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Pop Tragedy By: Julia Gorin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 04, 2002


Americans display a scattered awkwardness in their collective handling of mass death. Most recently, a sculpture of a woman landing on the ground head first -- an intended tribute (but for some reason a naked one) to those September 11 victims who died by throwing themselves from windows -- was displayed in Rockefeller Center. People complained immediately, and the statue was quickly covered. The controversy over such a tribute's appropriateness was instantaneous and heated but ultimately left unresolved.

Left altogether unmentioned, however, have been the premature theatrical renditions of September 11.

The smoldering had only just quit, and recovery at Ground Zero was in full swing when a downtown theater space began staging monologues based on September 11th emails, written by women from across the country.

When networks were broadcasting testimonials from firefighters who were on the scene that day, actor Bill Murray was portraying a fire chief who was on the scene that day, with a special performance held for firefighters who were on the scene that day. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins co-starred in the same piece last month in England, one of seven acts based on the incident and reportedly well-received by families of victims. The film version, starring Sigourney Weaver and Anthony LaPaglia, hit theaters September 11.

Although there might be some therapeutic value to these artistic renderings for those most affected by the attacks, one can’t help wonder whether a country reeling from the most dramatic national event in more than half a century, still raw and still unfolding, requires dramatization.

After the barrage of actual coverage, has the public already managed to find an appetite for creative interpretation and regurgitation? Does a moment which hit home on its own and hasn't yet left really call for being captured and filtered through a director's eye? Or is it just a bit offensively premature for September 11 to become grist for the creative mill, another tool for artistic expression?

And for individual self-expression. How did you feel? Where were you when it happened? What were you doing? How has your life changed? How are you coping? These are the questions NBC's "Access Hollywood" was asking three prominent figures per night during the week leading up to the 9/11 anniversary. Larry King aired interviews with the major network news hacks, asking them what first ran through their minds, and even talk radio transformed into public therapy sessions for a year.

The New York City Department of Health ran a mental health ad campaign on the subways referring readers to a phone number in case they need "help coping," and displaying letters from various New Yorkers describing how they're "coping."

A 24 year-old woman from the Bronx wrote, "What helps me is going out or staying in with the people who make me smile -- whether we take a walk, catch a movie, or talk about nothing -- just knowing that they are close makes me feel better."

Another woman reported that after the attacks she cleaned her house for 48 hours straight because it gave her a feeling of "having some kind of control." She too spends more time with loved ones. And a 35 year-old male from Brooklyn wrote: "What's helping: talked with my co-workers about everything…went to three sessions with a therapist to talk with other men about our feelings; spend quality time with my wife, going places and doing things together, dinner out, shopping."

But September 11 didn't happen so we could emote and reflect on the important things in life. It didn't happen so we would spend more time with family and write monologues. Like the previous president, much of the public seems better at memorializing such events than understanding or preventing them.

It's not time to heal; it's time to fight. The question to ask is not How do you feel, but Are you ready to be your enemy's enemy?

A friend's acting teacher assigned the class to "do September 11 monologues" minutes after lamenting the extended detainment of so many illegal aliens by law enforcement agencies. More proof that the world -- or at least America -- doesn't need more actors but more warriors.

Actors also comprised the evening broadcast of Time Warner's local news channel New York-1 this past September 11, which designated celebrity actors to read victims' names to the camera, with dramatic pause, against a black backdrop. In anticipation of the anniversary, CNBC's Ashleigh Banfield took her show on the road, touring the country to interview Americans everywhere about how their lives have changed over the past year.

September 11, however, shouldn’t serve as a life-altering event, but as a permanently mind-altering one: Did it change the way you think? Did it affect your social and political priorities? Or will abortion and global warming still be deciding the military budget at the polls?

"Things will never be the same" is another popular 9/11 platitude, although its parrots rarely elaborate. If only they meant that we're going to have to be tougher and smarter rather than resembling mice in a maze, not knowing what's going to happen next, or why -- but pontificating after the fact rather than anticipating before.

All the eulogizing and romanticizing risks suspending the September attacks in our collective conscience as an isolated incident, when we should remember that it wasn't some natural catastrophe -- or tragedy. It was an attack. The tragedy is that we have the stomach for so much insipid dribble, but not the stomach to look our enemies in the eye -- or even call them by their name.

Rather than reflecting, every day should be Everyman's personal exercise in preventing 9/11 from repeating. Otherwise, the only thing poetic will be a "9/11 monologue" performance interrupted by a dirty bomb.



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