It’s one of those days you remember better than any birthday or wedding. Those were planned; these hit you suddenly, stunning your mind, breaking your heart. “The shuttle blew up!” “The Towers fell!”
The impact was even greater if you saw it happen in real-time. If you watched the shuttle launches. If you caught the breaking news before the second tower was hit. Saw the second plane, realized at that moment, “This is no accident!”
Even if you saw it after, you saw it; saw it as an attack.
So we remember.
And on this day we remind ourselves to remember.
Our underlying affinity for fives and tens, because fingers, leads us to particularly commemorate anniversaries in years that end in a five or a zero.
Today, the fifteen-year anniversary of 9/11, invokes an expected flood of reflective news and magazine articles. And, of course, many blog posts.
Two in particular caught my eye…
Lindsay Ellis, Vox (September 11), traces the responses of pop culture immediately after and ever since in Movies, patriotism, and cultural amnesia: tracing pop culture’s relationship to 9/11.
In particular Ellis looks at how many have forgotten the overwhelming patriotism and support for the war back then — fervent support so strong it would “derail the careers of the best-selling all-female band [ed: Dixie Chicks] in US history.”
Ellis writes that:
[I]t’s hard to put things in perspective when half the country doesn’t even remember that at one point they supported invading Iraq because they loved their country and their president told them they should.
Ellis goes on to explore the history of media (mainly cinema) immediately after (such as removing images of the Towers from movies and TV shows) and in the fifteen years since.
The appropriation of 9/11-evoking imagery in big-budget action slaughterhouses like Batman v Superman has become something of a punchline in its shamelessness, but the pervasiveness of that imagery remains fairly constant when a film’s budget allows. And these films make money because, on some level, these images are what we, the viewing audience, want to see. Like a victim of a heinous assault returning to the scene of the crime, but viewing it only from a safe distance, we keep reliving the moment over and over, until finally we find some meaning.
It’s an excellent article, well worth taking the time to read, especially if the media interests you. And it is, in particular, about our emotional response as played out by our creation of, and our reaction to, the worst ever terrorist attack on USA soil.
(Given its prevalence and power in our lives, it ought to be a given that we pay attention to media. At the very least, our media culture reflects us. Many believe it also affects us. But, once again, ought isn’t is.)
Michael Hirsh, Politico Magazine (September 11), writes about emotional mistakes made in response to 9/11 in An Anniversary of Shame.
Hirsh opens with:
Fifteen years ago, Americans given a glimpse of the future wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that the nation was still observing a day of remembrance for 9/11. But they would likely have been shocked to know the country was still enmeshed today in the farther-reaching historical tragedy that 9/11 spawned. Today, in large part through our own strategic and tactical errors, a conflict that started as a contained, focused campaign—an attempt to root out a small band of terrorists who had one lucky day—has grown exponentially.
The article goes on to examine how our fervent support did very much more than derail the careers of Country-Western superstars. It led us into a war, a mistaken war, that we’re still fighting.
In particular (and this is the tie to the Ellis article) I was struck when Hirsh pointed out that 9/11 was a shared visual event. Not just visual, but visually recorded and repeated again and again.
Most Americans never really saw or knew what happened at Pearl Harbor or Antietam or Gettysburg. But on Sept. 11 we all watched on television, in real time, as the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon burned, and as fellow civilians with whom it was all too easy to identify—neighbors who had kids and hobbies and homes in the suburbs—leaped to their deaths from 100 stories up. We all watched as the towers imploded, and we all knew that we were witnessing, in seconds, the deaths of thousands of our compatriots. We became a nation suddenly deranged with grief and a righteous desire for vengeance.
I’ve wondered how the prevalence of — not just cameras but — video cameras will change society and history. Will history continue to have the tendency to fade into the past as it seems to now? Will ancient history continue to become mythological when we can actually see and hear it?
In any event, this article, too, is worth the time to read. It’s a clear-eyed look at what might have been and how it didn’t turn out that way.
The common thread here, if it isn’t obvious given one of my primary slants on life, is that — once again — our emotions got the better of us at a time that demanded a degree of intellectual nuance.
Many claim that emotions cannot be denied, must be acted upon.
I agree with the first part. Emotions, your very thoughts, are something like the front door of your house. You can’t control who comes knocking.
You can (and should) control who you let in.
Many claim that emotions are human (and cannot be denied, must be acted upon).
I agree emotions are human, but they are inherited from our animal past. We cannot claim as exclusively human that which we share with so many other animals.
The Yin-Yang equation is as powerful a statement on emotions as it is on so many aspects of life. For the positive Yin emotions of love, compassion, sympathy, care, charity, community, there are the Yang emotions of hate, anger, disdain, selfishness, greed.
