Thursday, September 11, 2008

So, what, it’s 9/11 week now?

I first noticed it on Sunday night. . . that would be Sunday, 9/7. . . and have seen it every following night this week. Here is my photo from September 10th, 2008.

I have generally been a supporter of this “Tribute in Light,” as it is called. I like the concept, even if the execution looks a bit half-assed (the columns are too thin and too close together, and they move around a bit from year to year, rather than consistently approximating the position of the World Trade Center in the New York skyline). And, questions about what kind of fuel is used to generate the electricity needed for that long night’s journey into day do leave me with an uneasy feeling about the lights being a symbol of some of the problems that lead to the attacks as much as it is a tribute to the victims. But, all that aside, I thought the lights were a relatively elegant and fairly solemn commemoration of the attacks and the lives lost on 9/11/2001.

Relatively elegant and fairly solemn compared to so much of the political opportunism and grand guignol that typically surround remembrances of the attacks; relatively elegant and fairly solemn if the columns of light appear on 9/11, on the exact anniversary, and are not trotted out every now and then, popping up here and there, until they become little more than Vegas-style spectacle, stripped of the majority of their meaning.

Which is why seeing the towers of light on September 7th. . . and 8th. . . and 9th. . . and 10th disturbs me.

It has, obviously, been the case that our country’s “leadership” has used the memory and images of the attacks for personal and political gain almost form the very second of impact, but it was somewhat heartening to believe that New York, and New Yorkers, having felt the impact of the attacks more personally, having lost friends and colleagues, having inhaled and tasted the dust of the collapsed towers, still considered the events of the day, and the day itself, basically sacrosanct.

But, living as I do in New York, I am beginning to see a shift. “Nine-eleven,” the event, and “ground zero,” the scene of the event, have become, for better or worse, a kind of tourist attraction—and I think that New York City, the government entity (rather than the community), has noticed.

Seven years removed from the carnage of 2001, people still come from every part of the country and every corner of the globe to catch a glimpse of “ground zero” (or, these days, to catch a glimpse of the fence around the construction site that used to be ground zero). I am sure that many of those that visit do so with the utmost respect, but one need only take a gander at the tee-shirts, crystal figurines, and snow globes sold all around lower Manhattan to know that something other than solemn tribute is also at play here.

As a resident, I shouldn’t complain about tourists coming to my city and spending money—and generally, I don’t—but ground zero isn’t the Statue of Liberty or the Bronx Zoo, and 9/11 isn’t President’s Day or the Fourth of July. There is nothing fun about gazing on the site where thousands died, and the anniversary of the attack is nothing to celebrate.

But the city has trotted out some extra World Trade Center artifacts this week, and a pair of rusted beams from the destroyed towers are on display today and tomorrow in Battery Park (visitors are being allowed to sign these beams or write their own tributes—make of that what you will)—and now the Tribute in Light is a weeklong feature in the night sky. Can it be long before “9/11 weekend” is a blackout day for the airlines, travel agents offer ground zero package tours, or Macy’s offers special September 11th savings?

Someday (someday, and I am not holding my breath, nor am I really in any hurry) New York will have a permanent 9/11 memorial structured around the original WTC footprint. And that memorial will be surrounded by overly tall and mostly ugly buildings that will likely require so much security as to render the entire area less a place of remembrance and quiet contemplation than a zone of tedious inconvenience and harried hurly-burly. Until then, especially in this electoral year where we have the chance to cast out the opportunistic leaders that have dishonored the memories of the 9/11 dead, perhaps we can use this day to contemplate how far we’ve come and all that we’ve managed to accomplish in seven years. . .

. . . uh, yeah, well, on second thought, those columns of light sure do look pretty cool out there.

(cross-posted on guy2k, The Seminal, and Daily Kos)

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