Rosa A. Eberly’s article “Everywhere You Go, It’s There” discusses the 1966 University of Texas at Austin shootings by Charles Whitman. She explains the complex ways the media shapes our memories using the tools of rhetoric. She went so far as to create a class at the University of Texas at Austin called “The UT Tower and Public Memory” to appropriately discuss the incident. Eberly discussed how the University attempted to cover up the tragic day. The UT police department captain told Texas Monthly in 1996, “The University wishes the whole thing would go away” (76). However, as rhetoricians we should definitely be discussing events just as significant as the Charles Whitman shootings.
Eberly challenges her students by arguing that, “rhetoricians, through their teaching as well as their criticism and other scholarship-public as well as academic-could play a more active role in helping to shape what different publics remembered and how the artifacts of cultural memory are understood” (72). Rhetoric can create a public sphere where tragic events like the shooting should be discussed in an appropriate manner. Unfortunately, until Eberly’s class was formed, this hadn’t been done at the University of Texas at Austin quite yet.
Eberly points out the importance of an open public sphere throughout her entire article. “What I heard on KLBJ-AM’s Paul Pryor Show that day ultimately convinced me that the events of August 1, 1966-and how those events are remembered by individuals, publics, and institutions-deserved study, deliberation, and perhaps intervention” (66). However a proper public sphere was not formed directly following the UT shootings. Since Whitman was shot and killed by a police officer during the shooting, it seemed his memory lived on. Between Charles Whitman fan clubs, movies and songs with references to him, and his very own “killer font”, Whitman sounds more like a rock star than an actual murderer. Interestingly enough, Osama Bin Laden had the similar situation when he was killed. He received nationwide attention and put his mark on American late night television. He was the punch line for famous comedians such as Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon like some sort of celebrity.
A proto public sphere was made by the media to discuss the termination of a terrorist, which is a space where something that has never been talked about before is finally discussed. However after reading Eberly’s article, the conclusion can be made that what should’ve been a very serious day after the US heard of Bin Laden’s death, the exact opposite occurred. Instead of late night jokes and blunt headlines, a sense of dignity should’ve been kept; much like Eberly was able to form in her class discussing the rhetoric of the tower shootings. According to Eberly, it’s important that traumatic events be discussed. What I’m saying is that a public sphere should be formed yes; but it’s imperative that it’s the appropriate kind of public sphere. Eberly didn’t report any disrespectful students in her classroom completely bashing Whitman. They did it the right way. The US media on the other hand sold newspapers with headlines like, “US nails the bastard”.
The media in the US should’ve taken the same approach that Eberly took in her classroom in order to appropriately discuss the historical event of the killing of Bin Laden. Instead, they made headlines that were eye catching and told jokes that would make people laugh at a very dark subject. No one will ever be able to change what the media does and how they react to certain events. At the end of the day, the media wants to create newspapers that will sell and comedians want to make their programs worth watching.
While the media has always had this reputation, it’s important as rhetoricians to not so freely accept what the media provides us. As rhetoricians we have the responsibility to take what Eberly did in her classroom, and use her proto public sphere as a model to approach future situations. We can’t simply accept that what the media provides us is sufficient enough. By creating constructive environments using the tools of rhetoric, we will be able to change the way we look at significant events. More importantly; how we remember them.