It’s Sept. 13, so the last waves of the 9-11 remembrance should be fading away from the airwaves — and perhaps it’s safe to say this out loud now.
9-11 was a significant moment in our history, and 10 years afterwards, it was well worth looking back at both the horror and the wonder that human beings can be capable of. After a decade, we should have had clear eyes to look at both the society that spawned the terrorists involved and the remarkable change the attack has wrought in North American society as well.
That being said, it’s simply been too much — far too much. The performance couldn’t have been more strident if we had hired professional mourners to wail and rend their clothes. And believe me, I’m not exempting the media from this, either: every media outlet you can think of has been guilty of saturation coverage of the 10-year anniversary of 9-11 and its fallout, with every outlet trying to out-blanket its competition.
I’m sure that somewhere, media managers are sitting around a table doing a debrief and congratulating themselves on what a great job they’ve done. But it’s like any other job: sometimes, caught up inside something, you just get carried away.
I don’t think we did so well, and here’s why.
Somewhere early in the process, it stopped being straightforward consideration of where we were then and where we are now, and started being a restaging of one of the modern western world’s greatest horrors.
The low point for me? When people started using social media sites to distribute video clips of desperate people flinging themselves to their deaths from the twin towers to escape burning to death. It’s important to remember — it’s important not to exploit.
Keep in mind that horrible, unspeakable things happen in this world every day. Right now, hundreds of Somalians are dying every day because of starvation. Fully 750,000 — one-and-a-half times the entire population of this province — are in immediate danger of dying. Thirty thousand children have died in the last three months. Think of the astounding video that would make. And think about what deaths by famine on that scale are doing to the survivors, and how they must feel about an uncaring world that lets that scale of death happen — and whether or not we’re spawning future fundamentalists by our lack of action.
Back to the videos of 9-11. The horrible videos and photographs you can dig up with little effort are, granted, tremendously moving and shocking and immediate.
But this is not anything like remembrance; this is disaster porn. It’s a peep-show of the grotesque — and it’s the point where I completely shut down on coverage of the 9-11 remembrance ceremonies.
Maybe I’m wrong about this: maybe we have to be re-exposed to every gruesome detail, every horrifying image or scrap of video in order to fully recognize and appreciate the impact of the 9-11 attacks.
But I don’t think so.
You can dress it up and say something like “it’s important to remember just how horrible it truly was,” or say “people who didn’t see that coverage after 9-11 have to have open eyes,” but that’s just a crock.
Welcome to the freak show. Or, more to the point, welcome to being a willing part of the freak show audience. Most of the time, the people who run the freak show — and even the performers themselves — are far more sanguine about what their role in the whole process is.
One last thought.
If a major ferry sank and hundreds of people drowned, would that disaster be any better understood by high-definition digital video of one of the victims drowning? Would that enlarge our understanding of ship design, of liferaft and life boat systems, of search and rescue response and the need for higher and more stringent vessel inspection and regulation? Would it explain why the ship sank, or would it prevent another ship sinking?
Of course not.
But you could show up at work the next day and talk about the horrible things you watched on TV.
In my opinion, we’ve crossed an important line.
Russell Wangersky is the editorial page
editor of The Telegram. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.