January 20, 2009
A Day Too Big for Narrative
Ha! Alessandra Stanley does my work for me: This was a day best captured by image, not narrative, she says.
All the way from LIFE’s breakthrough use of rich, stand-alone photography to TIME’s avalanche of online galleries and (of course) the Big Picture, there’s a rich tradition here. And the best of ‘em aren’t linear sequences that tell a story from start to finish; they’re collections of contrasting moments that, together, deliver a gestalt.
Photo galleries have been one of my favorite ways to track the entire election, and I think there’s truth to what Stanley says about today:
Anchors, compelled to say something, reached for trite metaphors and hyperbolic expressions of wonder (“Our secular version of a miracle,” according to one CNN commentator) that didn’t begin to match the reality unfolding live behind them. The best narration was wordless.
I’ll extend that critique to printed commentary, as well. The flurry of op-eds over the weekend, all packed with world-historical language trying to Put It All In Perspective, fell flat. Just give me the image.
Not even Obama’s speech — which I liked — could match the raw image of him, uh, delivering it. William Gavin, a former speechwriter for Nixon, said this over at the NYT (emphasis mine):
But the setting — the first African-American standing there in the bright winter sunshine as our new president — had an eloquence all its own. I think we will remember this occasion more for the man who gave it than for the words he said. He could have stood there for 20 minutes of silence and still communicated great things about America.
I claim the image for the Team Database. Your move, narrative.