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April 21, 2014

SI’s #BostonStrong Cover

Given the intensity of the response to the Boston Marathon bombing last year, I’m looking forward to the visual coverage surrounding the race later today. For the moment though — and to set the table, perhaps — I’ve been thinking about this SI cover. I imagine it’s almost sacrilegious to to get too analytical about this, but it’s interesting just how much the bombing seems to have threatened the psyche of this city. Maybe New York or Oklahoma City took its terror attacks just as personally, but those responses seemed somehow more complex.

One could say the government, interceding immediately in Afghanistan and then going to war with Iraq after 9/11, is a corollary of what we see in this photo. At the same time, though, how is it a couple of not very sophisticated terrorists could make an entire city feel so otherwise “not strong”? In the absence of an overriding chorus of #NYStrong, #OKCStrong, #LondonStrong or #MadridStrong, is there something particular to Boston — maybe the same chemistry that shut down the city during the manhunt last year? — that makes the city brand and pronounce its response this way?  (I have to say, it has the campaign and also the recovery focus of LiveStrong.)

And then, there are a couple other things I’m wondering about. You would imagine, looking at this photo, that the outpouring was spontaneous. Not that  the magazine didn’t tap into something huge, which is that insecurity/pride I’m talking about above. But it feels to me, doing an open call to the city of Boston to pose for this photo, that TIME/Sports Illustrated was taking commercial advantage of it — even if most people will probably argue with me and perceive this cover like a public service.

And then, I’m wondering if it’s really Boston, I mean, all of Boston, that is feeling so injured and potentially weakened by the events of 4.15.12 or it’s more (or less?) complicated than that. If you click this larger, does it seem that the people in the photo, by age, by race, by whatever other strata can be deduced, are truly representative of “Boston”? I mean, maybe they are.

Finally, I’m curious about the first responders up front, and particularly, the preponderance of the fire hats. I’d say it’s the track outfits with the dayglo-y colors that make this outpouring more singular to Boston and the marring of the marathon. Of course, rescue personnel are always going to play a central role in an attack, but their prominence up front, and maybe this is important for scale somehow, feels like layering in some of the weight of 9/11.

Anyway, let’s pray for a safe, successful and also joyous event today. And that secured, let’s also see what the imagery has to say about pride, vulnerability and identity, not just in America, but in this city, as distinct from others.

(photo: Gregory Heisler plus backstory of the photograph)

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