Airbrushing History?

Members of the House of Representatives have accused Google Maps of attempting to obscure the fallout of Hurricane Katrina by posting pre-hurricane images to their satellite imagery site.

Lawmakers investigating this supposed slight claim that it does an “injustice” to Katrina victims, some of whom used the site when it had post-hurricane imagery to see if their homes were damaged.

Google says it chose to use the pre-hurricane photos because of their superior resolution, but conspiracy-believing critics think they have worked with local government to give the impression that the relief effort in Louisiana is doing better than it really is.

Either way, mistaken intentions on Google’s part or overreaction from Congress, this shows how much attention is given to Web sites as the archive of our culture. Will Google control the de facto historical record of the 21st Century?

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2 thoughts on “Airbrushing History?

  1. Google had images of Katrina storm damage up on Google Maps within weeks of the storm first occurring. This is not a matter of lag. The images were there and now they are no longer accessible. Many people were using these images to assist in insurance claims, a responsibility that many insurers have sought to shirk despite contractual obligations that they took on of their own free will. The New York Twin Towers site properly and accurately shows an empty hole. How would people react if Google chose to revert New York to “superior” or “more accurate” images that returned the Towers to there pre-9/11 status?

  2. The 9/11 attacks are another example of selective-memory and -history. It unnerves me how little we think about the actual attacks yet how much we blame on them.

    Try to find a news program that will actually re-air footage of the attacks–it’s challenging. Then try to find a tidbit of news in which someone blames something in their lives on post-traumatic stress other some other reaction to the attacks. Not at all as hard.

    We’re beginning to see a reaction in literature, television and films too. The new Adam Sandler film, Reign on Me, deals with a man who lost his family in the attacks. A recent episode of Law & Order featured a women killed her ex-husband, claiming the murder as a post-traumatic reaction to the attacks (though she was not present at the site). No doubt modern novels are also following the trend–though I have no examples at hand.

    Do we want to remember the way we felt about the attacks and not necessarily what happened? Have we, as a culture, already mythologized 9/11 (that four-character sign already carries a lot of connotations and cultural-baggage) to an extent that the Alamo could only dream of? The actual events of that day are not so important as the way they made us feel–which is probably the goal of terrorism in general: to engross the hearts and minds of the targets.

    How will 9/11 be remembered? Will it be something, like the Alamo, that will eventually become a historical curio, a tourist attraction? I can’t imagine it going any other way, though there is evidence to make me wonder…

    I’m talking about Japanese post-A-bomb literature. The apocalyptic narratives and post-apocalyptic survival stories that have permeated Japanese culture. Think of the manga and anime that you may have seen on late night television and note how much of it dealt with a world that has just barely survived a major catastrophe.

    Can we compare the literature and remembrance of 9/11 to the atomic bomb attacks on Japan? As a culture, can we make something last so long in our memories seriously?

    Or, as is I think more likely, will we merely remand 9/11-complex-terrorist-attack to the historians, preferring to remember 9/11-emotional-rape, leaving the actual footage on the cutting room floor?

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