E D I T O R I A L . 7
13 September 01
'A New York State of Mind'
As everyone else is commentating, from the President to the pub bore, I might as well have my say.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is people's surprise. The destruction of skyscrapers - it has become generic. And perhaps now (as a friend of mine observed) those genres will die. Those who were young in the 1950s were raised with thoughts of obliterated cities. I grew up on Marvel and DC; I grew up on documentaries of blastzone and skinpeel. A slightly younger generation watched Akira. The destruction of sexy locations became a cliché of '90s cinema. It is hard to say to what extent bringing these things to birth in the imagination makes them inevitable, politically. To admit that is, perhaps, to admit fundamentalism. We hope the world is woozier than that. We point to causeless effects and effectless causes.
There seems to have been a great missed opportunity for a headline: WHERE THE FUCK WAS SUPERMAN?
Now reminds me of Salman Rushdie's Valentine's day gift from the Ayatollah Khomeini. The fatwa force liberalism to regain some spine: it was a positive value, not just an inert tolerance for the secretly disapproved of. Who does not have fantasies of eliminating all that they hate? Who passes through the day, or ascends an escalator, or drives to work, without commiting thought-murder?
The thing I find hardest to get out of my mind is the image of the firemen, ascending. If they had been running down, trying to escape, their deaths would somehow have been entirely different.
The Pearl Harbor analogy, already wearying, has been misused in terms of the economy. The effect is seen as being entirely negative, recession-causing. As Pearl Harbor brought the US into the Second World War, and the Second World War and post-War reconstruction led to America's prosperity during the whole second half of the century, this second Pearl Harbor could be seen as not threatening recession but bringing in a golden age of hedonism and investment.
Many have commented - though not many that I've seen in the British media - of the inability of President Bush 2.0 to meet the moment, live it, alter it. He is scripted to death. Tony Blair is making an eloquent gambit. 'Here,' he seems to be saying, 'this is what the Leader of the Free World should be capable of saying - off the cuff'. President Bush 2.0 constructs 'folks' as both the enemy and the on-side. He looks like one of the three monkeys - See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil - but he just can't decide to raise his hands and assume one of their positions. He seems incapable, in discourse, of even the simple binary constructions of President Bush 1.0: dark/light, past/present.The relief when he gets to 'and God Bless America' is comic. Within hours of the Space Shuttle disaster, President Reagan had gravelled 'they slipped the surly bonds of earth, and touched the face of God'. And everything, for America, seemed slightly better - obfuscated by some poetic sounding poetry. President Bush 2.0 squares his shoulders, looks down the barrel of the camera, falters, says, in more words than necessary, 'We're coming to get you.' The decision he faces - has had to face - should have had to face - is between the Old and New Testaments. Option 1 was eye-for-an-eye; Option 2 was turn-the-other-cheek. But the idea of ennobling the world by taking non-violence from opposition to government, that would never have occured. We escalate; we pay the consequences.
History. There is the relish of grand comparisons. Of living through a moment that one is certain will make it on to the compilation at the start of 'I Love 2001'.
Here, let's bring in Tom Wolfe. In The Bonfire of the Vanities the traders are 'Masters of the Universe'. They are the most unvictimlike men and women alive. It could be said that the Twin Towers were just about the most unvictimlike building in the world. Their appearance was totally confident, completely without apology. When they were built, they took over a city - a city that was far from easy to overtake.They were a quarter mile high; riding the lift in one was liking going on a vertical drag strip.And now they can be constructed or reconstructed as the most victimlike buildings in the world. (Some would add, as they are adding this postscript to most sentences these days, 'in history'.)
A word for Don DeLillo. You are more than welcome to take a step forwards and say 'I told you so'.