After three months at college and finally a week of break, one of the last things I wanted to do was read over a 7,000-word article on a topic that was “sensitive” to say the least. Yet my desire to remain a good student and personal inability to slack-off forced me once again to follow along and spend my morning reading instead of watching the latest episode of Glee—you know, the important stuff.
I opened Tom Junod’s article from Esquire entitled “The Falling Man” and breathed in deeply as I settled down on my couch for what I believed would be yet another assignment I’d have to endure.
This article, however, reminded me of why I love journalism. It has the ability to transform an audience, to open a reader’s eyes to seeing some sort of human truth. The time I spent reading Junod’s piece flew by and I found myself frustrated at my prior thoughts of superiority toward the assignment.
The article focuses on a photograph that was taken during the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers of September 11, 2001. The photograph was taken by Richard Drew, a fifty-four year old photographer from the Associated Press, and shows a man falling in mid air after “jumping” from one of the towers. His identity, lifestyle, and morals are unknown. His body, with a knee bent and head down, is the essence of grace in the frozen frame of the photograph. Junod’s brilliant manipulation of the English language during his opening paragraph transports the reader to a sense of higher literature, a place where one is able to forget.
But then reality sinks in.
Junod does a beautiful job of connecting the stillness and peace that’s present in Drew’s photograph to the severity of the situation, that day, and the mark on American history. Throughout the entirety of the piece, Junod continues to use a tone that reads smoothly in the reader’s mind like a piece of fiction without taking away the seriousness and reality of what the picture actually embodies.
He continuously discusses the quest for identifying this falling man. For a while, the piece seems to merely be a synopsis of the reporting done to find out who the man was. Yet the more in-depth Junod becomes, the more one realizes the significance behind the article.
Junod’s central argument focuses on the impact the photograph had on our society, as well as its importance to mankind as a whole. He mentions that the photograph was printed in papers throughout the United States as well as around the world. He follows this up by discussing the rejection the photograph received as well. Not only did readers globally find the photograph to be outside the realm of what they believed was appropriate, but the families of victims too believed that it was beyond what they wanted to see.
His discussion of the various people suspected of being the “falling man,” acts as a guideline for the piece and a way to move the bigger argument along in an easy-to-follow manner. The story builds just as Junod’s argument enhances itself. What started off as photograph taken as part of Drew’s job, transforms into a deep look into the lives of the victims’ families and of American’s in general.
By using the photograph as the solid base of his argument, Junod is able to provide commentary on the way American’s confront trauma. He reveals that we aren’t exactly sure of what we want. Our obsession with identifying the “falling man” conflicts with our desire to move on from the tragedy and stray away from confronting it. When he mentions the sculpture created by Eric Fischl, we once again see Americans rejecting the pain that comes along with having to face tragedy. Both the photograph and the sculpture act as physical reminders of the pain that occurred that day. Our conflicting opinions only lead to further chaos.
I found Junod’s article to be very accurate. Evidence for his beliefs can be found throughout various media outlets today. Daily news continually includes aspects of violence and despair. I’ve heard numerous people say they don’t watch or read the news because it’s all “horrible” and yet those stories, the one’s we fear, are the one’s that gain the most news attention.
The way Junod concludes the piece is my favorite part. He ends by saying “That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”
This quote is what makes the article a true and honest piece of journalism. It never was about putting a name to the man in the photograph. That may have been a small facet of it temporarily, but the true significance behind it has little to do with a name. The photograph, as well as Junod’s piece, stands as a testament to the feelings of the American people and their ability to deal with grief and despair. It’s about a connection between each of us, a remembrance of a terrible attack on our country and our ability to stand together as one.