Media Clips of the 20th Century
The 20th Century’s Media Moments
Dec. 7, 1999
|The results of The Podium‘s second poll are complete. The question was, ”
name the three most memorable media moments of this century.”This time we received a whopping 11 responses (2 fewer than last time). Statistically, of course, this is an inconsequential sample size. However, this is not a scientific enterprise, but rather an opportunity to think about the events of our century, so sample size is irrelevant.
The limitations of this question are fairly obvious. We are most closely touched by those events that are within living memory, and by those events which the media has chosen to repeat ad infinitum. I’m therefore surprised more entertainment moments weren’t chosen.
First Place – (a 2-way tie)
Abraham Zapruder serendipitously pointed his home movie camera at one of the most devastating scenes in American history, capturing the very moment that President John F. Kennedy was shot to death, supposedly by lone gunman Oswald.
No other event in the modern era has spawned more conspiracy theories, or has better exemplified the growing distrust of Western societies for our elected leaders.
The Zapruder film was obtained by an enterprising Southern district attorney who brought to court the only trial of perpetrators accused of JFK’s murder. Both the film and that trial were immortalised in Oliver Stone’s feature movie JFK.
It is interesting that a sports event would rank as highly as the assassination of the so-called leader of the free world. But this event transcended sports and touched upon geopolitics. At the height of the Cold War, an era whose tone and timbre are barely imaginable by the youth of today, the conflict that we all feared was instead played out on ice between the national hockey teams of Canada and the Soviet Union.
After games in Canada and Russia, punctuated by hotel room buggings and threats of incarceration, the final game was played in Moscow and decided by a timely overtime goal by Canadian Paul Henderson.
Simply watching videos of the game is insufficient to appreciate the tension of the moment. One must also consider the international scenario that made such a game compelling in the first place… a far cry from today’s almost border-less international NHL.
| Second Place – (a 3-way tie)
The most televised U.S.-involved conflict since the Vietnam War, the Gulf War was seen as an opportunity to “do it right”. With carefully controlled public access to footage, the Pentagon crafted a marvelous media collage of faultless weaponry and bloodless battle.
Most memorable were the on-board cameras’ views of missile impacts onto Iraqi targets, providing wonderful advertising material for arms dealers worldwide.
The War lifted CNN into the position it presently enjoys, as the leading news source for the planet, and made stars of reporters like Arthur Kent, the “scud stud.”
Less discussed is the footage of the bombardment of the city of Baghdad, surreal in its science-fiction lighting.
There are many people, myself among them, who believe that 1000 years from now, this century will be remembered for only two things, one of them being the birth of space travel (the other being nuclear power). Humanity’s trip to the moon, 30 years later, still represents the pinnacle of technology.
For tens of thousands of years, the moon has been the realm of mythology, a disc of light pinned to the sky by giants or gods. When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, humanity was forced to mature, to pull ourselves out of the mire of mythology. The event remains a landmark of our modern era in which science equals, and perhaps surpasses, religion in the hearts of many.
The explosion of Challenger is doubly tragic since it was to represent the first instance of a private citizen going into space. The mission’s failure was a reminder to many that space remains an untamed frontier fraught with dangers unimaginable to we gravity-bound denizens.
| Third Place – (4-way tie)
This image is even more memorable for the death of John-John himself earlier this year. More probably, we remember this portrait for its representation of the end of the golden era of Camelot, a realization poisoned with uncertainty but tempered by the hope of youth.
The heroes of other lands tend to be great leaders or warriors. It is indicative of the Canadian stereotype that our hero is a soft-spoken one-legged man running across the country to raise money for cancer research. I encourage everyone to consult Joseph Campbell‘s hero motif and apply his criteria to Terry Fox… you will find that, despite his lack of a booming voice and fiery sword, Terry is a hero in the finest mythic tradition.
Her name has only recently become widely known, largely through Denise Chong’s book The Girl In The Picture. Presently a grown woman living in Canada, Kim Phuc retains the physical scars of the napalm attack. Her photo was one of the most vivid messages to North Americans that the Vietnam War had a human face that was all too innocent.
| One vote each:
I would encourage anyone who has anything to say about these selections, or about my commentary, to write us a letter.