G. Robert Boynton, Political Science
Paper prepared for the meeting of the
International Society for Political Psychology
Robert Frost’s Mending Wall is one of the most American poems by one of the most
American poets. Embedded deep in the rocky soil of rural
Frost tells us that walls are basically unnatural. They are set up against the tendency of nature, and natural forces move to bring them down.
Something there is
that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
Human actors are also sometimes at cross-purposes with the walls set across their paths.
work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs
Despite the wall-makers’ best intentions, gaps appear.
The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
And so the walls must regularly be reset.
I let my neighbor know
beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
Yet, there are places where the walls are clearly not needed.
There where it is we
do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Their purposes or effects are not always clear.
Before I built a wall
I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
The forces working against the walls are often hidden from those who build them.
Something there is
that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself.
And yet we build them anyway, like savages following the tales of their fathers.
I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Globalizing Media Walls
Just as the fame of the Robert
Frost and his “Mending Wall” have carried well beyond their origins, so have
modern walls. Walls have spread physically with the globalizing architecture of
the modern world; and they have spread virtually through the proliferation of
wall signs, symbols, and images. They are vertical exclamations interrupting
the horizontal flow of space. Walls
divide not only New
Walls thus appear where one might think them least likely, in the broadcasts of news media with global aspirations. Two networks—CNN and BBC, have created news broadcasts that aspire to a global, rather than a regional, national, or local audience. More recently Aljazeera is working on launching an English language television news program. All three networks either broadcast in English or wish to do so and have created websites that shadow their regular television programming. As part of an ongoing research program on globalizing media (Beer and Boynton 2003, 2004), we captured these websites for brief sampling periods in July and November 2004 and more comprehensively for all of 2005. We recorded at regular intervals and then searched the resulting files for walls. The data for this effort thus grew out of our own prior work; the stimulus came from Tamara Pearson D’Estrée’s project on walls. Working with her theme, we became interested in the pattern of walls in the globalizing news media.
Modern media carry images of and
references to walls. Many of the discrete references are figures of speech. The
BBC sample, for example, includes the following figurative phrases: backs
against the wall, chest wall, crater wall, mark on the wall, torn down walls,
wall of silence, wall-to-wall, and writing on the wall. Wall Street gets quite
a lot of play. Talk about the interplay of signifiers—a street named for a wall
that refers to the American financial community. But there are also many
physical walls in the news broadcasts.
The walls are often destroyed in natural or human catastrophes like
earthquakes, floods, or warfare. We may think of these as private walls,
important to their owners but without wider public significance. Beyond these
private walls stand public walls with political significance as they enclose
and separate larger political communities. Such walls gratify some and offend
others. Historical public walls include the
Consistent with their global aspirations each of the news networks carries reports about each of these walls. Yet, each network also reflects its own individual identity giving each of the walls a different significance in its reports.
are mainly sites of historical memory. These dead walls, like dead metaphors
whose origins are long forgotten, are the exoskeleton remains of disappeared
cities and empires. These are walls like the Great Wall
The most magnificent is certainly
When walls stay up that is one kind
of memory. Another kind of wall memory is when they come down. Sometimes the
something that does not love a wall achieves its total destruction. So, for
An earlier story, on
The same story juxtaposed the stone wall of an older building, with a German flag on top, with the steel and glass wall of a new structure.
The Berlin Wall is an icon of historical memory, but it is
much more. The BBC News website, a globalizing medium with British roots, tells
the story of new
Living walls are still being created. Some of these, like those that memorialize the Holocaust, may look toward the past and seek to preserve its memory. Other walls mark contested territorial boundaries.
A BBC story of
One wonders how this sample of the older Jewish demographic in the globalizing media’s audience felt about the earlier festivities of German youth and the dynamic of German modernization.
The Israeli Wall
three news networks, Aljazeera gave the most attention to the wall being built
by the Israelis to separate themselves from the Palestinians. Though Aljazeera
has ambitions as a global news network, the flood of text and images about the
Israeli wall makes it clear that it Aljazeera’s heart is in the
As with the
Berlin Wall, media images show the younger generation seeking to transcend the
wall. Aljazeera stories on its websites of March 14 and
Another photo, from
All is not sweetness and light. On
in Bait Sarik.”
On July 11, the Aljazeera caption said that “Palestinians have reacted angrily to the Israeli plan.” The Palestinian protester’s sign “Apartheid Wall” added punch to the image as it linked their struggle that of the South Africans.
Young people carrying the Palestinian flag appear on the wall on February 23. In the caption, “Palestinians say the wall blocks them from having a viable state.”
And on October 6, the image of young people, the flag, and
the wall combine with the caption “Palestinian residents of
fewer stories on the
Walls, as we have suggested, are not only physical structures but also mythical ones that unite and divide political communities. Walls mark the boundaries between different communities. They mark off different worlds of meaning, separating “us” and “them.”
Walls punctuate the ground with
different stories. Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” tells us a wall story.
Wall stories are also embedded in
the web reports of globalizing news networks. In these media stories, different
walls do different things. Each wall has its own story. Such walls as the
As globalizing media tell their wall stories, they give the walls legitimacy and power. Media wall stories imply that the walls are important news. Wall stories are an important part of the myths--the dominant narratives-- of past history, present events, and the prospective future of globalizing culture. Aiming at a global audience, globalizing media should tell particular kinds of war stories. They should not report from one side or another of the walls. They should be on both sides of the walls, with a style that appears fair and balanced. At the same time, the globalizing media do not just report the facts. They also interpret, and their stories inevitably come from a particular perspective. The soil of the roots flavors the wine from the vines. The BBC report colors the Berlin Wall in dark colors that may not quite suit the taste of some Russians with long memories. Aljazeera’s depiction of the Israeli wall is not designed to appeal to Jews. Each network appeals to a segment of the global audience, but not the whole.
Wall poems and stories memorialize the past, and show the present becoming the future. The walls in the stories are metaphors that carry mythical meanings for emerging global culture.
Frost, Robert. “Mending Wall.” http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88/frost-mending.html