Claudia Rankine uses the television screen in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely as a device to show how perversely informed/involved our society is with current events. Written as an aftermath of 9/11, it seems as though Rankine is commenting on how involved the public is with the events in the news. The people seem to be absorbed completely by the events on the television screen, as if they were living the images that flash upon the screen. One example of this absorption is television screen with the picture of Princess Diana’s front yard after her death. The picture of thousands of mementos left on the front lawn, with the house blocked off by a gate shows how we feel as though we are apart of the events taking place in the news, but we are actually just voyeurs. We passively participate in these events happening around the world, sitting behind the tv screen, feeling as though we are apart of these events that unfold on the television screen.
Rankine writes “Was Princess Diana ever really alive? I mean, alive to anyone outside of her friends and family—truly?”(39) trying to rationalize with the waves of emotions millions of people felt after Princess Diana’s death. Did these people all around the world ever truly know Princess Diana, or were they simply mourning this false idol? I am not saying that Princess Diana a false idol, I mean that these millions of people that were mourning her death did not actually know Diana, not the Princess, but Diana the woman. There were images of people crying in the street like their grandmother had just died, yet they had never met this woman in their entire life. By asking the question if Princess Diana was ever really alive, Rankine is asking if she was real to those who mourned her death. Did she ever sit and have tea, go to their child’s birthday party or send Christmas cards to these people who were so devastated by Princess Diana’s death? With the example of Princess Diana, Rankine is saying that we, as consumers of these images on the television screen are becoming totally absorbed. We feel as though these people we see on the screen are apart of our lives, which I think Rankine is saying is unhealthy.
Rankine seems to be focusing on what happened after 9/11. It seems as though the bubble that protected the United States had burst. The images that would appear on the television screen now occupy space on the page without the border of the tv screen. All of a sudden we are not protected by the screen, allowing us to participate, without actually participating. 9/11 burst this bubble, causing people to suddenly realize that the news they see on the television can happen to them too. They are no longer protected behind the television screen. The attacks on 9/11 signified a shift in the American population. Rankine notes this by saying,“It strikes me that what the attack on the World Trade Center stole from us is our willingness to be complex. Or what the attack on the World Trade Center revealed to us is that we were never complex”(91) as immediately after 9/11 it seemed as though that moment in time we retreated back to simple beings. The “them vs us” mentality drew out ugly responses from many Americans right after the terrorist attack. Solidarity drew us together, uniting us against a common enemy, for that time in our history.
The question if we were ever complex causes us as readers, who most of us witnessed 9/11, to take a step back and reflect. Once we saw that bad things could happen to us, our bubble burst, causing us to no longer look at the world as this complex place. We no longer felt that we were able to build and maintain relationships with those outside of the US, cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. Here, I sort of understand what Rankine is saying, as I feel she is trying to say that we are no longer protected by our television screens, suggesting that we were never really complex in the first place.