Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 : There is No Spectacle

It was just the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and with it came the commemorations, remembrances, reflections and analysis of the terrorists’ attacks that have shaped the psyche and policy of the United States for the past ten years. There is no doubt or insinuation that this event was not massive and the loss of lives, especially to loved ones, still intense and deep. Even with this being so, there are other things that this ten year marker for September 11th conjures. What is most startling is the disconnect between a trauma and the way that society as a whole copes with such a trauma. There are social mores and protocols that are in place so that people can behave, react and participate in a form of ritual of mourning. This is necessary and consistent with the constructs of human society, to have finality, control, and catharsis. What has changed is that this has become not only a form of ritualized observance but also a conduit for the performative. The way in which society collectively has been coping with 9/11 is a form of farce. Again, this is not pointed at any individual’s personal and emotional experience, but more a consideration of the collective and how it is a symptom of a new mode of behavior for a society.

Guy Debord, yes obviously, this is a shot from him, for those who have not read his Society of the Spectacle, read it. I will not go on to address points/counterpoints in regards to this text, more I will focus on the loose gist and basically really just ramble in my own regard. Those that give a crap more and have some delirious passion for academics, I say go at it if you wish, he's all yours.

To continue, this whole 9/11 national orgasm was daunting in its rhetoric. There was an interesting “heal the world” vibe. The word Muslin was barely uttered in the mainstream press, there was a lot of religious inter-faith-ing and the democrats and republicans who have been basically poisoning each others’ cupcakes gave a swoon to the partisan. Its as if the subject of 9/11 radiates a force field of mute humility. In some respects of course it should, but what is most vulgar is that this radiating aura of 9/11 is so grossly manipulated and used by people in the press, people in politics, corporations, television, advertising, clothing, food, and on and on.

9/11 has become its own brand, and like any brand it does all the right things. It associates you to something specific that has personal meaning. It makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself. It has logos and catch phrases and graphic design signifiers. It has a social cache when you wear it on a hat, on a shirt, on a wristband. Others will see you with these signifiers and they will salute you, nod, embrace you, and you will know that you are one of them. All the things that fill our brains and eyes and ears with brand infiltration use 9/11 to incite and to instigate feelings of nationalism, freedom, retaliation, and consumerism.

This brand is more powerful than most because it also gives authority to behave differently. What occurred on 9/11 was yes, very brutal and very traumatic. This is the reality of it. But what is bizarre and at moments of sheer distaste is that this trauma is kept alive in one form of another so that there is something to perform against. This is no longer an event or a situation in which “spectacle” can be used in any form of definition. This is now something that is methodically constructed and made to endure by society, government and the marketplace to build a stage in which there is something to squeeze more out of. The point and degree in which this has been done, for now ten years, no longer makes it potent in its ability to act as some sort of opiate. What is has become is a deformed version of human interaction and it cannot be ever adjusted or altered because of the nature of the trauma.

Has this happened in the past, with something like Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK? I’m not, sure, I wasn’t alive for it, but in reflecting on history in a distant way and reflecting on society within the past 10 years, it seems not necessarily unique in its manifestations but certainly very unhealthy in its extent. There is a need in all human beings to be witness to tragedy, man made or by nature, this brings them closer to death as we are animals who have been extremely clever in our ability to separate ourselves from so many forms of death. 9/11 will continue to be a big psychological dent in the collective conscious of the United States, but will it in twenty years time be as capitalized upon as it is now? Is there any other way for society to manage with such a big thing? I’m not sure, but what I am sure of is that the way that 9/11 is being inculcated and manipulated is more then just disingenuous, it’s dangerous.