Thoughts on Identity and the Boston Manhunt

I’ve been watching quite a bit of the CNN coverage and this morning, in a discussion with their Counter Terrorism expert, one reporter constantly referred to the context of what was going on with the two suspects.

I’m left wondering from this sort of situation, what is the text that is in relation with the context that they seem to be constantly look for? Is it the lives of the Tsarnaev brothers? I think it is instead what I keep hearing referred to as this different event, that which is invoked each time that it is suggested there is something else that had to have occurred to these brothers for their ability to carry out the bombings. There had to be something, we keep being told by CNN, to explain for the contradictory existence of the Tsarnaev brothers. There is no way that there could be a compassionate human being one year who decides, the next year, to build a few bombs and put them at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

I think what we have in this case, specifically of CNN’s coverage, is a problem of how we view identity. We believe that there has to be a consistency because of the economic and political necessity for consistency. We hope for consistency at all times. Actions and movement through space are taken down in concrete ways (data points, tweets, immigration forms, education) and these concrete points of identity are moved above and beyond any other ways an identity can be discussed. This is the best that we have when it comes to identity. Identity is nothing now but a set of points that are collected and the assumption always is that the more points collected will automatically lead to a better understanding of the individual.

I’d like to say that this is an extraordinary instance of identity, but this is nothing new. Identity was assumed to be something that was solely created by the individual. Identity was assumed to be a pliable, evolving object which could never be fully stopped, as the individual had to have the burden of taking on their identity and forming and creating it. Instead, identity needs to be seen more through this instantiation lens. The individual is created at different points in time based upon their identifying characteristics. They are assembled by various mediums and put together for the purpose of better understanding, but usually for the actual purpose of creating audiences for advertisers.

I think this is where we see the tensions of identity occurring on CNN. If identity was simply the evolution of the individual person, then there would probably not be the assumed contradictions at hand. However, since all that they can understand of the younger Tsarnaev brother at this time is a handful of data points, it is difficult to reconcile them with the actions of the individuals. One reporter, speaking on the Tweets of the younger brother, stated, “Very different looks of who this man could be.” There is such a tension here that most of the peers of the younger brother are unable to comprehend even what occurred.


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2 responses to “Thoughts on Identity and the Boston Manhunt

  1. Candice Lanius

    This is good stuff, “Man of Many Frowns.”

    I was flipping through the various news channels today, and I just want to add that FOX News really reveals this identity tension in their desperate search for the “Moment of Radicalization.” They are looking for travel records over seas or even using the brother’s internet search histories to find the “break” in personal consistency that you describe. They want that data point to divide the “normal” from the “sociopathic” chronologically.

    I would be interested in your thoughts on how we perceive identity through time as well; is this chronology an obsession of the news narrative structure? Or is it part of the assumed self-production of ‘identity’? (or both? Or not at all? Words?)

    • I’d like to say that chronology is important at times, but I have had a persistent feeling that time is divorced from motion/action. If we look at this case, chronology is a facade that at least CNN is trying to create, but look at the questions that are directed to family members. There is a desire to get the information of when these guys came to America, but I don’t think it matters much. Their identities have been primarily created and sustained through one or two points: nationality and the bombing itself. These two actions/movements (haven’t decided what is best to use where and when) are the only way that they are really known and discussed. They are being forced to the forefront without much acknowledgement of the history of it all. It’s weird. Thanks for bringing it up since it’s something that I haven’t thought about too much.

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