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Commentaries on this Media!

Feeling Place

by Ethan Tussey

by Kevin Sanson for IN MEDIA RES

While we might explain the "newsworthiness" of the adjacent clip as a reaction to the ways in which Rep. Melancon violates some of our assumptions about gendered, national, and even regional identities (i.e., How do we frame a story about a southern statesman who cries?), I want to posit that it makes a much more radical statement about our sense of place in an increasingly mediated world.

At the very least, the congressman’s emotional display ruptures any sense of place as neutral, static, or meaningless. Sure, we might assume place is just a passive entity—somewhere we pass through, fly over, or walk by without much further thought. Yet, seeing Melancon choke back tears not only forefronts just how deeply rooted our identities are in particular places, but also makes clear how much emotion and meaning we invest in these "mere" locations. After all, home is much more than a spot on a map.

Additionally, in the wake of the BP Oil Spill (and, earlier, Hurricane Katrina), I think it is fair to say Coastal Louisiana has become a site of frenzied mediation. It continually reappears across our newspaper and magazine pages, broadcast and cable networks, and Internet sites.  These narratives and images bring so many of us at a distance into much closer proximity to the tragedy at hand—but to what a/effect?

I worry that our experience of this place is inextricably bound up with its representation. That is, our connection to the actual place itself is loose and incidental.  We briefly learn from the incessant (yet, fleeting) news coverage how to care about "them" over "there" without ever being fully implicated ourselves.

Again, I think this clip works to reframe our sense of place in a crucial way. Here, the marshes are not only constitutive of Melancon’s identity, but also central to a larger sense of nationhood. The marshes are, in fact, "America’s wetlands." The sense of "us" and "them" might waver ever so slightly in this moment as the affective qualities of place are shared across multiple communities, making the rest of us feel just as emotionally invested—equally at home—in the Gulf Coast as the congressman.

Charlie Melancon on CNN

Charlie Melancon on CNN

from Rick's List (2010)
Creator: Rick Sanchez
Distributor: CNN
Posted by Ethan Tussey