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.)
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?