It’s hard to forget what day it is, and not just because I’m writing this while waiting to board a plane. Occasionally I’ll glance up at a CNN monitor and catch video of President and Mrs. Obama observing the moments of silence earlier today, or glimpse the rain-drenched ceremony down at the World Trade Center site. The reminders are all around me, and rightly so.
So, I can’t quite understand the virulence of Jack Shafer’s disgust with what he calls “the 9/11 anniversary racket.” Shafer feels that the wave of features, columns, and commentary surrounding the day is “a media scam designed to exploit audiences by reviving memories — usually painful ones — to sell newspapers or boost ratings.” He indicts the press both for exploiting the occasion and for phoning it in, as well as us – the lazy, complacent public, who “crave the psychological stimulation that the familiar brings,” (a sentence that makes no sense to me.)
It’s true that many anniversary stories – particularly those around disasters, death, and tragedy – can be little more than sensationalized rehash jobs. But, I didn’t feel that way about today’s coverage.
First of all, it hasn’t been excessive. I’ve heard and seen more about this week’s healthcare speech and the distraction du jour, Congressman Joe Wilson’s heckling of the president, than I have of the 9/11 anniversary. Enough already.
The occasion is more than just a chance to open up the video vault and relive our trauma. It’s a legitimate opportunity to review the actions leading up to and resulting from the event, with the perspective of eight years’ time (Afghanistan, anyone?) Or, to check the progress (or disgraceful lack of it) on the WTC memorials, as the New York Times does in a restrained, but cogent editorial today.
We need reminders. Most of us lead harried lives, and our consciousness is increasingly divided. As writer Ryan Sager points out in a blog post about Shafer’s rant, memory is reconstructive, not reproductive. We’re unlikely to recall something that happened an hour ago without a complex process of recalling and reconstitutionalizing it.
And, then, there’s the perspective and synthesis that only time can bring. We owe it to ourselves to think about what happened eight years ago, and not in a shallow way. Beyond the social and political consequences of the September 11 attacks, the anniversary’s commemoration in the media is a remembrance of how much was lost, and how much we still take for granted.