It’s here. Anniversary week.
It feels like some kind of dark holiday; sneaking up faster than you expect and leaving you wondering where the time went. Was it really a year ago? Seems improbable; impossible.
And now, there’s a preoccupation running loose across the country; a tension and worry — particularly among the media — about what they should do this week. What they should say; print, program. What is appropriate, and what is not.
Watching all this self-analysis and doubt, I’m drawn back to the first weeks after the attack. I was watching one of the benefit concerts — the Concert for New York, I think — and some of those same thoughts were running through my mind. Is this right?
And it slowly dawned on me that the question itself was faulty. Not just faulty; worse than that. It was un-American.
Because the question assumes that there is some “correct” method of recognizing what was done to us; some one way — or limited spectrum of ways — that we can all deem appropriate.
Could there be a less American thought?
China, perhaps, might set a National Mood, and ensure that all public remembrances; all media commentary, followed it faithfully. Cuba, I’m sure, celebrates its holidays similarly; with a firm consensus across the land as to How To Feel; with compliance ensured at the point of a gun.
That, of course, is not our way.
Our way is noisy; it’s messy, and chaotic and tacky and somber and inspiring and revolting and dramatic and insipid; it’s full of genuine heroes and puffed up nobodies; it’s crass and commercial and giving and charitable and is guaranteed to showcase the absolute best and absolute worst in our society.
Our way is to have no one way. It is to have millions. One per citizen, as a matter of fact.
And so a word to the network executives; the managing editors; the columnists and pundits and anchors and journalists and yes, bloggers: stop worrying about whether you’re setting the right tone. Stop worrying about whether what you’re doing is appropriate.
Stop worrying about whether you’re going to screw it up. Because you can’t.
Program the most sentimental, cult-of-victimhood survivor profiles you can find. Write the most blustery, jingoistic let’s-kill-’em-all columns you can produce. Program hour after hour of airbrushed, santized remembrances, full of waving flags and slow-motion firefighters. Do some hard journalism and show us the facts of what really happened; and what threats still face us out there. Give us celebrities telling us where they were when it happened, somberly reflecting on How They Were Moved. If you’re in Big Media, do exactly what you think will boost your ratings highest. Or say screw it all, and do a week full of programming that feels right to you without giving a damn about Neilsen. If you’re a CEO, sponsor some commercials on Wednesday — or don’t; whichever helps you sleep better at night. Or whichever helps your bottom line. If you’re a blogger, let fly your deepest raw emotion and reaction without sanitizing it for public consumption. Or write the kind of piece you know everyone wants to hear — make a play for those big links — even if it isn’t really what you’re feeling.
Pander. Offend. Inspire. Challenge. Inform. Manipulate. Provoke.
In short, do your worst. And your best. It’s all part of the dialogue. It’s all part of how America reacts in time of crisis. In our glorious chaos, we demonstrate who we are far better than any national proclamation could ever hope to do.
And this American, at least, wouldn’t have it any other way.
Addendum: Sean Hackbarth has some qualms with this approach, stating:
It’s “all part of the dialogue,” but that doesn’t make it virtuous. Remembering the terrorist attacks by some intellectually dishonest lesson plans uncritical of our enemies is no honor to the victims and heros of that awful day. Building a sterile, post-modern memorial like the monstrosity in Oklahoma City will allow the memory of those killed to fade away. There are good and bad responses to September 11. I’m a fan of dialogue. It’s both entertaining and thought-provoking. Nevertheless, every voice shouldn’t be considered equivalent.
Thanks to Sean for a good point which helped me clarify my own thinking. Let me see if I can elaborate further on my original piece and address Sean’s concerns:
1) All voices are equivalent in matters which we must decide as a nation. That would include, I’m afraid, the kind of monument that we will build to 9/11. I will join Sean in speaking out against a banal, ugly monument — but if it is truly determined that such a memorial is, in fact, what the majority of our fellow citizens want, well then, we should sit down and shut up. But until that time, we should vigorously speak our minds. Democracy in action.
2) The example of the memorial has a key aspect — it’s something which there can be only one of. We can’t all go our own ways on it; we have to make a choice as a nation. Contrast this with, say, how a weblog will commemorate the anniversary. In that case, there’s no need to choose; everyone can (and should) do exactly as they please. So I say: if a choice must be made, it should be made as a democracy; if we can avoid making a choice at all and allow everyone to reach their own decision individually, even better.
3) Sean concludes by saying, “every voice shouldn’t be considered equivalent”. I would agree — many of the voices being raised this week will be spouting what I consider to be nonsense. I will define them as stupid, insipid, or foolish, and I might well do so publicly. But while I agree that “every voice shouldn’t be considered equivalent”, I will also stand by the proposition that every voice should have an equal right to be heard. That doesn’t mean “right to be heard without being criticized” — because the freedom to criticize others’ views and statements is simply another form of the right to be heard itself. It’s been said far better by those who have come before me: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”*
A good sentiment to hold in mind this week, I think.
* I have found conflicting citiations for the originator of this rather famous declaration; QuoteWorld says it was Alexis de Tocqueville, while Quoteland indicates that the quote is commonly attributed to Voltaire, but was actually originated by his associate S. G. Tallentyre.