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Saturday, September 10, 2011
As Seen on TV
“United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”
Excerpt from Patrick Henry’s last speech
Tomorrow being Sunday, I should be dissecting some aspect of the film and television business here -- and truth be told, I’d been planning to put up such a post until I noticed the date of this particular Sunday: 9/11/2011.
Ten years after the Day that Changed Everything.
I’ll leave that post for another week. This is not a day to discuss the ups and downs of working in Hollywood or anywhere else.
Much has been written and said about 9/11, with countless television retrospectives airing throughout the week bringing it all back like a stiff slap in the face. Here on the West Coast, I awoke to find the madness already underway -- the first tower down and the second soon to follow. Like everyone else outside New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, I followed the day-long nightmare through the lens of television, watching those monstrous billowing clouds of death roll down the streets of Manhattan enveloping so many tiny fleeing humans like something in a horror movie. But there was no CGI this time – it was all too real.
The images from that morning are seared into our collective consciousness, joining so many other tele - visions I’ll never forget: the grainy 8 mm Zapruder film, Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald in the belly a few days later, the Challenger explosion, the wreckage of the Marine barracks after that first truck bomb in Beirut, Pan Am 103, and the fiery destruction of the space shuttle Columbia as it broke up entering the upper atmosphere.
So much shocking man-made death, destruction, and misery right there on TV.
All were stunning events in their time, each a gut-punch to every American, but 9/11 was larger still -- big enough to unite us all and most of the civilized world for a few weeks.* Given the social, economic, and political schisms we’re experiencing today, it’s hard to remember the feeling of unity we shared then. The temporary nature of crisis-driven unity precludes any sense of togetherness from lasting long, but it's discouraging to see just how far we’ve fallen from that brief state of grace. A decade later we are united only in our disunity.
That’s not just a crying shame, it’s a dangerous state of things.
But here we are, ten years and counting, still mired in two foreign wars and a “war on terror” without end. Indeed, as the anniversary draws near, the news media is buzzing with “credible but unconfirmed” reports of terrorist truck bombs intended to anoint Sunday with blood by striking another blow to New York and/or Washington. We can only keep our collective fingers crossed that these reports prove false or that the would-be bombers will be caught or neutralized before carrying out their plans. All we can be sure of is that a lot of people are working overtime to make sure nothing bad happens -- and more power to them.
Those at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania ten years ago know the reality of that day ten years ago in a way the rest of us can only imagine. Similarly, those who have served in the military, Foreign Service, or the many NGO’s in Iraq and Afghanistan since then understand the ramifications of 9/11 in a very personal way. The rest of us experienced – and continue to experience – it on television.
I hope it stays that way. I also hope, however futile it might be, that we could stop yelling at each other and put our collective shoulders to the wheel to make this country a better place over the long run. Such troubled times leave us standing at the crossroads holding the future in our hands. If we choose the right road in making sound, reasoned decisions over short-term expediency, we just might work our way out of this mess – but taking the wrong road in succumbing to fear and ignorance will send us down a very dark road from which there may be no return.
The decision is ours, the stakes high.
On this day ten years later, maybe we should recall the words of Patrick Henry. Think about what we share in common as Americans, not those issues that divide us. Should we make the wrong decisions, the resulting avalanche of catastrophe won't be confined to our television screens this time, but will hit us all right where we live.
So choose wisely.
* The only other moment of comparable unity in my lifetime was the first manned lunar landing in 1969, a much happier occasion.
(Pardon this quasi-political interruption in the regularly scheduled programming. We'll be back to normal next Sunday.)