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Friday, February 18, 2005

Postmodern Girls

"I don't belong," they tell us. A push away from mediocrity and towards the future. Towards progress. That's the Emerald City, and changing things for modernity's sake is the yellow brick road that we, without courage or compassion, trod in order to get home.

We were talking in my historical preservation seminar about Ground Zero. After rewatching the CBS news footage from the day, listening to the doorman at the Marriott at the foot of the towers, we went in a circle and asked each person about their memories of the day. I was, in the interest of full disclosure, in the Student Center at the University of Colorado, watching the events of the day transpire while I ate about six hotdogs. I don't know why. It's embarassing, but at the time I ate hot dogs over my other culinary choices because it seemed like a thing to do to show solidarity with the city that was watching one of its symbols burn. This, by the way, is not to say that I dislike hotdogs otherwise. Just that on that particular day, I consumed more than I should have because I didn't know what else to do. In a somewhat strange coincidence, the professor for the seminar was a first semester professor at CU and was in the same building. Small world.

Initially, everyone in the room showed a reluctance. As if they wanted to lend to the event a gravity it has only taken on in retrospect. Everyone felt it necessary to add that it was, on some level, meaningful. As class went on, however, people showed a bit more of an incisive view about things. Notice the memorials we build to the lily white fire fighters, and the immortalizing of a Mayor who, for anyone with a melanin content a tint beyond ivory, was Bull Connor reincarnate. Not to mention his philandering. Ever notice how, right after it snows, the world seems fresh and new? Somehow the falling dust of a collapsing tower had the same effect on the outlook of America. It seems as if the cascading brick and plaster was as the tide rushing out to sea before a tidal wave destroys a town. There was an ominous feeling about the day, and from any record I found, it took at maximum a few hours before official government sources were referencing retribution.

Then we come to the question - how to preserve it? What, we ask, is the historical significance of the place that needs to be kept for future generations to oggle? What is being done is approximately the following: the gravelike bedrock of the buildings will have bridges spanning them so that people might peer into the cavernous abyss where the towers once stood. Apart from that, the world's tallest building (standing at 1776 feet) will be put on the site. Not to worry - all of the office space lost in the attack will be restored. And to be honest, even after reading the entire life story and about the life's work of the architect who designed the current plan, I am unmoved.

It is an oddly American response. At the memorial to the Sand Creek massacre, there isn't a gift shop. The Vietnam war memorial, likewise, is a place of reflection (both literally and figuratively) and the Pearl Harbor memorial is an observation bridge that lets you peer into the water at the sunken wreck of a battleship. Can you imagine the outrage that would have followed if Hawaii had deigned to build a giant, sparkling, golden aircraft carrier as a memorial to the Japanese attack? The memorial we've decided upon isn't reflective. It's not being done to let us consider the lives lost, or the generational innocence that is deader still. It's being done to forget.

The response is hubris. You want to knock down our towers? We'll build the largest building in the world. We'll let Merril-Lynch get back to business, literally on the ashes of a thousand dead. Maybe consulting with the dead will improve their third quarter performance. It's very basically a memorial that is not a memorial. The centerpiece of the restoration is a giant, spirelike middle finger to the 'terrorists.' We've lost an enemy we can fight. The Cold War ended, the United States was the hegemon for a decade, and now we're being dragged into a war with no honor in it. It's just interesting that the memorializing acts as a convenient way to forget by remembering only the selective parts of what happened and how it happened.

Everyone claims to want to be different. They claim they don't belong. But it's really a way to disguise the fact that they are terrified of being completely average while desiring to be accepted. A culture where difference and change for change's sake is deified is one where striving not to conform within strictly defined limits is the only way to really fit in. It's a mindset for a modernist world, but 9/11 brought us into the postmodern. Identity becomes conflated with the metanarrative of what happened, and if you're not with us you're with the terrorists, so you may as well get onboard for the big win. Skip when you go to see the wizard. Smile. You belong.

cranked out at 4:29 AM | |

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