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Tomarken.com > F. Nick Michaels > Inspired by Sept. 11th:Commercialism and Jingoism (10-17-02)
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Inspired by Sept. 11th:Commercialism and Jingoism

F. Nick Michaels, Intervalist
10.17.02-St. Louis, MO

The following was inspired by the events of September 11, 2002:

I don’t have a big problem with capitalism. And I don’t have any problem at all with patriotism. What I do have a problem with is commercialism and jingoism. (For those who haven’t heard the term, jingoism is the sense of hyper-nationality that began with the 1885 partition of Africa and eventually boiled over into World War I.) And that’s why I have to complain about the way the media has not allowed our retinas a break from the image of two buring towers, thirteen stripes, and fifty stars.

I wan’t upset by the overboard media coverage of September 11, 2002. For that matter I was not upset but all day coverage on September 11 through 15, 2001. What bothers me is the eleven and a half months in between. Now don’t get me wrong: this was an important event in American history and deserved a great deal of news coverage. I was certainly glad that I didn’t have to look at Chandra Levy’s picture or Gary Condit’s hair anymore, especially since those pictures made up the entirety of a story that wasn’t there. (Side note: why can’t politicians have affairs with ATTRACTIVE interns?) But it must be understood that, like almost every story of even minor importance, the media beat September 11 to death. I felt it was a great dishonor to those who lost their lives and families in that tragedy that the news organizations continued to run the gruesome footage of the plane crashing into the tower for days on end. Who hadn’t seen this image by the end of the day when it happened? And who could have seen this image without it being etched into their memory for the rest of their lives. This, in a certain way, was my generation’s moon landing. The moon landing is the event that previously elicited the question “What were you doing when you found out?”

However, that being said, it would be wise to give the nation some chance to heal from the emotional overload being suffered as every channel on every television showed their prize footage over and over. Let me use an extended metaphor to try to explain. A fairly common experience in America is getting dumped by someone you love. This is a very personal, very emotional experience that, on an individual rather than aggragate level, cause a similiar emotional reaction to that of the attacks in New York. You ask yourself questions such as “How could this happen?”, “What could have been done to prevent this?”, and “What am I supposed to do now?” It takes a long time to get over the loss of that loved one. And I’ll pose a simple, rhetorical question: Is it easier to move on from this tragic experience by reading old love letters, staring at pictures, and calling your ex on the phone, or by putting those pictures away and beginning to separate yourself from this past situation? I would obviously answer the latter. The same holds true for the terrorist attacks. By staring at the pictures over and over, by never turning off the news, it is impossible to move on. I’m not asking people to forget, simply continue living their lives.

Which brings me to the American flag. Once again, I am not opposed to showing one’s patriotism. But I am suspect about the American flag. It’s a symbol that people take for granted and at face value without necesarily understanding what’s behind it. (see my earlier article “The Paradox of the Pledge”.) I think that is the case with American flags after September 11, 2001. Not for the people who already had a flag hanging, or had a flag pole and simply decided it was time to start flying the flag again, but the people who defaced their cars, who caused stores to sell out of American flags faster than the new Nelly album. These are the same people who rally behind patriotism as a blind and an excuse for any political action in Washington. Did anybody take notice when the first economic stimulus package after the attacks gave more money to car manufacturers and Texas energy concerns than to any other interests? No, it was for the good of the country. It has become unpatriotic to question the president. Call me crazy, but I thought the great thing about this country was that we have the right and the ability to question our political leaders. So how does one show their patriotism without becoming jingoistic? I’ll give you what I find to be a decent example: my parents put a paper flag from the newspaper inside the back window of their cars. After a month or two, the removed them. While I still think they were caught up in the unexcusable merchandising of the American flag, at least they didn’t help contribute to a generation of used cars that no one will want to buy because they have stupid flag stickers all over them.

The terrorists attacks of last year were a horrific event that no one will forget. Still, I find it troubling that our concern is with the fall of two architecturally unimpressive (save their height) bulidings rather than with the loss of aroud 3,000 lives. Most people’s personal lives were not affected by this event. I feel terrible for the families who lost loved ones in the attacks, which included the father of a family that I grew up with. But the media has focused on the wrong issues once again, failing to offer information that does anything that builds the mounting spirit of jingoism in America. September 11, 2001 was perhaps a turning point in American history, but it did not change the world. Doesn’t anyone remember the first time terrorists tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993? The events of September 11, 2001 simply robbed America of our ignorance. America is not now, and never was, immune to attack, and it’s terrible that such an event had to happen before anyone in Washington would admit it.


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