Media and the Symbolic Fists Up


The national and international media were quickly fascinated with the fists-up gesture; they captured it and multiplied it in hundreds of images. The BBC, as mentioned above, shared videos and images of the crowds raising their fists in the air, explaining its use and how it was spread through posts and hashtags. A post on CNN ventured other meanings for the fists-up gesture: “Of hope, that a life may be found. Of victory, when it is. Of solidarity, as the nation comes together to mourn.” On the following days, other journalistic platforms ascribed more meanings to the silencing gesture, beyond its practical and immediate use. The Washington Post spoke of it as a gesture for memory, when people gathered for one minute of silence with their fists up as a commemoration. A compilation of photographs from Univision also shows how easily a fists-up gesture for silence can be said to portray unity, strength or enthusiasm, perhaps even accompanied by a shout, a hurray, or an “Are you tired?” such as Noel remembered. The images, static and silent, lack the complexity and detail of both the gesture and the situation, and the videos, now loaded with suspenseful or tragic music, erase the memory of the noise and silence.

Nevertheless, on various rescue groups’ webpages and commemorations, the official image for recalling the earthquake is still that of people standing on ruins with closed fists in the air. It has been incorporated in images of instructions on what to do during the aftermath of earthquakes and other emergency situations. One year after the earthquake, 19 September 2018, the commemoration events of the tragedy included a minute of silence with the fists raised up in the air: a call for silence and memory, a sign of mourning and unity, its practical and symbolic dimensions joined for the future.