9/11 picture that you weren't supposed to see
Tags: politics wtc

It's here. It shows some young Brooklynites resting from some leisurely hiking and biking while the two WTC towers smolder in the background.


The photographer held the pictures back because he thought the photo would send the wrong message at the wrong time.


(c) Thomas Hoepker / Magnum Photos


What do you see? I'm not very outraged; the folks appear to talking with some intensity about the happenings, much like I did in Storm Lake, Iowa, that afternoon with my now-wife Jess, talking about the possibility of a draft and Bush's soon-to-be war-without-end, which our country is now suffering the effects of.


More that just a mere picture, the fact that it had to be held back shows much about American cultural pretensions around grief, death, tragedy, loss, mortality -- the whole gamut of people reacting to "bad stuff," the normal experiences of life. Like Leslie Fiedler, I'm convinced that there's an essential childish paranoia that defines how Americans react to events with our cultural forms, perhaps partially due to our insularity as our own continent surrounded by two oceans.


And yes, I do mean "normal experiences." The continued assertion that "9/11 changed everything," we now know, was and is little more than an excuse for increased power from our federal government, an increase in power that has been used quite shoddily. The difference between the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 WTC bombing, the Oklahoma City bombing and l'affaire Richard Jewell (the 1996 Olympic bombing) was their scale and the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt (alienation effect) that al-Qaida's planners used to such success -- even now the quadpartite moving pictures of the planes hitting the towers and the towers then falling amaze, horrify, educate and delight viewers. In fact, we fetishize the event, and offer it up as something on another level, beyond irony. But the very fecundity with which "the event" lives on for us, the multiplicitous meanings that we continue to derive from it -- actually not from it, but from ourselves -- the event allows us to purge parts of our unacknowledged national identity: war, conflict, derision, a need to threaten, to feel superior, to "spread" democracy. And we won't acknowledge that we delight in the events, or felt good during the early days of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, weren't happy at the effectiveness of our military-industrial complex toward the subjugation of third-world nations, and weren't amazed as well as horrified that the drama that started on 9/11 had turned into a torturefest:



In sum, there's a massive gulf between "what we're supposed to feel" in reference to 9/11 and Bush's escapades (the media, the politicians, the movie directors all supply the narrative which is defined not by its freedom but by its strictures on how we "should" react) and the way in which we can't really control how we feel. That inability to deal realistically, to see the whole picture (of which the first picture above and how it was hidden for five years is the literalization of that) -- that's what I think is so childish, and what results in such mayhem, not the event-in-itself, but the reaction to the event. There is no intrinsic meaning to anything, after all; we supply the meaning, the event is the excuse for the airing, in this case, of dirty laundry.


And to me, on this fifth anniversary of 9/11, that seems an apt metaphor. Our American scene is not a pretty one, friends. We've got leaders that cater to our base desires, movies that tell us how courageous we are and superficial "unity." And all this that I'm trying to describe is no honor to the people that actually died and suffered on that day.

Adam S.


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