Somehow, I’ve managed to make it five years without ever really confronting the spectacle of 9/11. I watched two days of television–Tuesday, Sept. 11 and Wednesday, Sept. 12–with my college roommates, and that was it. No more. I never watched any of the specials, the movies, the ____-year-after-9/11 anniversary shows, or looked at any of news magazines or big, coffee-table books they made “commorating” the tragic events of that day. I went to one vigil at my school, but looking around me and seeing people weeping for loved ones living somewhere in New York City, I felt I had no place standing next to them and trying to imagine how they felt. When flags became all the rage, I pledged to show my patriotism in action–voting, being a good citizen, volunteering–rather than to cover my car with red, white and blue. When the “9/11 Commission Report” came out, yes, I had my ordered copy waiting, and I went home and read the whole thing in a week–marveling at just how stupid and inept and completely, depressingly chaotic our government was that day, all the days leading up to it and all the days after–but I avoiding talking about the book with others who had read it because, as I watched it hit the top of the bestsellers’ list, I kind of regretted having bought it, thinking for the hundredth time how I didn’t want to be a participant in 9/11-related money-making. At no point did I want to feel as though I was a consumer in the media frenzy surrounding such a truly horrific and uncomprehendable event whose magnitude I couldn’t, for the life of me, wrap my head around.
All that being said, it was especially interesting and difficult doing the readings for this week and doing research for my presentation tomorrow. I’ll admit, I called my father crying when I found an entire site devoted to images of the people who leapt, rather than burnt, to death. Sure, I’d heard about those photos, but I’d never seen them. And, I couldn’t believe the other things I found: countless–literally–Web sites completely devoted to online images of the planes hitting, the towers falling, the New Yorkers running, wailing, standing still and looking absolutely dumbstruck, and the firefighters, for weeks after, digging through the wreckage. Susan Willis says how “the display of [post-9/11] flags underscores the importance of quantity over quality” (378). Well, the Internet world of 9/11 spectacle certainly echoes quantity over quality as well.
I don’t know how much I have to contribute to the overall discussion here, given the remarkably poignant things people have already written. And, short of going into what I want to talk about during my presentation tomorrow, I’ll just stick with rather general points about a few of the many connections I saw in the readings this week to the readings we’ve done through the course of this semester.
1. In “Old Glory,” Willis writes about the powerful effect the American flag began to have in the months and year after 9/11. What she wrote on p. 379, specifically, seemed to echo DeLillo’s crowd mentality in “Mao II.” Willis writes how the unspoken mantra behind the flag craze seemed to be the age-old slogan, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” (379). You’re either in the crowd or you aren’t, harkoning back to Le Bon and Canetti, as well as DeLillo. Interesting how outside of the proud flag-bearing crowd another equally opinionated and elitist anti-flag crowd (some might call them the liberals…) formed, too.
2. During this week’s readings, I was especially drawn to the idea of commodity–of Americans, images and products–in relation to 9/11. Again, looking at Willis, she made an interesting comment on p. 381 about how funds for DNA testing were rerouted from death-row inmates to Ground Zero, and how “Clearly, some lives–or deaths–count more than others.” She goes on to say, “…Americans generally count more than the world’s others” (381). Did 9/11 commodify even the people who died from it? Also, obviously the images from 9/11 have certainly been commodified (if that’s a word) into posters, books, Web sites, magazines, etc. Some people have made God knows how much money off of 9/11 memorabilia. There were specific Sept. 11 “curators,” for pete’s sake. Commodity to the extreme.
3. I’m not entirely sure where I want to go with this last point or how exactly it might tie into some of the works we’ve read this semester, but I was too caught by it to not bring it up here. In Zizek’s (excuse the lack of proper accent marks there!) essay, “Welcome to the Desert of the Real!”, he says how Americans were so confused as to how these suicide pilots “have such a disregard for their own lives” (388). He then goes on to say, “Does not this surprise reveal the rather sad fact that we, in the first world countries, find it more and more difficult even to imagine a public or universal Cause for which one would be ready to sacrifice one’s life?” (388) I didn’t quite know what to think about this. Is he saying that extreme terrorists are actually commendable because they have a cause they deem worth dying for? Are we lesser people if we don’t have that conviction for something as abstract as religion or God? Like I said, I didn’t really know where to take this, but it was too jarring a statement to ignore.
Although I have rambled on long enough, I’d like to echo Joe’s sentiments about this blog. I’ve been so impressed with the many wonderful and insightful comments, criticisms, questions and clarifications I’ve read here this semester. Thank you all for sharing.