Marking The Day Everything Changed By Changing Exactly Nothing (And You Thought Irony Was Dead)

I find it hard to believe that anyone was "infuriated" by local CBS and Fox affiliates cutting away from WTC 9/11 Memorial coverage yesterday. Sure enough, the Post doesn't actually interview anyone who supposedly felt this way:

CBS and Fox infuriated viewers yesterday by cutting away to the opening Sunday NFL match-ups — in the middle of the 9/11 memorial coverage.

The networks switched from the reading of the victims' names at Ground Zero at around 1 p.m. to go to any one of eight games — none featuring New York teams — around the country.

The remainder of the 9/11 services could still be seen on about a dozen other channels.

Coming after five-plus hours of reading name after name, can you blame someone for wanting to watch the Steelers-Ravens game? It was a big one. Even that Eagles game looked better than T through Z. What's more, it didn't look like anyone at the site itself was actually paying attention the entire time, so why expect that level of interest from someone watching from home?

Which is exactly the problem with running that memorial as they have year after year since 2002: Something fundamentally fails as a memorial when you lose people's attention like that. (Something I can't confirm: 2002's name recitation didn't seem like it went on for five hours, though I can't find out for sure.)

If the memorial ceremony was strictly for the families — and obviously that's fair, families should be able to grieve — then it shouldn't have been on TV. But in that case they should have had some sort of memorial for everyone else that wasn't so easily ignored.

In 2002, when the names were read for the first time, the effect was stupefying. The slow steady recitation hammered home the point that so many individuals died in the attacks, like an aural version of the Vietnam Memorial. In the years since, that magic was never repeated. By yesterday it just sounded fatiguing. 2002 was both high concept and poignant. 2011 just sounded like a really morbid graduation ceremony — and like a graduation ceremony, it seemed that many of those in the first part of the alphabet had long since left. I feel bad for the families of those with names beginning with W, X, Y or Z — those five hours must have been excruciating to sit or stand through.

There's something stubborn and self-aggrandizing about running the same program year after year, like whoever was in charge of it doesn't think they need to make it meaningful. But the truth about horrible events — the horrible truth about horrible events — is that they always fade from our consciousness; Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor were equally horrible and today people struggle to mark the event in a meaningful way, never mind things like the General Slocum disaster or the 1920 bombing at Wall Street. September 11 will also fade; the people in charge need to change it up or this will happen even quicker (in fact, it's already happening some surprising places). They can't fall back on some conceptual idea that ran its course nine years earlier.

Speaking of self-aggrandizing, if I'm reading this Daily News article correctly, Paul Simon switched out the hopeful "Bridge Over Troubled Water" for the mopey, post-adolescent angsty "The Sounds of Silence." The whole day seemed so tightly controlled and cautiously conservative that I can't believe it would have been OK to call an audible. Dick move. Banning clergy but allowing Paul Simon to play god — interesting choice.

People tell me this is the last time they'll read names on the anniversary of the attacks. Let's hope so.

Posted: September 12th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: For Reals No For Serious | Tags: , , , ,

But Parsing Crime Statistics Are So Much Fun, I'd Hate To Blow The Game

I think I understand what this person is saying in this interview but there's something a little off with it:

The very fact that this is such a rare event should get some consideration in their mind. One reason people are talking about it is because it's so strikingly unusual. It's within a particular community . . . this is a very insolated [sic] incident. I don't know there are really lessons for outsiders here at all, because we don't yet know all the details. So any reassessment should focus on the rarity of the event. This is just not something that's likely to happen very often.

It's being said in the context of why we shouldn't worry that our children will be plucked off the street and killed and dismembered, but the part about not knowing whether there are lessons for "outsiders" "at all" was what grabbed me. Like I said, I think I understand the inclination to see a story like that and feel a little more comfortable knowing that since you're not an orthodox Jew then you're insulated from this particular crime. At least that's what the interviewee seems to be saying: Parents, don't freak out because this all happened in a very isolated community. Or, yes, it's horrific but it's not like it's the West Nickel Mines School or even Etan Patz — those killings were completely random, and far more upsetting.

In a way, it seems like the same kind of crime statistic calculus that probably most of us employ when we process the dangers of life — e.g., "sure there are a lot of murders in [X] community, but the vast majority are drug related so we don't have to worry." Or to take a more recent example, sure there were a bunch of bodies dumped out on Long Island, but they were prostitutes, so you don't have to worry. The implication being that if you're not involved in the drug trade or prostitution then you're not going to be a target.

