The following is something I had written ten years ago, soon after the 9/11 attacks. Back then, I was disturbed by the media’s attempt to capitalize on a nation’s tragedy by turning the loss of thousands of lives into some sort of a reality show. But I was saddened by our own fascination with other people’s misery and death more than anything else.
Yesterday, on eve of the 10th anniversary of the tragedy, TV channels were at it again. From interviews of the victim’s family members to a Navy Seals’ elite ‘Team 6’ special to conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 tragedy, it was all hanging out there for us to savor. I have not been anywhere near the TV today. I don’t want to know what new ‘angle’ of the 10 year old tragedy they have come up with this time to force it down our collective throats.
“The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon shatters the Americans’ smugness that they are the richest and the most secure nation in the world….” My eyes are closed but the radars of my ears still pick up the noises blaring from the TV. The last couple of days have been heydays for the media, milking the sufferings of the so-called wealthiest and the most powerful nation. Turn on any news channel and the smoke, dust and ashes of the collapsing WTC leaves you completely smothered. Violence excites the whole world. Sadism is a universal trait.
“…This is a war against America. We will not only make sure that the terrorists are punished but even those countries harboring them…”, President Bush declares providing the news hungry scavengers some more table scraps to assail our senses with. The nervous looking Musharraf pledges his total support while some Pakistanis add more to his nervousness by openly celebrating Uncle Sam’s loss in the streets. The scenario on the streets is pretty much the same in Palestine even as Yasser Arafat, with quivering lips, tries to convince the world, especially America, that his country had nothing to do with it. 24 hours live coverage. What for? To prove once again that using violence is the only way to get yourself heard? To dole out legitimate sadism? Baaahhhhh..!
Computer generated 3D images of the plane crash, images of those few seconds when the hijacked plane crashes into the WTC captured by cameras from different angles, and old video clips of Osama bin Laden, the man accused to be behind this catastrophe, gleefully fiddling with a gun have now invaded our bedrooms as we watch with fascination the rubbles that once symbolized America’s Capitalism. Totally absorbed in others’ tragedy, hoping for the cathartic effect, we hog the television set.
“Tragedy presents a poetic cosmology. Through it one receives satisfaction from seeing the representation of misery. Aristotle argued that through pity and fear, which arises as a result of witnessing someone else’s misery, we might affect the Catharsis or purgation of such emotions…” – a lecture delivered years ago by one English lecturer to a classroom full of bewildered students flashes back in my mind. Somehow, at that time, it didn’t make sense but now it does. I don’t really know how, but it does.
“How to acquire death in the morning show, TV death which the child absorbs…..?” Jim Morrison rambles on in the background. Some of us still worship the dead poet who was fascinated with the idea of death. Sadism, pure unadulterated sadism is put on a platter and served for our delight by the media barons in lieu of viewership. My pre-schooler niece drops her teddy and watches with utter fascination as the plane crashes once again into the tower. A child seeking catharsis?
“The world is a vampire…” sings Billy Corgan. It is, indeed, I think. We are nothing more than parasites waiting for a fix of sadism. A bit of starved human bodies that look more like gnarled and dried up trees, a bit of cracked land, with its mouth wide open, gaping at every onlooker for a few drops of water, a couple of bleary eyed young orphans whose parents, unable to pay off their debts, hanged themselves, an acre of land littered by dead bodies – purgation of our negative emotions at the cost of someone else’s misery.
“This is definitely one of the worst disaster to hit the United States of America…..The New York Police Department says that at least 78 officers are missing…..as many as half of the first 400 firefighters on the scene were killed,” BBC reports. Some more images of those falling off the skyscraper flashes on the screen. One of the employees trapped in the 110 storied burning building desperately waves a white kerchief hoping for someone to come to his rescue. The skyscraper finally collapses killing everyone spared by the fire. “This is the end, my only friend, the end…” croons Jim Morrison somewhere in the distance. “Many tragic representations of suffering and defeat leave an audience feeling not depressed but relieved and almost elated,” the ghost of Aristotle whispers in my head.
Looking for solace in the arms of misery, a strange race are we. “An estimated 10,000 people were in the WTC building when the plane crashed right into it…… around 800 feared dead in Pentagon…,” Star News hands out some more fixes for those going through withdrawals. The world is a vampire.