Thursday, May 15, 2014

Atrocity Exhibition in the Gilded Age

It could always be worse, I suppose. At least they're not selling the "Twisted Metal" series of X-rated video games in the September 11 Memorial Museum gift shop. Not yet, anyway.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a 9/11 souvenir shop. It will open its doors next week, to coincide with the grand opening of our Great National Shrine to Terror, appropriately located just blocks away from that other terror enclave known as Wall Street in lower Manhattan.

A dedication gala reserved for a class-spanning cavalcade of potentates, politicians, CEOs, corporate sponsors, emergency personnel and survivors was being held today.

But back to shopping. Among the mementos on sale are adorable search and rescue dog plushies. They're euphemistally being  labeled "rescue" animals for Disneyfication-of-atrocity purposes, due to their rapid redeployment as cadaver dogs after the tower collapses. 

And since the 9/11 gift shop is an equal opportunity purveyor, the puppies are available in both black Lab and yellow Lab. 

  The selection doesn't end with toys. For fashionistas anxious to show off their somberness for all the folks back home, the "Darkness" clothing label is offering a special line of tee-shirts and hoodies. This couture is not recommended for wearing upon dark skin, especially in Florida and wherever the NYPD is on patrol.

And for those hopelessly romantic death-denialists out there, there's a wide variety of "Survivor Tree" jewelry, named after the oak tree damaged in the attacks and nursed back to health by some volunteer horticulturists.

  Finally,don't forget your WTC Map & Memorial Tote Bag. For only $20, you'll have a sturdy place to stash your 9/11 plushies, earrings, mug, cap, cell phone cover, mousepad, magnets, keychains and a wide variety of 9/11 Christmas ornaments.

Are you worried that the commercialization of one of the most horrific crimes in history might be too intense for the sensitive shopper?  Well, you can ease yourselves. Because all proceeds will be used for the outrageously expensive upkeep of the 9/11 Museum itself. You see, the multimillion-dollar tax deductible predatory loans investments from Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and virtually all of corporate America apparently are not enough to keep Terror alive, year after year, for all eternity.

 And heaven forbid that any proceeds are used to give away tickets to those New Yorkers who can't afford the $24 price of admission. The indigent population in the Wealth Disparity Capital of the World will get nothing. The ailing, poisoned first responders of 9/11 will not be seeing any additional proceeds either, despite the fact that their badges and insignia are being honored as religious artifacts and sold at high markups in the gift shop.

To be totally fair, though, Museum directors are not charging admission to children. They also don't recommend attendance by children under the age of 10. The exhibits are that disturbing.

If you can't or won't visit the glorified crime scene, you can still order 9/11 stuff from the gift shop website. And should your merchandise arrive in a mangled condition, there's a 45-day window for returns or refunds. Your complete satisfaction is their goal.

But, I digress from the sanctity of this surreal occasion.

In the 9/11 museum itself, the thrills will be muted, and open displays of  enjoyment will not be tolerated. Taking a cue from peep show culture, long-suppressed graphic video and audio of human beings in the act of death will be only available for discreet viewing in private rooms. Similarly, the unidentified human remains newly arrived from the city morgue for museum interment will be hidden from rubber-neckers who cannot prove that they are immediate family. Fetishists will have to be satisfied using their limited imaginations as they ponder the grotesque tableaux of mangled fire trucks, orphaned shoes, melted girders, and other relics and artifacts of mass murder. The mausoleum within the museum is off-limits to mere gawkers.

And J.G. Ballard must be rolling in his grave.

The late novelist actually presaged the 9/11 museum and the dystopian decadence of the 21st century Gilded Age in his fiction. His novel "The Atrocity Exhibition" included a controversial short story called "Crash". The plot, such as it is, takes place amidst a museum display of horrendous car crash memorabilia.

"All over the world," Ballard wrote, "major museums have bowed to the influence of Disney and become theme parks in their own right. The past, whether Renaissance Italy or Ancient Egypt, is re-assimilated and homogenized in its most digestible form."

Unlike the glitzy 9/11 shrine, we never do find out whether Ballard's atrocity exhibition of gruesome relics is real, or whether it's simply a figment of the protagonist's psychotic imagination.  First published in Great Britain in 1970, the book was considered so disgusting that copies were soon yanked from store shelves and destroyed. The pre-9/11 world apparently was not yet ready for science fiction pornography.

