Sunday, May 5, 2013

Merchants of Death

The privilege of gaping at piles of twisted metal and gawking at long-suppressed videos of people jumping to their deaths from the Twin Towers will not come cheap. So decree the people running the Atrocity Exhibition 9/11 Museum at the site of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. Tickets will go at about $25 a pop. It's the high cost of fetishization. It's the overhead of building in the underground. Touring Ground Zero cannot come at zero cost to the public. This is America. The site, after all, is adjacent to Wall Street and Club Cipriani, home of the $25 hamburger.

Profound sanctimony and solemnity also become very expensive when the people in charge of perpetuating it are earning six-figure salaries, and the billionaire shrillionaire named Bloomberg is only lending -- not donating, mind you -- a few million of his own stash to the museum. First responders may have paid with their lives, their blood and their health. But everybody will be paying Hizzoner, with interest.

The profit motive and ticket info were not mentioned in a 60 Minutes puff-piece ("Curating Moments of Terror and Tragedy") that aired last weekend, in which Lesley Stahl got the grand tour of the Grand Guignol. Making horror tasteful, making necrophilia seem like respect.... it's hard out there for people profiting off the mass murder of others. But Alice Greenwald, museum curator, is experienced, having just come to 9/11 from the Holocaust Museum. Here's a maudlin sampling of the transcript:

Alice Greenwald: Welcome to Foundation Hall.

Lesley Stahl:...that takes your breath away.

Alice Greenwald: It's haunting and a little chilling knowing you're in the belly of ground zero. In the place where so many innocent people lost their lives.

Lesley Stahl: So here we are, we're right where the buildings collapsed. We're in it.

Alice Greenwald: Most museums are buildings that house artifacts. We're a museum in an artifact.

Lesley Stahl: Where we are is almost sacred.

Alice Greenwald: I think you are become super conscious of where you're standing. And that's a powerful thing. It's a very powerful thing.

It devolves from there -- trust me. But watch if you must.

Even though Stahl managed to scrounge up a few survivors to shill for the museum, other family members are not so sanguine. Sally Regenhard, mother of a firefighter who died in the attack, calls the for-profit mausoleum a "pay-to-grieve national disgrace". She just penned a scathing New York Daily News op-ed:
None of the 9/11 family members that I have worked with ever wanted a billion-dollar money pit; all we hoped for was a simple, uplifting, honorable and patriotic memorial for all who were lost that terrible September day.
Instead, we have a “money is no object” monstrosity inflicted upon us — a design we did not choose, and which we bear no responsibility for — that was incredibly expensive to build and even more logic-defying to maintain.
How dare they charge visitors to pay respects to those lost on 9/11, including my son, a firefighter and recon Marine sergeant?
If his USMC brothers and friends from all over the country want to pay him respect, they have to pay Bloomberg & Co. $25 first.
What a crime! How many families could afford to pay that?
Answer: judging from the ever-increasing income gap between rich and poor in America generally and in New York City particularly, not very many. In the Big Apple, the poverty rate has reached its highest point in more than 10 years. Median earnings for working people fell to $32,210 from $33,287 — much more than the national decline, according to the Census Bureau. The bottom lost ground, while the top gained. That includes Mayor Bloomberg, whose net worth of $25 billion climbed by another $3 billion just in the past year. He wants every penny of that $15 million museum loan repaid, by the way.  

The CEO of the 9/11 Museum, who is paid a relatively modest  $400,000 a year to decide such things as how much to charge the public, also came under criticism last year when he ditched the ceremony commemorating the 1993 WTC bombing to go on a Colorado ski trip with his tycoon father. Joe Daniels, a former private equity manager, had previously blamed his absence on a personal obligation. But when he was caught out, he just shrugged. "I have one of the best dads in New York," he gushed to a local reporter, adding that the unpaid volunteers had it all under control anyway. You really can't make this stuff up. The rich really are different than you and me. If there is such a thing as a gene for shame, it seems to be sorely lacking from the DNA of the pampered wealthy. The plutes are brutes.



I was curious about other atrocity exhibitions/mausoleum museums and whether they, too, are run by the Grifters of Grief. Some results:

Oklahoma City Memorial: ticket prices range between $10 and $12. I found this surprising.

Holocaust Museum, Washington: free admission.

Auschwitz Holocaust site, Poland: free admission.

Arlington National Cemetery: free admission.

Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield: admission is $12.50 for adults.

Dresden Cathedral museum, site of World War 2 bombing: one low-priced annual ticket gains you admission to all German museums.

Wounded Knee massacre site, South Dakota: adults are charged $5 admission.

Tiananmen Square Massacre museum, temporarily located in Hong Kong: free admission.

Moro Crater in the Philippines, site of the slaughter of more than 500 Muslim civilians by the United States Army under the direction of Gen. Leonard Wood: Admission is free, because no memorial was ever built.

