Tuesday, September 12, 2006

9-11: The "Meaning" Overshadows the Story

mp3 file (podcast)

I have resisted seeing Flight 93 or Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, even though I am assured that there is no maudlin sentimentality in either one. I guess I’m sort of waiting for the ultimate catharsis. I’m waiting for the Spielberg version. Eventually, someone will entice him to create the ultimate film that goes for the emotional jugular vein. He will pack the film with so much loss, abandonment, sad-eyed children, dead mothers, dead fathers, and sad, brave survivors that the viewers will feel drained for a week.

Now, that’s entertainment.

I went to Fahrenheit 911 mainly because Michael asked me to. It was appealing to me because it essentially deconstructed the hyper-patriotic response to the hijackings of September 11, 2001, and suggested that Americans have been zombified by propaganda and that our elected officials are kleptocrats.

According to Amy Biancolli of the Houston Chronicle, Oliver Stone has created a film about patriotism, optimism, and human courage.

Sorry. That’s not appealing to me at this moment in time. It makes me feel exhausted. I guess I’m not wanting to be fanned into a frenzy of anger or hate or sadness or fear.

It might be interesting to watch a film that attempts to put 911 in the background. Bickering with one’s spouse, deciding what to wear, fretting over car repairs could be put in front, and the attacks to the back. But, it would undoubtedly be a failed attempt. The colossal nature of the event just torpedoes all attempts to create a story.

The “meanings” of 911 overshadow any attempt at a story.

There are a few inescapable “meanings” of 9-11 that insert themselves into any narrative that has any contact at all with the event.

A few of the Meanings (with capital M) are:

1. 9-11 ushered in a whole new world, with a new consciousness. We, as Americans, are vulnerable in ways we never imagined before.

2. After 9-11, life could never be “ordinary” again.

3. 9-11 showed New Yorkers how kind, generous, self-sacrificing, and patient they are, despite generally held beliefs to the contrary.

4. 9-11 brought us together as a nation, but then divided us into “red” and “blue.”

5. Homeland Security. We didn’t try hard enough before 9-11.

The list could go on and on. Right now, I’m at Starbucks, and I’m listening to Gang of Four. It brings back memories of the summer of 1981 in Colorado where I attended Field Camp outside Canon City. It was near Florence and Phantom Canyon. I shared a cabin with three other female geology students. I had brought a big boom box and a stack of cassette tapes I had recorded from vinyl. They were all my favorites, primarily “New Wave” – between the Split Enz and The Buggles, I loved listening to “Anthrax.”

I remember that summer through the small things, the tiny details. Thankfully, there was nothing overwhelming. The tragedy of the summer occurred when a skyway collapsed at the Kansas City Hyatt Regency. I had spend a week at the Hyatt in San Francisco and I remember wondering about the stability of the glass elevator in an earthquake.

It’s pretty much impossible to construct an emotionally meaningful story from the Big Events of one’s life. The “Meanings” just overwhelm the narrative. The Big Events impose their big, hairy narratives and you’re stuck – “like a beetle on its back / my love is like anthrax” – that’s from Gang of Four’s “Anthrax.”

If I were to do a movie on 9-11, I think I’d try to focus in on the non-9-11 elements. The night before 9-11, for example, I was trying to convince myself that it was okay to barge into a house I was sure was being used as a horticulture center.

On the eve of 9-11, I drove my 1989 white Honda Accord to the house where Michael's friend Evan lived before he went to military school outside Tulsa. His mom had gotten a job in Houston and had a choice – go with her, or stay in Norman, then finish high school at the military school. He moved. The house was empty. The house, a three-bedroom house on Camden Drive was located near Norman High School off Berry Road. As we approached it, I could tell it was completely dark, as though the electricity had been turned off.

I was not too interested in going there, but Michael had promised Evan he would check on it.

“What are you supposed to check?” I asked. Michael was not listening.

We parked in the driveway and walked up the sidewalk badly in need of weed-eating. “What are we supposed to do?” I asked.

Michael indicated that he was supposed to check on things, and to make sure no one was living there. “What if they are?” I asked.

No answer. Instead, Michael fell very quiet. “Mom. Let’s go.” There was an urgency in his voice I had not heard before.

We walked quickly back to the Honda and drove off. “What was that about?”

“I think someone was there,” he said. I had the flash-thought that Evan ’s house had been appropriated by homeless teenagers or those who decided to use it for their “commerce” or “horticulture” of sorts. Specifically, I could imagine bedrooms filled with mushrooms and closets with gro-lights and monster marijuana plants.

I never found out. The next morning was 9-11. Evan did not come back to Norman. He ended up going from the military school to Afghanistan. Then, he did come back. Unfortunately, the war was very hard on him. It was shocking to think that a person could already be on disability at age 18 or 19.

And, already I feel the “Meaning” of 9-11 starting to overtake this narrative.

Five years. It is a key marker moment. I’ll do my best to keep from slipping into the over-deterministic world of the 9-11 narrative that imposes its unwieldy and bulky presence into everything it touches.