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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Media Hype: September 11th

Before hurricane Irene went over New York City, the storm had been downgraded to a tropical storm. The American news networks were by then too invested in the storyline of Manhattan being flooded to report the downgrade. Instead, the reporters were in high gear, showing even just slight flooding off from beach areas. The story was hyped, and viewers bought into it hook, line and stinker.

The hype for the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 began nearly a week before the big day. Not to be undone by the day falling on a Sunday, when most people are not glued to the news networks, the media simply extended the anniversary back to include the day before—hence contriving an anniversary weekend. Even so, people are less invested in the news on weekends. Fortunately, the media could make use of a report by the U.S. Government of security concerns on the anniversary. I found myself wondering if the report had been fabricated simply to counter the fact that the anniversary was to fall on a Sunday and thus was in need of an extra push to garner the desired attention.

Early Saturday evening on September 10, 2011, I found myself developing a rash of utter disgust while briefly watching the beginning of a car race on ABC. The race itself was besides the point, it would seem. The infield was populated with army troops decked out in their battle-field garb as if they were to head immediately thereafter to Afghanistan. Every spectator in the stands was waving a miniature American flag. A singer looking strangely happy to be singing was singing a sad song “of remembrance.”  Then a minister, also not too sad about receiving so much attention, said a solemn prayer presumably for others. Fireworks followed—as if appropriate for a sad day of remembrance of many innocent who were tragically killed. The show disgusted me. I do not know if the festivities ever got to the race, as I turned off the television at the fireworks stage and turned to exercise.

In thinking about the spectacle as I was exercising, I remembered a big sign that read, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.” I thought of Pearl Harbor, a day which no longer lives in infamy for many Americans under 30 or even 40 even though it was a pivotal event in WWII and thus world history. Besides the relative lack of importance accorded to history itself in American culture, FDR’s claim has been effectively relegated by the importance given to 9/11 even though the latter is not, in my view, as important historically for the world as Pearl Harbor. Had the United States not entered WWII, Europe and Asia would probably look very different. So it is highly probable that either another incident deemed to be important or the sheer passage of a new century will wash away the claim that our time is the most important—that no one following us would ever attempt to relegate our event.

It may be that human beings are hard-wired to presume that we are the center of the universe. Certainly the Catholic Church used whatever theological authority the clerics presumed they had to enforce Earth being said to exist at the center of the physical universe. Similarly, it is incredibly presumptuous to claim that ground zero, which is all too subject to hype ten years later, should never be forgotten. Interestingly, sacred space has a subtle tendency to dissipate with the passage of time. Perhaps we are not as good as we think at deeming things sacred because we are actually deeming ourselves as such.

At the very least, our news media and elected representatives have a vested interest in drawing attention and creating patriotic moments (and images)—particularly in an election year. If I am correct, we, the American people, have been duped again by being suckered in to a contrived social reality by appeals to our emotions. To be sure, the death of thousands of innocent victims is sad, but by ten years out the leader and many of his colleagues had been killed or arrested. Perhaps the lesson is that it is time we move on. As 9/11 itself evinces, life is too short to waste a warm sunny weekend on remembering death. Let the dead bury the dead.

Lest we forget: forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Saying we will never forget is really a coded message that we will never forgive. In other words, saying “WE WILL NEVER FORGET” is actually to wield a club of sorts. Doing so makes us hypocrites rather than somehow virtuous. Forgiveness is about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing—not refusing to forget. We would do better were we to ignore the media and politicians when they insist on drawing attention to themselves. Our time is too valuable, as life is short, yet we and the societal opinion leaders we listen to are far too presumptuous in what we designate as important. This is the real lesson on this “anniversary.” Sadly, most Americans are probably too caught up with the festivities to notice.