Museum of Chemical Weapons (yeah, there is such a place) and other Army tourist traps at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri: admission is free, but photo ID, vehicle registration and proof of insurance (!) are required. That pretty much leaves out non-drivers and un-Americans. And if you're disabled, forget about going as well, since the exhibits are not wheelchair-accessible. Some parts of the military-industrial complex apparently are exempt from the Americans With Disabilities Act as well as from the Geneva Conventions article against torture.

Party on.


Jim - South Florida said...

"In societies dominated by modern conditions of production, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation." -- Guy Debord

9/11 was a defeat for the U.S., as far as the ruling elite was concerned. Never saw it coming. Well, they did, but let's not talk about that. We didn't feel defeated after WW2 for example. There are museums and monuments, but I think even the U.S.S. Arizona memorial presents a sense of triumph in its architectural design.

I think a culture that starts to focus on its defeats is in serious trouble. I think the rise in mass shootings is a sign this culture is in serious trouble. That Wall Street is so close to this museum is the ultimate irony, that will be lost on the people shelling out to see it. Otherwise they'd be spending their bread on a more appropriate circus.

Zee said...

Not a place I care to visit to needlessly stir up bad memories that regularly recur anyway.

And certainly, I don't care to pay an entrance fee to refresh the horror in my mind.

I don't need Bloomie's "museum" to remind me exactly where I was and what I watched on big-screen television as the enormity of the terrorist attack unfolded, nor the memory of the huge fear that gripped Mrs. Zee and I for several days before we were able to determine that dear friends of ours--the husband of which was on a two-year Pentagon assignment from our institution--had survived the attack.

New York City has sunk to a new low, if that is possible.

Sally Regenhard's quote from the New York Daily News says it all:

"How dare they charge visitors to pay respects to those lost on 9/11, including my son, a firefighter and recon Marine sergeant?"

James F Traynor said...

Speaking of Graham Greene. Couldn't resist. We're simply such a sad bunch of shits to let them get away with it.

Pearl said...

Very good analysis, Jim from Florida. Why not use some of the profits from
the current exhibition to help cover the medical expenses for the many first responders and subsequent helpers who sustained lethal illnesses as a result. Many have not been helped who have incurred later cancers, etc. and are being kept in limbo financially as well as their families when they die as they continue to.

To make money for the privileged from such tragedies is truly the lowest of
the low. And then, there are still many questions about some of the strange occurrences during 9/11 that even the survivors have not received any answers to.

When people keep asking what compelled the Boston marathon bombers to destroy people's lives or what compelled a terrorist organization to create a 9/11 there is only one answer. Violence breeds violence and it keeps escalating the stakes unless it is stopped. It seems that we cannot visualize this since no one is stopping the violence. Therefore we can expect more of the same and no one can really feel safe anywhere anymore.

Denis Neville said...

Are we dark tourists? Dark tourism is going to a place where something terrible happened, usually mass death.

The 9/11 Museum will be a top destination of dark tourism.

A 9/11 survivor describes his visit to the 9/11 Memorial:

“The line was too reminiscent of being at an airport or waiting to get on a popular ride at an amusement park and that bothered me. I knew we were all there to see the Memorial but I wasn’t there out of curiosity or with a sincere desire to see where the tragedy had taken place. I had been there the morning of that tragedy so, for me, this was as if I was waiting to see a loved one laid to rest. It didn’t feel right; standing there among people in casual conversations; waiting for the line to move. Just as it wouldn’t if I was forced to stand in a long line of strangers outside of a funeral home to view a member of my family. That’s the degree to which I feel connected to those who died on 9/11. The ones whose deaths I witnessed and those I didn’t.

“I don’t mean to give the impression that I presume that my grief is deeper than anyone else's or that my experience of 9/11 makes me special in any way. We all were affected by what happened on 9/11. We each have a story of that day; whether we were there or across the country; whether we lost someone or just wept for all those we didn’t know. There are those, though, who were affected personally; be it losing a loved one; having a physical or mental affliction now; dealing with guilt for surviving; or living with images that can’t be erased. What we who were there experienced that day is unique to each of us. We may have witnessed the same things; smelled the same smells; heard the same sounds, but what the day did to us, individually, is our own. The imprint of the trauma on our lives or the repercussions or the loss can’t be compared or measured. It is unique for every person.

“I want to believe that the majority of people who will visit the 9/11 Memorial will do so with the sincerest of motives; to remember that day in September and those who died. But I fear that for some it will primarily be a tourist attraction; something to add to the list of "what to see while in New York City"; along with the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.

“I know that I am in the minority in my reaction to the Memorial; particularly among other 9/11 survivors and I am thankful for that. I truly am glad that the Memorial can be a place of consolation and comfort for others. I’m glad the 9/11 families have the Memorial as a physical tribute to memorialize their loved ones.

“But, for me, I will hold onto my memory of kneeling before Ground Zero; overcome by the holiness of that spot. Sadly, that ground I considered so sacred is now covered with cement slabs and throngs of tourists.

“Perhaps nothing built to commemorate that day could be a place of comfort for me.

