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January 17, 2009

Picturing A Miracle (And/Or, Surviving The Crash Of Dubya Air Flight 43)

US Air, Statue of Liberty.jpg

Just days before Obama’s inauguration, it’s hard not to equate the landing and rescue of US Air Flight 1549 on the Hudson River to the state of American politics.

If the disastrous Bush presidency is indelibly connected to the horror of two commercial aircraft slamming into New York’s World Trade Center, the poetic tendency, in light of Obama’s campaign of hope and “can do,” is to see “the miracle on the Hudson” as perhaps a precursor to a different kind of presidency — and outcome.

The tendency to, at least subconsciously, equate “the events of January 15, 2009 with September 11, 2001,” the ensuing “War On Terror,” and even the Wall Street meltdown, however, goes beyond just proximity to the inauguration and to lower Manhattan. It ties together because of the history and memory of place combined with the literal symbols involved. In this case, it’s New York’s skyline, and its harbor, and its monuments, and its institutions (such as the stock market) which represent essential markers of our psychic experience over the past eight years. And then, there’s also the fact that the commercial aircraft and aviation industries have so closely equated their brand(s) — nominally, physically as well as visually — with the American mission.

USAir-2.jpg USAir flag.psd

As a result, if you isolate on certain features of those otherwise wholly amazing and hope-inspiring rescue images in the harbor this week, you’ll clearly recognize Old Glory and Lady Liberty as fixtures in the background, or Old Glory and the name of our country (in a way we otherwise take completely for granted) as defining the skin of that plane.

Once you step back and see how it ties together, you get a better sense of how Thursday’s miracle — which also delivered New York a fresh, post-Dubya set of first-responders and disaster heros, by the way — helps land the idea, in the mind of the nation, of America surviving the previous crashes. And with that comes a sense that — with a whole new team in America’s capitol — we, too, might also come through.

(image 1: Chris McGrath/Getty Images; image 2: Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press image 3: REUTERS/Mike Segar)

  • Isabella Clark

    My second thought after the Hudson River landing was, “Oh, this is so auspicious.” My first thought was, “Oh, how unlikely this survival is..” The survival of everyone of the passengers was so metaphorically related to the sea change of skill and attention that Obama seems (I say “seems, because I can’t even be totally assured yet, my faith has been so broken) to bring to politics.
    I was in Baltimore at Obama’s appearance today. People were cheering and crying everywhere.When Michelle and Barack waded into the crowd, with Michelle hugging everyone, I thought the earth would crack open and swallow me. The exhilaration, the sense of faith, the sense of competence was almost overwhelming. I immediately went to Henningers Tavern for a modern, Old Fashion, to toast to my opening heart. There, many were sharing photos and testimonials about having actually touched the Obamas. More fun to come.

  • Clem Guttata

    Two more themes that mirror Obama’s electoral success are the revival of urbanism (see: “Hudson Miracle: Triumph of Big City Values“) and the rehabilitation of unions (see: “This Miracle Brought to You by America’s Unions).

  • tinwoman

    We are not out of the water yet, not by a long shot.
    Obama’s administration picks so far have been either a)mundane or b)disappointing, and always far from progressive.
    I’m really not expecting much from him anymore at this point. He’s surrounding himself with the old guard, and showing no real signs of innovation.

  • Quiet Jim

    c’mon tinwoman, have a heart.

  • Annonymous

    Hm, there is a grammatical should be U.S. Airways or US Airways but not U.S Airways. sigh.

  • richard dent

    Clem Guttata’s link on unions is fabulous. I hope Obama will support the rehabilitation of unions, which is so far less than certain.

  • Timothy A. Bear

    An oil painting of Barack Obama on his unicorn helping pilot Chelsey B. Sullenberger to land U.S. Air Flight 1549-

  • yg

    so, this is what unity feels like. pulling together for the common good, gratitude for help from perfect strangers, a counterweight to the selfish, destructive wall street greed that’s sunk the economy.
    another image that was striking and allegorical was the one of people lined up on both sides of the plane, standing on the wings, creating equilibrium.

  • starbuck

    Can we follow the metaphor all the way through? Lets touch the plane (assuming the plane means the economy, or the US state) down safely, get everybody off, and then let the thing sink.

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