setember 2004

click here for permalink September 12, 2004

The recently released 9/11 Commission Report is astonishingly readable... that is, if you're still as obsessed as I am with The Event and The Events Leading Up to The Event... and the endless permutations and deconstructions and recreations thereof...

I finally saw "Fahrenheit 9/11" the other night (just before company arrived — nice timing — so I was all teary and angry and bitter for my guests... okay, what else is new?). The next day I began reading a bit of the 338 page 9/11 Commission report (available in full at, which I'm finding as interesting as you'd expect!

It's also unexpectedly engrossing, reading more like a feature in Vanity Fair or Time Magazine than a report commissioned by any government, let alone the current one. One chapter (entitled, "We Have Some Planes") gives a minute-by-minute account of the terrorists activities That Morning and closes with this ominous passage:

"The 19 men were aboard four transcontinental flights. They were planning to hijack these planes and turn them into large guided missiles, loaded with up to 11,400 gallons of jet fuel. By 8:00 AM on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, they had defeated all the security layers that America’s civil aviation security system then had in place to prevent a hijacking."

(I've been off cable TV for seven months now. Why do I still hear the "Law & Order" segment-closing music when I read that?)

I used to wonder how my mother could watch "Titanic" over and over, becoming engrossed each and every time in the doomed characters' struggles for survival, knowing that they — like the people from history they represent — are beyond all hope of a happy ending.

Then, as I was reading through the detailed recreation of The Terrorists' final performance of a thoroughly rehearsed (and subsequently oft-rerun) plot, I realized I was no different from my mother. As deeply as she gets into Kate and Leo's desperate escape from the pipes and stairwells of the lower decks, freezing water rising around them, I was every bit as captivated by the plight of the flight attendants on American Airlines 11.

I don't know why I'm riveted by such reconstructions... something about the illusion of suspense combined with a sort of fatalism, perhaps. Throw in the lure of empathic identification and it's irresistible — but it can't be healthy. Whether the compulsion to relive tragedy stems from compassion or morbid curiosity, either way, it's like gorging yourself on recycled emotions. They're predictable, familiar — even though painful, they're somehow comforting.

I guess it could just be my sick way of counteracting the very relevant, immediate feelings stirred up by the previous night's viewing; anger and disgust, fear for the future of humanity — and the fear that humanity may be beyond hope of helping itself. It seems as though the reaction people have to Michael Moore's latest triumph has to be healthier and more productive, if initially harder to digest.

Then again, all those reactions could just as well be destructive if they ultimately lead only to more anger, a deeper sense of hopelessness and a kind of institutionalized cynicism. And I guess that's where my mother and I differ, as she is still a product of the idealistic, activist generation spawned by the political intrigues of the 60's (which seem almost sweet now, compared to what the public has seen since then).

I wonder if there really is a "critical mass" to our outrage anymore. It's hard to imagine all that rage and revulsion actually mobilizing into something that could stop "the machine" anymore. It's almost as if it's already been calculated into the equation, an acceptable percentage of predictable dissent.

Of course... I hope not.