Trauma and the Politics of Emotions: Constituting Identity, Security and Community after the Bali Bombing
7. Textual interpretations of trauma: the role of editorial comments in the media
One editorial in particular illustrates the combined emotional and collectivising potential of patterns of speech. Published in The Australian, one week after the bombing, was an (anonymous) editorial titled ‘Australians United Share the Sorrow of Bali’.45 The editorial is an evocative yet also surprisingly prescriptive meditation on the tragedy of the bombing and how the broader Australian public should (and ultimately did) respond. The editorial sums up much of what was said, by survivors, journalists and politicians alike: It used to be said that no town in Australia lacked its war memorial to young men who had given their lives for the defence of our freedom. Today, as many homes and schools and sports clubs echo to the sobbing of distraught families, friends and lovers of Australians caught in the front line of terror. The front line is everywhere. No longer are we immune. Even though Bali is beyond our shores, it had become almost an extension of our lifestyle. Holidaying at Kuta beach and soaking up the sun, surf and party scene was almost a rite of passage for young Australians.
In a number of ways this passage works to contextualise the trauma for Australians who witnessed it from home. It tells of the social and emotional impact of the bombing. Readers are told that broader social institutions (i.e. ‘homes and schools and sports clubs’) mourn the catastrophe alongside victims’ families and friends. In another less explicit way, the lives of those lost or directly affected by the bombing are paralleled with those who look on; Bali is represented as not only a place symbolic of Australian lifestyle but also one that most Australians have holidayed in. Indeed, according to the author, ‘soaking up the sun, surf and party scene’ in Bali is a distinctly – almost ritualistic – Australian activity. Signifi cant to portrayals such as these may be the feelings of sympathy, care and solidarity that scholars consider crucial to the collective reckoning with trauma.
By representing the bombing in ways that promote common or shared (or at least comprehensible) meanings, as well as the power of cultural identifi cation, the passage also diminishes distance. The trauma is pushed into, aligned with, and made relevant to, the lives of Australians more generally. Compounding this are hinted-at notions of collective insecurity and fear. It is claimed that the ‘front line’ at which victims suffered is now ‘everywhere’, and moreover, that Australians are no longer immune to acts of atrocity. Statements such as this prompt one to question: should readers fear for their lives as well? If the possibility of terror is pervasive – indeed, if it is ‘everywhere’ – where is secure? Likening the trauma of the bombing to that of statesanctioned war is still another way the editorial contextualises the catastrophe. Beginning with a comment upon war memorials, and also in using the distinctly warlike term ‘front line’, the editorial traverses the trauma in a way that reinforces the notion of it being a national (if not nationalistic) one. Patriotic language such as this arguably supports the idea of the nation as hub of social well-being and political community.
Most of the themes examined in this short passage are reiterated throughout the remainder of the editorial. Continuing, the editorial comments that: It has not been the general lot of Australian’s young people to have to face the scourge of wholesale terrorism, or to be in places where danger remains. By bringing personal accounts, the uttered dying words, and the sentiments of sorrow which might have been suppressed, the journalists and photographers covering this tragedy have empowered us to reach out as a nation. For the outrage was not just against a building but to extract maximum harm to people whose only fault was having a relaxed and happy time. This passage makes further reference to how the bombing impacts Australia, both as a community of mourning and as an ‘empowered’ nation. An emphasis is placed both on a sense of collective outrage and what the author considers the comparative lack of danger enjoyed (until now) by young Australians. Assumptions about the victims are also presented here. Faulting them only with the desire to relax and be happy harks back to a kind of lifestyle that is considered distinctly and traditionally ‘Australian’. The most nationalist and explicitly emotive passage in the editorial does, however, come later. If it is true that death defi nes us, many of us have suddenly had to realise our mortality. We will ponder this during tomorrow’s national day of mourning. Even though our participation in many wars has already conditioned us, this new type of war brings us face-to-face with a new situation nationally. But as a nation we have every right to respond strongly. Fundamentalist terrorism is a threat to our way of life. The people of Australia need to resist any notion that anything other than a fi erce defence of our values is warranted. Here, one can see most clearly how textual representational practices attempt to shift individual trauma into that of a wider, distinctly national community.