The late Christopher Hitchens described Ballard as a "catastrophist" who specialized in "dark materials," (as in the 9/11 Boutique "Darkness" clothing line) his inspiration flowing in a straight line from Jonathan Swift. In his review of Ballard's short story collection, Hitchens wrote:
Another early story (though not represented here: the claim of this volume to be “complete” is somewhat deceptive) in something of the same style, “Plan for the Assassination of Jacqueline Kennedy,” ignited a ridiculous fuss in the very news rags whose ghoulish coverage of her life Ballard was intending to satirize. Randolph Churchill led the charge, demanding punishment for the tiny magazine that printed it. This “modest proposal” furnishes one of many clues to a spring of Ballard’s inspiration, which is fairly obviously the work of Jonathan Swift. In 1964 he even wrote an ultra-macabre story, “The Drowned Giant,” which tells of what happens when the corpse of a beautiful but gigantic man washes ashore on a beach “five miles to the north-west of the city.” The local Lilliputians find cheap but inventive ways of desecrating and disfiguring the body before cutting it up for souvenirs and finally rendering it down in big vats. One might characterize this as the microcosmically ideal Ballard fantasy, in that it partakes of the surreal—the “Gulliver” being represented as a huge flesh statue based on the work of Praxiteles—as well as of the Freudian: “as if the mutilation of this motionless colossus had released a sudden flood of repressed spite.” In the pattern of many other stories, the narrator adopts the tone of a pathologist dictating a detached report of gross anatomy. A single phrase, colossal wreck, is a borrowing from Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” which may be the closest that Ballard ever came to a concession to the Romantic school.
 Another and nearer literary source is provided by the name—Traven—of the solitary character in “The Terminal Beach.” This is one of two tales—the other being “One Afternoon at Utah Beach”—in which Ballard makes an imaginarium out of the ruined scapes of World War II. Like his modern but vacant cities full of ghostly tower blocks (he is obsessed with towers of all sorts) and abandoned swimming pools, the Pacific and Atlantic beaches, still covered by concrete blocks and bunkers, furnish the ideal setting for a Ballardian wasteland. The beach in the first story has the additional advantage of having been the site of an annihilating nuclear test. The revenant shapes of long-dead Japanese and Germans are allowed a pitiless flicker before their extinction.
 It was such an innocent time, that Pre-9/11 Era. And then Everything Changed (TM). We were speed-read the Shock Doctrine. The NSA revved up into high gear. The Bill of Rights crashed and burned and became a relic practically overnight. (all except the Second Amendment, which immediately began consuming the other nine, course by voracious course.)

Disaster Capitalism ran wild.

 “Like the great wall and bedrock that embrace us today, nothing can ever break us. Nothing can change who we are as Americans.” -- Barack Obama, 9/11 Museum dedication.

 “The human race sleepwalked to oblivion, thinking only of the corporate logos on its shroud." -- J.G. Ballard, Kingdom Come.

Update, 5/19: Here's more about the "absurd" 9/11 gift shop. H/T Pearl.


Zee said...

Not that I'll be spending my tourist dollars in Second Amendment-hating NYC any time soon, but if, for some science-fictionish reason, I suddenly found myself transported there à la Star Trek, I STILL wouldn't be spending so much as a microsecond—or a single dime—at the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Cozily ensconcing myself in a private booth and listening to the horrifying last moments of doomed people calling family and friends on their cell 'phones to tell them that they loved them, or deciding whether to burn alive or jump from the building?

God help us! What have we become?

ste-vo said...

There are significant volunteer opportunities as well.

Pearl said...

I wonder if they will ever include the screams and cries of the Iraqi people who were killed and maimed, paying a price for the 9/11 horror they had no hand in. And our current leaders boasting about leaving Iraq behind in better shape??!! They are not even bothering to clean up what they destroyed despite massive ammount of money allocated for that purpose.

A recent article about agent orange used in Vietnam indicates permanent damage to various habitation areas as well as to people's lives with deformed babies resulting. To say nothing of damage to the mental and physical health of U.S. troops.
We have a shameful history to be remembered.

Kat said...