That was the storyline in the recent murders in Phildelphia's Kensington neighborhood (same neighborhood name; strange) — that the women the suspect killed were all addicted to drugs. But I don't know that it's been firmly established that all the victims were actually drug addicts. On the other hand, it certainly makes you feel better knowing that if you're not a drug addict (or a woman) (or even just hanging out in Kensington) then you're probably safe.

Maybe it's not so much about marginalizing "the other" as it is telling yourself whatever you have to tell yourself in order to avoid turning into a housebound neurotic. Or, it's human nature to want to insulate yourself from the specter of truly fucked up, truly random violence — you just don't usually get to hear it stated so baldly. Except of course I think people think it — via either the way the media subconsciously, unconsciously or semi-consciously reports horrific news (or at least how a society's reptilian brain functions when it comes to processing crime) in underclass communities. Most of the time people seem to find it very easy to perform the kind of crime statistic calculus that makes living easier. Then something "unusual" happens — and people still find a way to explain it away.

Posted: July 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: For Reals No For Serious | Tags: , , ,

Back When I Was Young And Poor I Often Became Disgusted By People Who Weren't Poor Who Used The Term To Describe Their Charmed Existence

There's one of those first-person travelogue stories in last weekend's Times Travel section about Provence where the couple returns after many years to discover how the region has changed and "do it right," which is to say, spend a shitload of money and live it up. Jen started reading it and nearly put it down when she got to the part where the author began to explain how when they were young and poor and newly married they slummed it for a year in a farmhouse. I'm paraphrasing her. She was paraphrasing the story itself.

Suffice it to say, it set off a string of invective about how offensive it was to hear the word "poor" trip off the tongue so casually, especially when relating a period in one's life when one had the means to live for a year in the south of France. And become "fast friends" with "the author James Baldwin."

"That's not being 'poor,'" Jen complained. "You don't take a yearlong 'extended honeymoon' in the south of France and call yourself 'poor'."

Of course, I agreed, adding that it was amazing to me how easily people default to that kind of language. You know, stuff along the lines of "Back when we were poor, we made do with cheap cuts of hangar steak and liters of table wine." Or, "When we were young and poor, we had to walk up five flights of stairs to our rickety flat in the Village." If you Google "young and poor" or, better, "when I was young and poor," you'll get a sense of how casually people use the phrase.

Obviously I understand everyone's point — they're not poor like Henry Miller or even Knut Hamsun was poor but rather they mean to invoke a faux sense of modesty while underscoring how fortunate they once were . . . or are . . . or something . . .

I guess if I sat here long enough thinking about it I could discern a counterintuitive reason that it's actually not as bad sounding as it seems, but I don't think I want to. (Maybe there's a literary allusion here — here's a candidate or perhaps it's Willa Cather's fault.)

At the very least, it's a horrible choice of words in the same way that applying war metaphors to sports is a horrible choice of words — especially when there are actual wars going on (three at last count, right?). That's why the NFL has "beat a hasty retreat" from the practice.

So at any rate, I finally read the article/piece. Here's how the writer framed it:

As newlyweds, on a year's extended honeymoon, we'd lived in the gatekeeper's cottage of a beautiful old farmhouse in Opio, near Grasse. The mailman would arrive on a motor-scooter, sputtering up the switchbacks of the driveway; the farm plow was horse-drawn. When the mistral blew in winter, the view past Cannes revealed the peaks of Corsica; the coal stove in the kitchen yielded little hot water or heat. Now Opio boasts a Club Med with a spa, and a supermarket has displaced the butcher and the baker; a golf course has replaced the olive groves. And "our" property belongs to Earl Spencer, with locked gates and well-tended lawns and a swimming pool.

It's difficult to know, in the wake of Heisenberg and Einstein, what is absolute, what relative, and why. Do we change as witnesses, or does that which we witness change, or both; does it alter because of the viewing, and is our estimate altered by the consciousness of sight? Think of a train track and moving train; does the world pass by while we sit still, or is it the reverse? These problems of philosophy and mathematics are personal riddles also; was it always just like this, and did we fail to notice? For we have changed more than the landscape, no matter how the locals complain that the landscape has changed.

"Young and poor," Elena said. "Old and secure. That's us."

So not quite "Back when we were young and poor" levels of obnoxiousness, and I think it was clearly meant to be at least a little self-deprecating — maybe — but Jen's point is well taken: the more you read people misuse "poor," the more disgusting it sounds.

Of course when I read the piece and saw what Jen was talking about the first thing I noticed was how the author used his wife to make the young-poor/old-secure connection. Imagine that, using your wife as a vehicle in your writing for grand declarations.

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: For Reals No For Serious, FW: Link | Tags: , , , ,