Couched within this passage are many different emotions, and also, I suggest, an implicit attempt to share or collectivise them. Although these emotions are embedded within the individual refl ections of one author, the passage is written with a kind of collective authority – a collective voice even. Death is represented as something that the bombing has prompted many Australians to now consider. It is additionally claimed that one’s own death is something to be refl ected upon whilst mourning the trauma of others. This pulls the reader – she/he who witnesses – into the trauma. Invoked here is a sense of both authenticity and identifi cation. It prompts one to imagine, and to perhaps fear, the possibility of their own pain, and the direction that readers are to do so alongside the trauma of the victims seems key to the possibility of an empathetic emotional response. The theme of solidarity is thus evoked through a perceived likeness. And as such the trauma and terror of direct victims is shifted from a private encounter to a public phenomenon evoking feelings and memories that inhabit a wider culture. Emotions of grief and loss are represented as that of a society; private processes of mourning are depicted as a distinctly collective activity, one with which many Australians identify and will indeed take part in. Moreover, one can see the editorial again drawing upon contemporary discourses of terrorism and collective insecurity.
Implicit here is not only a sense of collective fear, but also the call for retribution and the defence of wider Australian societal values. What is striking is that although the bombing took place in Bali, Indonesia, the attack is here represented as emblematic of a threat to Australia’s collective ‘way of life’. Other responses to the bombing also refl ect the attempt to connect the event with a much wider sense of collective (distinctly national) trauma and injury. Corresponding emotional responses, such as fear, were evoked as well. Initially, the bombing was presented as shocking not only for direct victims, but also for the ‘throngs of Australians’46 who either holidayed in Bali or watched dumbstruck at home. Through the weeks that followed private mourning was presented, quickly becoming that of the Australian public. A national day of mourning was called and Australians were urged to wear a native blossom – wattle – in tribute and remembrance.47 As memorial services took place Australian survivors openly claimed that the Bali bombing had irreparably changed the shape of their nation.48 Discourses of terrorism and ensuing themes of collective insecurity, fear and panic also seemed to pervade the media more than ever before.49 Then Prime Minister John Howard also reminded Australia that the ‘barbarity’ of the Sari bar bombing ‘can touch anybody, anytime and in any country’.50
Political editor of The Australian Dennis Shanahan went so far as to comment that ‘no one is safe anywhere, Australia as a nation and Australians as a people can’t hide’.51 Reviews of domestic security and counter-terrorism legislation were immediately ordered and the Defence Department even went so far as to label their white paper ‘Fortress Australia’.52 Fear invoked from the bombing was represented as the product of a potentially wider threat and representations of the bombing evoked a corresponding sense of societal terror. Interestingly, as in the above editorial, coupled with such fear were calls to defend so-called ‘Australian’ values and way of life.53 One can thus see the collectivising potential of representing trauma. By both explicitly detailing the injury and terror, and by implying that Australia is the ‘home’ to which survivors simply wish to return, the language employed to depict the bombing can be seen as an attempt to guide individual emotions towards the comfort and sanctity of a wider (again national) community, ideationally as well as geographically.54 Many of the expressions employed can also be distinguished as those of ‘membership categorisation’55 or ‘naming’.56 Terms such as ‘our way of life’ and the ‘barbarity’ of the implied enemies draw ‘us’/‘them’ type distinctions, which in this case essentially group victims together within a wider conglomerate of Australian society.
In sum, textual representations of the trauma can be interpreted to have enabled – yet paradoxically also limited – the boundaries of political community.57 The emotions and meanings invoked by ostensibly ordinary patterns of speech and writing were part of this process, helping to reinforce prevailing forms of political sovereignty – and thus community. Evidenced by the above editorial, mainstream representations of the bombing reinstated power structures traditional to the nation-state, which while seeming to strengthen the Australian national community simultaneously silences alternative discourses through which new confi gurations of community can be generated.
Tugasan ini sebenarnya kami pernah buat sebelum ini cuma mungkin soalannya diubah-ubah setiap semester. Namun kehendak soalan sebenarnya adalah hampir sama setiap semester.