September 11, 2001: A DAY OF INFAMY. So it was vehemently proclaimed in Time Magazine¹s special issue dedicated to one of the most tragic events in American History and arguably one of the most brutal acts of terrorism to date. America, in the spasms of a few hours, has become a changed country. Perhaps in an attempt to understand this change and come to grips with the ensuing crisis, more and more people are turning to the media for answers. Now more than ever, the media, namely television, radio, newspapers, and the internet, have become the most powerful tools in disseminating information relevant to this event. This is a truth we cannot escape.
It would of course be naïve to say that this information is always reliable and accurate. Beneath the surface there may be underlying messages which can serve to manipulate the public. We as individuals need to be aware of this reality. We need to be discerning with the information we take in, be able to critically analyze it, and eventually make intelligent and informed judgements. Hence, to do a critical study of media culture with reference to the events transpiring after the September 11 attack, we need Cultural Studies.
Cultural Studies gives us the methods for analyzing the media. It gives us the pedagogical tools necessary to critically interpret the media. It enables us to read cultural text ³against the grain² by deconstructing it. In other words, it allows us to decode the encoded messages. An example of an encoded message could be the ubiquitous NBC Peacock icon which has changed its rainbow colored wings to red, white and blue. Prior to this change, the constant presence of the logo at the bottom of the screen had made it almost invisible a permanent icon we could always depend on being there. With the transformation of this icon into a patriotic image, the encoded message has been perhaps to convey the idea of unification and loyalty. However, the decoded message is perhaps that this is a constant reminder that things have changed, even things we used to think were permanent. In this case, the audience is probably reading the message critically (negotiated code) or oppositionally (oppositional code) depending on his/her background. In other words, different audiences will decode and interpret differently, depending on factors such as age, gender, education level, religion, and political affiliation.
Most believe that things have indeed changed everything from national security to conducting daily business for some. What is certain is that this change has been further exasperated by the histeria created mostly through the media. Take for example the seemingly endless anthrax stories. The almost constant coverage of anthrax cases has led the public to believe that new cases are constantly sprouting in every corner of the nation. This obsession over anthrax has resulted in part from the uncertainty about future attacks and how we will be...