Memorials are used across the world to convey a wide array of messages from hope and inspiration to devastation and sorrow. One intriguing type of this display is a web memorial, which is written and published online. Because it is online, it adds different benefits, such as accessibility, but yields equivalent disadvantages, like durability. Aaron Hess, in his article “In Digital Remembrance: Vernacular Memory and the Rhetorical Construction of Web Memorials,” examines 9/11 web memorials and their use of rhetoric. However, before he dives into analyzing the individual websites, he gives us an overview of web memorials.
One key item that should be noted about web memorials is the various types of interactions with us as the readers, specifically vertical text and videos. By yielding these two different forms of communication, the author allows us to interpret the memorial in whatever way we deem most effective. For example, if you are not interested in reading a long article about the attacks, you can skip down to later in the text where there are short quotes from eyewitnesses. Additionally, if you just are not in the mood to read anything, you can watch a video and still get an impression of the devastation this terrorism caused.
Other large point of contention regarding web memorials is the question of superiority. One web memorial Hess analyzes is called “Mike’s 9/11 Memorial Page.” This website claims to have won national awards in recognition of its tribute. However, what makes one memorial better than the other? Shouldn’t they all be considered great, because of what they stand for? I think that it is somewhere in between. Take two hypothetical memorials, for instance. One contains pictures of funerals and quotes from eyewitnesses and family members of those who died in the tragedy. The other memorial is wrought with statistics and quotes from government officials. Which one is more effective? Some say it is a no-brainer that the first one is better, because it focuses more on the lost lives. Contrarily, others think that the second is better because it is more fact-based and official. The point is, it depends on who is reading and experiencing the memorial. As the adage goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” What strikes one person might be ignored by another. Overall, although it may have won awards, that does not mean it is a better memorial, necessarily; it only means that there are people who think it emphasizes some parts of the tragedy extremely well.
Lastly, vernacular is a key feature of web memorials. On real life statues and memorials, the rhetoric often features an official tone and proper language. Contrastingly, because anyone can make a website, the language used in web memorials is typically vernacular. By using vernacular, it is often easier for the audience to relate to the writer, because they feel as if they could be saying this. When looking at memorials, it is difficult to relate to the speakers, because they employ elevated language, in which nobody typically speaks, and is sometimes difficult to understand. Vernacular makes memorials more personal and, to many people, more impactful.
Overall, I think that web memorials are an interesting type of memorial. Although they are not as popular, possibly due to the fact that you do not usually find them unless you are looking for them (unlike memorials like the Washington Monument that can be seen from ten blocks away), they are often more efficient in conveying emotion.