“I am grateful that I’m here today to tell my story; knowing there are so many stories of that day that we will never know. So I will do what I can to assure that people never forget.

“Perhaps that can be my own personal memorial to 9/11.”

- Artie Van Why,

Pearl said...

Karen: Great comment to Krugman's latest and please enter it into our comments section. But don't despair dear friends. A friend sent me the final solution.

Subj: Medicare OUR way...

Medicare Part G

You're a sick senior citizen and the government says there is no nursing home care available for you. So what do you do?
Our plan gives anyone 65 years, or older, a gun (G) and 4 bullets.
You are allowed to shoot four Politicians.
Of course, this means you'll be sent to prison, where you will receive three meals a day, a roof over your head, central heating and air conditioning and all the health care
you need.
Need new teeth? No problem. Need glasses? That's great.
Need a new hip, knees, kidney, lungs or heart? They're all covered.
As an added bonus, your kids can come and visit you at least as often as they do now. And who will be paying for all of this? The same
government that just told you they can't afford for you to
go into a home.
And, you can get rid of 4 useless politicians while you're at it.
Plus, because you are a prisoner, you don't have to pay any income taxes anymore.
Is this a great country or what?

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Pearl. Here's my reply to Krugman:

More than tragic, more than silly: the deliberate ignorance of our leaders borders upon the criminal.

Unfortunately, the only court for gross dereliction of political duty is the voting booth. And since an oligarchy has pretty much replaced representative democracy, those periodic pullings of the lever are mere exercises is feel-good futility for the masses, a great big group yanking of the national chain. Gerrymandering and the declaration that money is speech are the toxins that are killing us.

Politicians spend a lot of time complaining about the Sequester, but it's been awhile since I've heard any of them suggest that we just repeal the stupid thing. This is despite the fact that it's forecast to eventually destroy 750,000 jobs. But rest assured -- both parties will stealthily conspire to restore the Pentagon cuts, forgetting all about the Medicare patients locked out of chemo, the little kids kicked out of Head Start and the longterm unemployed facing catastrophic cuts in benefits.

These sadistic policies are actually increasing the deficit. Trillions of dollars in lost output. No jobs= no spending=no jobs in an endless, obsessive-compulsive and very vicious cycle.

It's all being sucked up, going straight to those at the very top. It's only a matter of time before the whole edifice comes crashing down, like one great, big, shoddily constructed Bangladeshi slave factory built upon a fetid swamp.

And they'll all howl: "But nobody could ever have foreseen...."

Denis Neville said...

As Karen says, “the deliberate ignorance of our leaders borders upon the criminal.”

They have no sense of their true duty, which is to be great men and women and preserve humanity. They imitate being great and wise so badly and thieves so well.

Listen, little men and women:

“You differ from a great man in only one respect: the great man was once a very little man, but he developed one important quality: he recognized the smallness and narrowness of his thoughts and actions. Under the pressure of some task that meant a great deal to him, he learned to see how his smallness, his pettiness endangered his happiness. In other words, a great man knows when and in what way he is a little man. A little man does not know he is little and is afraid to know. He hides his pettiness and narrowness behind illusions of strength and greatness, someone else's strength and greatness. He's proud of his great generals but not of himself. He admires an idea he has not had, not one he has had. The less he understands something, the more firmly he believes in it. And the better he understands an idea, the less he believes in it.” - Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man!

Great ends cannot be attained by base means. The meanness and inhumanity of your means make great ends unattainable. Witness our current social upheavals.

“You'll have a good, secure life when being alive means more to you than security, love more than money, your freedom more than public or partisan opinion; when the mood of Beethoven's or Bach's music becomes the mood of your whole life; when your thinking is in harmony, and no longer in conflict, with your feelings; when you let yourself be guided by the thoughts of great sages and no longer by the crimes of great warriors; when you pay the men and women who teach your children better than the politicians; when truths inspire you and empty formulas repel you; when you communicate with your fellow workers in foreign countries directly, and no longer through diplomats.” - Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man!

Those periodic pullings of the voting lever, feel-good futility for the masses…

“For twenty-five years I've been speaking and writing in defense of your right to happiness in this world, condemning your inability to take what is your due, to secure what you won in bloody battles on the barricades of Paris and Vienna, in the American Civil War, in the Russian Revolution. Your Paris ended with Petain and Laval, your Vienna with Hitler, your Russia with Stalin, and your America may well end in the rule of the Ku Klux Klan! You've been more successful in winning your freedom than in securing it for yourself and others. This I knew long ago. What I did not understand was why time and again, after fighting your way out of a swamp, you sank into a worse one. Then groping and cautiously looking about me, I gradually found out what has enslaved you: YOUR SLAVE DRIVER IS YOU YOURSELF. No one is to blame for your slavery but you yourself. No one else, I say!” - Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man!

We have met the enemy and he is us. Bread and circuses keep us at home instead of protesting in the streets.

The howling has already begun, "But nobody could ever have foreseen...."