The On the Media blog has an interesting article by PJ Vogt. He writes that he considers the above image to be one of the most memorable photos shot on the morning of Sept. 11.
I agree. The incongruity of the mundane with the horrific is riveting. The photograph also contradicts our memories of that day. Every image we’ve seen of that day, both on the day itself and in the decade since, has been of the destruction and devastation. And then there’s this photo, which contradicts all of those memories. How do we reconcile this image with those others? How do we fit this into our brain? It doesn’t match the narrative we thought we knew.
I had a second reaction, though. I’ve seen this before. Not this exact image, but all the elements. In fact, I remember reading about it back in the 1970s, in an old book in the school library.
Humorist Robert Benchley predicted this image almost 80 years ago, in an article titled “Johnny-on-the-Spot”. I’ve scanned the article and posted it below, for your edification. The book I pulled it out of is The Benchley Roundup, first published in 1954. I’m not sure when the article itself was originally published, but I’m guessing late 1920s or sometime in the 1930s.
The article is dead-on. I’ve seen lots of photos over the years of significant events, and there’s often some guy somewhere in the foreground or on the side seemingly oblivious to the momentous activity just 30 feet away. (You might find Benchley’s derby fixation strange, but everybody used to wear hats in those days. I guess in Benchley’s experience, it was always a derby.)
If you want to read more Robert Benchley, you’ll have to haunt used book stores. Project Gutenberg has one measly book online. (You can thank Disney and their lapdog tree-skier Sonny Bono, who got copyright extended until doomsday to protect the profits from Mickey Mouse.)
So now, enjoy the prescience of Robert Benchley: