Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Forgetting Our Great National Obsession

Man, do I ever feel faux-guilty. I was so busy watching and worrying over Hurricane Irma (when I wasn't shallowly and obsessively writing about Hillary and Ivanka, that is) that I completely, utterly forgot that yesterday was the anniversary of 9/11. I didn't realize the importance of the date until I switched on the local news last night. Usually they lead off with a gory highway pileup, or the latest grievous assault on (or theft of) a religious statue in the Bronx. But the minute I heard that solemn tolling bell soundtrack, I knew exactly what I had missed.

It was like the recurring nightmare I used to have as a struggling single mother: I'd either forgotten about Halloween, and my kids were the only ones in the school without costumes, or even worse, the kids woke up to a bare Christmas tree because Mom had forgotten to play Santa. Maybe a psychologist out there can interpret these anxiety dreams for me. Because truth be told, I still sometimes have them. even though my children have been adults for years.

I wasn't always so remiss about 9/11 on this blog. Without going through the archives, I'm pretty sure I've posted something inappropriate about it on all the requisite dates. Since I am a day late and a dollar short, I'll just offer up the following 9/11 anecdote before following up with a reprise of one of my older posts.

You might have read that our esteemed governor, Andrew Cuomo, has faced some criticism for yanking hundreds of New York State police troopers away from their normal patrols in order for them to stand around at the airports and train stations as actors in National Security Terror Theater. (The media has had to file Freedom of Information requests to get the specifics on this public relations gimmick, such as the $26 million cost overrun in the state police budget.)

A state trooper I know was one of those assigned to Grand Central recently. Before going to their assigned posts, however, his detail's first order of business was a special guided tour of the 9/11 memorial and museum at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. He told me that the objective was to get the troopers in the right emotional and patriotic frames of mind as they sussed out potential terrorists waiting in line for a train to Albany or a flight to Boise. Oh, and it was for Cuomo to look Oval Office-ready and for passengers to feel either safe or intimidated, as the case may be. The trooper told me he'd personally found the whole experience very weird, particularly the required museum tour. His main function turned out to be posing for selfies with out-of-state tourists.

On that note, here's a piece I wrote three years ago, to mark the opening of the 9/11 museum in 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.


* This was a reference to the murder of Trayvon Martin in the "stand your ground" Sunshine State. He was shot to death by neighborhood watch vigilante George Zimmerman because he was wearing a hoodie while walking while black.


annenigma said...

My thoughts and prayers go out to all the families of the bankers, hedge fund managers, financial services execs, commodity traders, insurance company executives, and corporate lawyers who lost their lives, as well as all the innocent people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Jay–Ottawa said...

In historical order, as best I recall, a handful of ramrod responses to threats against nations of the exceptional kind.

"Come … take them." (Sparta)

"If." (Sparta, again)

"Don't tread on me." (Gadsden)

"England expects every man will do his duty." (Nelson)

"I have not yet begun to fight." (Jones)

"Victory or Death." (Texas)

"Remember the Alamo!" (Texas, again)

"That was downright ungentlemanly." (Sheridan)

"They shall not pass." (Nivelle)

"We have passed." (Franco)

"…a date which will live in infamy!" (FDR)

"Nuts!" (McAuliffe)

"Having found the bomb, we have used it." (Truman)

OK, have you gotten into the mood? Now, for 9/11, will no one give me a motto to excite our citizens, in and out of uniform, to battle on and on to victory in the war against terrorism, whatever it takes? C'mon. The T-shirt vendors are waiting.

Erik Roth said...

Some other 9/11 related things to consider ...