How Will Pop Culture Understand the Boston Marathon Bombings?

It took years for artists and entertainers to reckon with 9/11.

Amanda Palmer performs during the first annual True Colors Tour at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 2007.

Amanda Palmer performs during the first annual True Colors Tour at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 2007.

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In some ways that moment – that victory over the perpetrators – came much more quickly for the Boston marathon attack, as finding and apprehending of the suspects took less than week, not the years it took after Sept. 11. That doesn't mean culture's exploration of the tragedy will be equally as swift, particularly for Boston, which occupies its own special place in American arts and entertainment.

[READ: Westboro Plans to Picket First Boston Funeral]

"One thing I think Boston will have to reckon with is this ongoing legacy of residential segregation," says Melnick. New York Magazine, The New Yorker and the others have begun to explore Cambridge's role in producing the culprits, though doing so from an outsider perspective frustrates some within the Boston community, who say it is up to Boston to come up with its own conclusions.

"After this moment of comforting unity, that's the thing that Boston's going to have to reckon with, is how integrated is Boston, how comfortable of a place is it for newer arrivals," says Melnick. In the case of post Sept. 11 arts and culture, there was a "tension between mainstream media narrative and the bottom up, person-to-person narratives," according to Melnick, and one can expect no less of a reaction organic to Boston.Some on Twitter have already wished that Ben Affleck – who attended Dzhokhar's high school – make a movie about last week's event, but the tragedy might just hit too close to home for the actor/director, who usually focuses on more of Boston's mythic tales. Already Boston's music community – a burgeoning indie rock and hip-hop scene buoyed by the area's expansive student population – is responding with a mixtape project that includes of 130 bands, many of them local, rasing money for the tragedy's One Fund Boston.

Also complicating the Boston case – and perhaps what's most troubling about Palmer's attempt – is how we grow understand the perpetrators. "There's a lot of grown-ups who are trying to say what this 19-year-old must have felt, and I think that's always really dangerous, figuring out any teenager's mind, but particularly one who is really, extremely, upset, in a difficult place," says Melnick.Domestically raised and allegedly working alone, Dzhokhar – and even his older brother, assumed to be the leader in the plot – are no Osama bin Laden, or Muhammad Atta for that matter. "[People have] been saying 'terror attack' all along — and in my mind, I'm not clear yet that that's ultimately how we're are going to process it, particularly in the case of the younger guy," says Melnick, "Or whether it's going to seem like fitting the paradigm of a school shooter, and then we will have a whole different set of reference points" — less Kathryn Bigelow and more Gus Van Sant.

"That's going to be a big part of our work right now — to create analytical frameworks that help us make sense of somebody who doesn't already fit already existing categories," says Melnick.

[READ: Criminal Complaint Charging Tsarnaev]

It's not surprising that satirical publication The Onion, another early entry into how pop culture understands the Boston marathon bombing, avoided the question of the suspects all together. It chose to focus on a more innocuous – albeit minor, but memorable none the less – player in last Friday's man hunt saga: "Taylor Swift Now Dating Watertown Boat," it joked.

 

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