This is big. Bigger than the Oscars. Bigger even than the Super Bowl. This is Sept. 11, 2002. Every channel, all day. This is a media event. Something to be hyped, advertised and treated with breathless reverence. So ends the memory of Sept. 11.
I don’t want to be cynical about the memorials and tributes and remembrances and vigils and retrospectives and analyses and banner headlines and pictorials and montages. But I am.
It all seems like too much of a show lacking any real substance. We have diminished the human tragedy and made it into a chance to pat ourselves on the back and assure ourselves that everything is fine now, if not better than before.
The United States hasn’t changed for the better. We haven’t re-evaluated anything, we’ve become more set in our ways. We haven’t become more tolerant; we’ve put our blinders on. It’s us versus them, good versus evil. Gone is our thoughtful introspection.
As we pause today to reflect on the horrible sorrow that was Sept. 11, we should not forget the humanity of the day. That day is now a fixation of every media outlet across the country. On one level it has to be. To ignore this day would somehow feel wrong, as though we were refusing to acknowledge the sincerity and solemnity of emotions stemming from Sept. 11. But somewhere during this past year we forgot the real lessons we learned and instead focused on broad self-assurances of righteousness. Sept. 11, the event, can be divided into two distinct realities: The day and the follow-up. First and foremost, it must always be remembered for the day. That day shocked the world. It was a day unlike any in modern times; airplanes didn’t fly, no television commercials ran, the stock markets all closed and we spontaneously gathered, talked and thought, all united by grief and a deep feeling of loss. Everything commercial stopped and everything human drew us in. For those few days, the world stepped back and asked, “Why?” Why does this happen? Why here? What did we do? Why is there so much death in the world? Why so much hate? On campus, 15,000 people gathered on the Diag and talked about peace and tolerance and love. Amidst the horror, it seemed we were poised for a change. It was during this time of destruction that it seemed as though, somehow, we would bring about a new Greatest Generation, one that would rise above consumption and nationalism. The world was going to come out of this better than before.
But then all that changed. After those few brief days, Sept. 11 began to take on a second meaning. It became the cause for frustration as the United States failed to take the opportunity for positive transformation.
It all started when we began to react to Sept. 11 like good little capitalists ought: We used it and consumed it, bought it and sold it. Flags flew off the shelves, patriotic songs blared and red, white and blue logos graced every television station. We consumed – guilt -free – because our president told us it was out patriotic duty. We swaddled ourselves in the material and forgot the humanity and love that was our immediate reaction. After a brief spike in caring, people, despite what they may say, returned to their self-centered lives. Volunteerism never took off. After a brief respite, anger and impatience with each other found its way back into society.
The words “Sepember. 11” no longer conjure up images of falling towers and ended lives. I’ve grown cynical towards that day. In part this is because I’m no longer hopeful of what might become. But I once was. The commercialization and use of Sept. 11 for political gain, coupled with unilateralist U.S. policies strike me as horribly wrong.
I can’t help but look back at those few days when despite all the tragedy, there was hope. That was before nationalism’s iron grip took hold of the United States. Before racial hatred and intolerance boiled over. Before our civil liberties where traded in for a figment of security. Before our politicians used the day for their gain. Before we separated the world into us and them. Before we installed a puppet government in Afghanistan. And long before we planned to preemptively spread war throughout the world. And I want to deny it, deny that there was a chance. That way at least I don’t feel frustrated. I don’t feel defeated. But it doesn’t change the fact: We could have been great. We had our moment, we all felt it. And then, “poof,” it’s a TV mini-series. And all meaning is lost. And I’m cursed for having had hope.
Jess Piskor can be reached at email@example.com.