Tacky gift shop and sponsorship by Conde Nast?
I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to post 9/11 America.
Oh, yes the use of volunteer labor is a stealth tribute to our the financial/housing collapse. You can make a donation too! I assume it is tax deductible.
As Pearl pointed out, there will be no tributes to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. I guess we have already left our "memorial" there. Almost every day there is a tiny news item in the paper ("news from around the world") about a dozen or so Iraqis dying in some sectarian violence. There is really no coverage of the garden variety lack of electricity or water. We do hear triumphal stories about elections there. March of democracy (thank you USA!).

Zee said...

Off topic, but I thought this article would be of general interest to Sardoniskistas:

“When I [writer David Sirota] went into journalism, one of the first things I was told as a freshman is that journalism is different from stenography. It is supposed to be—or at least has been—about using rights granted under the First Amendment to be a check on government and corporate power.

Yet, the hedge in that last sentence is deliberate—and appropriate. That’s because a new survey from the Indiana University suggests things are fast changing in the news industry—and not for the better.

The latest in 42 years worth of surveys of journalists, this one polled more than 1,000 reporters in the latter half of 2013. That timeframe is significant—it was right when revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance were being published.

You might think such an historic time period in the annals of journalism would only strengthen reporters’ belief in the necessity of responsibly—but fearlessly—publishing information, even if the powers that be do not authorize such publication. Instead, it seems the exact opposite has happened.

As IU researchers note, 'the percentage of U.S. journalists endorsing the occasional use of ‘confidential business or government documents without authorization,’ dropped significantly from 81.8 percent in 1992 to 57.7 percent in 2013.'
(My bold emphasis.)

“Simply put, the path that avoids regular confrontation with power is often far easier, less risky and more lucrative in the news business. Thus, it has become the preferred path du jour, to the point where almost half of the news business does not support reporting news that the government and corporations don’t want reported. And who knows? Maybe the next IU survey 10 years from now shows a full-on majority of journalists saying news outlets shouldn’t publish without the express consent of the corporations and governments.

That would no doubt make the CEOs and politicians quite happy, but it would be a tragedy for the rest of us.”
—David Sirota

The 43.3 percent of rebels excepted—of which you are one, Karen—it still sounds as though “journalism” is rapidly becoming just another “go along to get along, make money, and hang out with the Very Important People” kind of job, rather than a career or profession.

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks, Zee. I covered the big chill on journalism and cited the Indiana study last week in "Oh What a Tangled Web We Freeze," also x-posted on Truthout. Glad to see Sirota covering it, as the survey and a similar one from PEN are not getting much attention. Reporters are too scared to even talk about being scared! But Putin Bad, Obama Good. USA!!! USA!!!

James F Traynor said...

A Gift Shop? What an insult to the memory of those people. Every time I think it's bad, it gets worse. What the hell is the matter with us?
And Sirota's piece on journalism. Craven is the only adjective I can come up with - it covers the gamut.

Anonymous said...

The problem with journalism and journalists and news reporters is that they share a weakness with the majority of the citizens in the country,ignorance. Ignorance of facts, of opposition points of view not easily available, of past history and lack of educational standards that never get out of the box, and so on. Just watching the conflicting reports about the Ukraine, about global warming when proper information is available if one really wants to know how to pursue it, results in inaccuracies. And of course the fear of not belonging to the majority opinion whether in a local place of work or community or larger picture frightens the timid ones off.
We need more writers like Karen, who do thorough research, connect the dots and are not influenced by the popular sentiments which may be full of holes.
She is encouraging more people to speak up and out with convincing facts and interpretations. It becomes a political detective story to report the truth which few writers and journalists have the ability and tenacity to deal with.
But there are many examples of good ones around many of whom have great articles in Truthout.

Pearl said...

Sorry this posting is from Pearl. I pressed the wrong button.

Zee said...

There seems to be a growing backlash against the tacky gift shop at the 9/11 memorial, and even the price of admission.

To me, the thought of a "museum" was questionable from the start, let alone a museum that charged admission. And a tasteless "gift shop?" Well, beyond the Pale...

The memorial should have been on a par with something like the Vietnam War Memorial: somber, simple, and free.

But in New York City, given enough time, any tragedy can be turned into a perpetual money-maker.


Just another reason to never visit NYC--or NY State--again.

msnandover54 said...

Conde Nast? I might have to give up my subscription to the New Yorker. It's all about billionaires anyway. The New Yorker is really impressed with money and those who have it. They're obviously smarter than the rest of us. They're different from you and me, I'm told.