In a year of cataclysms, a few faces stand outSeismic jolts shook 2011 — uprisings that set a whole region afire, natural disasters of historic destructiveness, the demise of icons. But again and again amid these world-changing convulsions, the mirror of a single face, or two or three, joyous, tormented, panicked or hopeful, brought the larger-than-life moments back to human scale.
By: Christopher Sullivan, The Dickinson Press
Seismic jolts shook 2011 — uprisings that set a whole region afire, natural disasters of historic destructiveness, the demise of icons. But again and again amid these world-changing convulsions, the mirror of a single face, or two or three, joyous, tormented, panicked or hopeful, brought the larger-than-life moments back to human scale.
There were the taut, staring faces in the White House situation room as America’s leaders strained to take in reports of the raid that was, right then, killing Osama bin Laden.
Youthful faces filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square, triumphant and forward-looking in spring, angry and masked against tear gas in fall.
Tears streaked faces in the ruins of tornadoes that scoured towns in Missouri and Alabama.
Behind a hazmat faceshield, scared eyes scanned Japan’s quake-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant; in a final portrait, Steve Jobs stared, intense as ever but so thin; through a car window, Joe Paterno frowned distractedly.
It’s not hard — and it may be almost necessary — to recall such images as we try to make sense of the relentless buffeting we’ve all been through in this extraordinary year.
Not all the faces are downcast. Seven months after she survived a would-be assassin’s shots in January, beaming looks and happy tears greeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on her return to Congress for a vote to avert
a government shutdown.
And as well-wishers thronged London streets for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Britain’s capital was almost one great grin. Almost, but not quite. As the royal newlyweds kissed on a Buckingham Palace balcony, eyes quickly shifted to the corner of the frame — and the head-in-hands grimace of a little worn-out flowergirl.
Think of an unforgettable event in 2011, and you conjure a signature face.
“Arab spring” was the term coined for one of the year’s most profound developments, but it was still winter when a street vendor in Tunisia, Mohamed Bouazizi, tragically protested officials’ humiliating harassment by setting himself on fire.
Demonstrators carrying poster-size photos of his youthful face surged in thousands to the seat of power in Tunis, eventually driving out the longtime ruler.
It was the first crack in the stone wall of autocracy in nations across the Middle East — and the Arab spring became a year-long struggle to reshape the region.
In ravaged Libya, the capture and shooting of Moammar Gadhafi provided one of the year’s most searing images: his corpse, face bloated, laid out on a bare mattress for queues of spectators to gawk at.
On the other side of the world, the economy’s woes were a theme hammered home as Republican presidential candidates stood behind rows of lecterns for what seemed at times like weekly debates — and near-weekly shifts in the front-runner, from Rep. Michelle Bachmann to Gov. Rick Perry to businessman Herman Cain to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “Anybody but Mitt,” some in the GOP said, referring to ex-governor Mitt Romney, whose pretty good poll numbers neither dwindled nor let him pull away.
On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama geared up for a re-election
run amid both economic and political dysfunction. “We can’t wait,” he repeated in speeches.
A drawn-out battle in Congress over raising the federal debt ceiling nearly halted government activity and led to the downgrading of America’s credit rating. It also prompted creation of a special bipartisan congressional “supercommittee.” Its job: to find budget savings on a scale not seen before — $1.2 trillion over the next decade. In the end, no compromise emerged in the gridlocked capital.
In Obama’s year, no day proved more eventful than May 2.
He had given the order for a Navy Seal operation against bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, whom CIA intelligence had traced to a walled house in Pakistan.
As CIA director Leon Panetta gave a real-time description of the unfolding helicopter raid, a White House photographer captured the moment: Obama’s eyes burning straight ahead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tensely raising hand to mouth, others appearing to hold their breath.
In 40 minutes, it was over; the commandos vanished into the darkness with hard drives and other evidence they gathered, plus bin Laden’s body, which was hurriedly buried at sea.
“We got him,” Obama said.