This is why it is so crucial that the head lead while the heart pushes.
When it’s the other way around, we get mistaken endless wars.
And Donald fucking Trump.
Another news item caught my eye. Or, rather, I finally read one of the articles that have been trending lately but which I’ve been ignoring.
It’s the ones about how Venus was maybe once Earth-like. They’ve also had headlines about “electric winds” from stars (such as our Sun).
Turns out it’s another item in the How Weird Is It That We’re Here list.
I mentioned carbon last time. This time it’s the electric stellar wind that strips an atmosphere from a planet. This has implications for our search for extra-terrestrial planets — specifically, it may reduce our notion of a “habitable zone.”
It also has implications for life on Earth, since it appears we’re even more grateful for our planet’s powerful magnetic field than we may have realized. We knew it protected us from solar radiation; apparently it also protects us from having no atmosphere at all.
And that magnetic field is due to having such an iron-rich core.
Which is due to a coincidental collision with the huge Lagrange object that became our moon. (Which creates tides, and land life may have sprung from tidal pools.)
What makes this all so weird is that it’s harder and harder to really see this as an accidental universe. Scientists have had to invent the idea of infinite universes to account for it.
Wouldn’t it be funny if religious people had it right all along?
September 11th, 2016 at 3:46 pm
Previous 9/11 posts:
September 24th, 2016 at 5:15 pm
“I’ve wondered how the prevalence of — not just cameras but — video cameras will change society and history. Will history continue to have the tendency to fade into the past as it seems to now? Will ancient history continue to become mythological when we can actually see and hear it?”
The prevalence of video makes me wonder if video evidence will no longer account for much in the future. Not in the sense that it can be doctored and edited (although that too), but in the sense that we no longer have that one crystallized image or video to share. Or even if we do have the only one bit of raw material, that material gets reshaped so often it becomes many. Who knows.
September 25th, 2016 at 10:38 am
“The prevalence of video makes me wonder if video evidence will no longer account for much in the future.”
I’m not sure I follow exactly what you’re seeing here. Photographic evidence — legally speaking — can have value in court, but it’s provenance is crucial (because we know that “photos never lie” is a complete lie).
If you mean in the “take it for granted” sense, or the “swamped by the multitude” sense, I think some of that is already happening. It’s hard to be iconic in such a vast sea of similar.
(I’m halfway through a two-week stint of dog sitting my friend’s aged Lab. (This dog.) I’ve known her all her life, so we’re doing fine, but it’s really disrupted my normal day-sleep schedule. So I’m kinda out of it!)
September 27th, 2016 at 11:39 am
I meant more in the sense of historical events taken from so many angles the whole thing gets lost, swamped by the multitude of images, but I think it’s interesting to consider legal evidence. With the recent police shooting videos, there’s a sense that “photos never lie”, especially when the person filming is a bystander, but that’s not quite the case. Of course provenance does play a role, but sometimes even that muddies things up. The person filming may not have a motive for skewing the image one way or another, but the information on the video could be inconclusive, merely suggestive. And yet we take that video as “unbiased” because of the innocent bystander behind the filming. For instance, an object that appears to be a gun but could be anything. Or someone says something that can be taken in many different ways, or something that can’t really be understood. Or the minutes before and after that might give the crucial context, but we’ll never know. Yet we who view the video could be inclined to see things a certain way and the video makes us feel that we have indubitable evidence for our view, especially since the person filming appears to have no reason to lie.
On the other hand, some of those images are so powerful that there’s no way a greater context could change things.
September 28th, 2016 at 9:54 am
“I meant more in the sense of historical events taken from so many angles the whole thing gets lost, swamped by the multitude of images”
Yeah, it may be that the age of the iconic photo has passed. I suspect it’s also passed for the iconic rock band and even authors. The sheer glut of content in many venues makes it very hard to find wheat amid so much chaff, and it tends to trivialize the art.
As I say so often: Too damn many people. (With so many of them being a complete waste of skin.)
“And yet we take that video as “unbiased” because of the innocent bystander behind the filming.”
Pictures are unbiased, but no one looking at them is. Nor, as you point out, is the picture-taker. The legal value of images has evolved. At first, when they were new, they had to be accepted. Then, for a while, it was basically true that pictures don’t lie, and they had considerable value legally.
Now, with image editing and CGI, an acceptable provenance is the only thing that allows legal photographic evidence. (And, to take this back to the top, multiple angles showing the same thing can be more acceptable.)
But, as you say, interpreting the pictures is another matter.