September 11, 2010

We Are All Skyscrapers Now

which photo can you see?

On September 11, 2001 I was nowhere doing nothing while 2000 people were dying almost simultaneously.

A week later we had the Anthrax attacks, which, like the 9/11 attacks, have never been solved.  Whoever the Antraxer was, he did manage to infect one of the 9/11 hijackers, and so he stands as the only person to have at least injured one of the terrorists.

That was also when we got the text scroll at the bottom of CNN and the definitive end of actionable information from CNN.

This is something I wrote a few weeks after 9/11.  It is what it is.
  A lot has happened since.

If the TV is any guide, 9/11 is a dramatic miniseries about two buildings collapsing on firefighters, with the premiere being brought to us commercial free.  Gotta build an audience.

There's enormous coverage, but no news.  None of this is news, it is drama, portraits of courage and sadness.  Last phone calls between loved ones, "the last time I saw him was when...",  "when I saw the first Tower fall I..."  

And firefighters.  Lots of firefighters.   America wants its real life heroes unarmed and unthreatening.

Lots of sadness, but no anger.  No one on TV is angry?  The Towers didn't fall, they were kicked in the face.  How many politicians do I have to watch cry on TV?  STOP CRYING.  I already know it's sad.   Don't tell me we are resilient, don't tell me we'll go on, are there people worried they won't go on?    Show me the country has some men in it, show me that we aren't five year olds.  

But we are.  Cry on TV and people will think you're sensitive, but bang a fist on the podium and you're unstable.  "He can't control his emotions."  What?

According to the TV, the real events of 9/11 happened not on the 95th floor, but on the ground floor.  I've been looking in the wrong place.

People tell me that this coverage isn't about the terrorists,  it's about the aftermath, the victims; that there are other shows about the terrorists. 

Separating shows this way fosters a separation between the cause and the effect; we are focusing only on the effect, because it is very hard for us to get our heads around the cause. In doing this we are repackaging this event into a natural disaster.  Something that we have no power over, no way to prevent, but something that must by necessity bring us together in our grief and our loss, and something that we must get past.  No sense in describing why earthquakes happen, so let's delve into the victims' stories.

Observe that the media has unilaterally decided that no American will ever again see the

images of the planes being slammed into the Towers.  "Come on, you've seen it enough times, nothing to be gained from that.  Here's a firefighter."

I'm told anger serves no useful purpose.  But sadness isn't going to prevent this from happening again, sadness isn't going to restructure the planet so that people don't want to do these things.  You might say anger won't either, but I'll take my chances.

They say the hijackers were armed only with box cutters.  If that's true, that tells me a lot about how they perceive Americans: they expected no resistance.  Not even from the pilots.  Would they have brought boxcutters to El-Al or Aeroflot hijacking?

When Timothy Mcveigh and Terry Nichols blew up the OK City Federal building, the media went right for the throat,it wasn't a natural disaster but an violent attack to which we immediately ascribed blame.  And they were free to speculate: right wingers, militias, neo-nazis.  But 9/11 is different, we don't know what to do with it so we do nothing with it.  Say "they attacked us" and then off to the victims.   You know the names of both OKC bombers, but you can't name one hijacker other than Mohammed Atta, who is the designated ringleader because his is the only name we can pronounce.

We don't even know what to call the attacks, so we call it by its date: "9/11."  Just another day that we'll remember where we were when.   "That was such a sad and scary day."  Yeah.

"We are all Americans now," announced Le Monde, with no understanding at all.  How can they sympathize with how we feel when we ourselves don't know what we feel?  This attack happened because we're not all Americans, not even us Americans.  Just a group of individuals now slowly distancing ourselves.  "I mean, I sort of knew him, I'd seen him around and all, but we weren't close or anything..."

"We are all Americans" means to the writer at Le Monde: "we could be next."  That's all he cares about.  He's right on that count, I guess, dead right-- the next attack has to happen in a different country if it is to have global impact.

If Le Monde wanted accuracy, it would have announced that we are all skyscrapers now, each of us standing mightily and individually, who is taller?  who is greater?  Living in proximity but not in connection.  Waiting to be knocked down.

And when it happens to someone, our explanations will really be about why it didn't happen to us:  well, that skyscraper wasn't built right and that skyscraper was too tall, too proud.  What happened to that skyscraper has nothing to do with me, I'm different, I'm better, and besides, why would anyone hate me? 

Because you're a skyscraper, dummy. 

When the towers fell and the pulverized remains of people who might have been your friends poured through the aerosolized into the streets of lower New York, what did you feel?  Which did you blame, America or Israel?  Oh, both.  When someone asks you now about 9/11, do you answer "I am sad" or "I am angry"?  Or do you externalize your answer and put it in the past tense, as if the emotion was something that came at you from the outside, "it was sad", or "I felt angry"?  Are you not sad or angry anymore?  How long did it take you to get over the worst attack on America in history?  A day, a week?   How long before "cooler heads prevailed"?    Do you know people who you think "overreacted" to the slaughter of 3000 Americans?  As others dance while the bodies are excavated in NYC, are you able to connect with the story?  How do you dialogue?   Maybe you should cope on this for a while, until your cooler heads prevail.  Go shopping.  Have a nap.


I don't want to cope.  I want to see the videos of the planes being flown into the Towers.  If we allow ourselves to choose the path of sadness, then nothing has been accomplished, everyone died for nothing.  It will have been nothing more than an earthquake.

I don't want to get past this.  Nor do I want it to get past me.