In photos, tweets, and a six-second video, terror learns to sprint
We've come to a time when terrorism can be condensed to six hellishly hypnotic seconds.
It became clear Monday that whoever carried out the Boston Marathon bombings did so — like the instigators of so many past terrorist attacks — with the intention of drawing as much media attention as possible. The bomber or bombers succeeded. The first explosion was captured on television news, and a widely circulated Vine recording of it condensed the carnage to a six-second loop.
It was horrible: A fireball. The image freezing ever-so-briefly. Flags from around the world — there to celebrate a spirit of international unity — blown over by the blast. And the worst of it, apparently, off to the right, striking those who came out to watch and cheer runners on.
Here's where the image freezes. Here's where the one runner falls. Here's where another actually finishes the race. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
The six-second encapsulation was only the most efficient: It came in addition to the usual barrage of sometimes contradictory information from the armies of reporters and camera people on hand for the world's oldest annual marathon, one that attracts easily 20,000 runners every year.
Story continues after Vine video. (Warning: Graphic.)
Shots of blood on the sidewalk were up on the Huffington Post within minutes of the blast. Boston's NBC affiliate, WHDH, aired the explosion footage that the Vine user later posted online. And then a swarm of traditional news media began their job of rooting out new horrors.
The images of bloodshed were transmitted much more quickly than those of the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta, 17 years ago, before Facebook and Twitter or even widespread use of the Internet.
Terrorists — I don't know what else to call people who bomb public places — have learned since then that live events make the best targets, in terms of spreading terror, because networks have no opportunity to censor them before they air.
On Sept. 11, 2001, it took time for news agencies to find anyone with images of the first plane that hit the World Trade Center. (Anyone in lower Manhattan with a camera — this was before we all had them in our phones — was unfortunately prepared for the second.)
But on Monday, there were instant images. Showing us what violence really looks like: Sudden and absurd, completely out of place. The shocking correction of our perception of peace. The quality that makes violence violence.
Fast-filed news reports and Twitter provided the first wave of terror, spread through calls and emails and texts to anyone with any connection to Boston or running. (Yes, mom, I'm fine. I live in Boston, and I run marathons, but not this one. Didn't qualify. Thanks.)
The next wave of information came from within and outside traditional media — people who added horror to the horror with new discoveries.
Among them: The 26-mile marker of the 26.2 mile race included a tribute to the 26 victims in Newtown, Conn., another utterly unlikely scene of carnage. There were 26 seconds of silence at the beginning. And a team of Newtown runners entered the race, dedicating miles to the victims. It should have been a day of healing. Now the day of healing needs a day of healing.
Others were running for causes as well. The Boston Marathon admits only runners who meet very tight time restrictions or are running for charities. And those running around the 4:09 pace — the time on the clock when the explosion occurred — were at around the cutoff pace for women in their 50s and men in their 60s.
Think about that for a moment: The runners on the course were either people close to retirement age, toughing out 26.2 miles, or people who raised money to help others.
The blast caught on camera detonated behind packed spectators, people there to cheer on friends and loved ones. People who had spent the last few months or years tolerating weird diets and long disappearances for runs in the snow. People who gave money and encouragement and cheers.
And here I am adding to the sadness you feel over this despicable event, helping whoever did this spread his message, aided by Twitter and Facebook or whatever brought you to this story.
At some point, maybe by the time you read this, some wretched person or people will claim so-called credit for what's been done, forcing you to think of some tirade or campaign you probably didn't think very much about before.
Many events in Boston have already been canceled or delayed: the symphony, a Moth story slam, even a reading at the bookstore down the street from where I live.
It won't end there. TV shows that were supposed to air will be pulled and rewritten, and movies will be recut. We'll declare new enemies, foreign or domestic or both. Next time you go to a charity run, you you'll be surprised by all the security. You know how this works, right?
This might change our entire way of life. But probably, outside of Boston, most people will stop thinking about this, in a surprisingly short time. And we'll go back to tweeting about silly things, until the next awful thing happens.
One thing I love about running is unplugging. Not dealing with phone calls or emails or tweets. When I ran my first marathon, in Ireland, someone told us from the bandstand that running was total freedom. “No trouble from the bossman, no ringin’ of the phone. No one tellin’ you nothing, just you and the wide open road.”
Maybe not anymore.