David on his chest, rather than and "S")
rescuing a hostage as bullets bounced off of him as a symbol of Israeli
military power after being raided by Palestinian airplane hijacks in 1976.
In the U.S., the conflict was highly televised. Dr. McAlister
asked the audience rhetorically about the meaning of the label "terrorism."
She claimed, "to name something terrorism is to immediately condemn
it." She held that definitions of terrorism in the U.S. are still
not very clear, that, "in America, terrorism is like porn, they know
it when they see it."
She also discussed the televised portrayal of the American-Iranian
conflict in 1979 when the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was raided and its constituencies
held hostage for months. ABC reporter Frank Reynolds hosted a show, aired
on November 8, 1979, titled "America Held Hostage." The Special
Report (as it would be called today) shows Iranian protestors screaming
in unisonance, "Yankee Go Home!" Yet the hostages were not being
released. It is clear that the citizens of Tehran were outraged at America's
previous support of the Shah Regime in the 50s, a time when U.S. foreign
officials took gratefully the cruel dictator's offer to give the U.S.
a chance to "observe" the Middle East.
American hostages were released by the Iranian kidnappers
on January 1981, after negotiations with the Carter administration.
In the mid 80s, Chuck Norris would not be stopped from rescuing hostages in Iran in the movie, "Delta Force." Unlike the real thing that happened five years earlier, the message was clear to the American audience, "[If they are kidnapped by the barbarous multitudes], let's get our people outta there!" The clips that she showed gave good Chuck a chance to prove his patriotism as he recreated history, confirming American militancy as soldiers invaded Iranian grounds. (Fair mention to the childhood films of many Bowdoin students that featured the theme of rescue: "Die Hard" and "Rambo," the eloquent Keanu Reeves in "Speed," etc.).