To me, September 11th and everything surrounding it is a sacred thing. So I was surprised to read today that the use of some iconic imagery from, well, really more Ground Zero than the day September 11th itself, in the Bush ads released today had not just angered but outraged some 9/11 families and firefighters (and, but of course, the Democrats, but that one's a bit more predictable.).
And it isn't just the families. The blogosphere had responded with a vengence, on both sides, as you can see (note that some of these posts employ strong language) here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (All links via the wonderful Memeorandum.)
To me it's impossible to say outside the context of a particular ad whether a particular use of a particular image is appropriate or not. I cannot imagine this campaign taking place without a discussion of September 11th -- to me, as I've written before, the day defines our times. But ads speak in a language of visual imagery, not words, so some images will be used. The question is which images, and how?
As I say, if you haven't yet seen the images, they are iconic images which we associate with September 11th but which are really of Ground Zero: a flag waving over Ground Zero, firefighters lifting a coffin. In the context of this ad buy at least (particularly "Safer, Stronger," by far the best of the ads running now) somber, quiet, an ad arguing that we've been through tough times, the images (which flash by for only a heartbeat) make the argument that we've come through together.
I can easily imagine the use of imagery from September 11th that I would find utterly unacceptable: the Towers burning or, God forbid, the planes hitting the building. These images refer to the event indirectly and subtly but with the deepest respect. In the context in which they are framed, in the way in which they are used, I'm not troubled.
Many of these bloggers (and apparently the family members) are bothered because they see these ads as conventional ads. I don't. I see them as visual poltiical arguments. How can we have a Great American Debate over the direction the country should take -- a debate that ads, even though they are paid for, are a part of in our system -- and leave September 11th out? And how can we include September 11th in this form of debate, which is how I conceptualize political ads, and not use images?
It's going to be a long eight months. I suspect there will be more than enough for everyone to be offended by. It's only the first day. We all need to take a deep breath. I didn't lose anyone on September 11th, although that's only be God's grace. But as I say, for me it is a sacred thing. So I understand the seriousness with which people take this. But folks need to rethink the meaning of "ad" in this context.
Update: One more.