'9/11, the TV show we could not turn off', by Ultan Banan. Ruminations on history.

9/11, the TV show we could not turn off

Where was I? On the Camino de Santiago of all places, a walk which, along one of its many routes at least, spans the entire breadth of Spain. I’d flown into Bilbao a short time before and had made my way to the French Pyrenees, where in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port I prepared for the 770 kilometre walk to Santiago de Compostela.

It must have been about a month in, but somewhere around Leon, I got up one morning to go and get coffee. Walking days start early, so it was around seven when I found a little café and sat down. There was a small fifteen-inch television in the place and news played on repeat, the footage that of the plane smashing into the first tower. I caught the eye of the café owner and the two of us stared at each other in disbelief. That’s all I remember of the event and its aftermath.

A few years back a British journalist got into hot water for calling it the greatest televisual event of all time (or something to that effect), but in one sense that’s what it was. No Hollywood production could rival it for pure exhilarating violence; it was ‘spectacular’, in the true and original (etymological) sense of the word.

It was Jean Baudrillard who penned the essay ‘The Gulf War did not take place’ (PDF link for those interested), a piece about how the entire war was only given concrete reality by a furious and sustained propaganda campaign. I cannot comment on what extent American lives are shaped by the media (my guess is quite considerably), but it seems striking to me now that media-driven American war now became the war on America, the event announced also with a televisual extravaganza, perhaps the greatest ever seen. After that, who could oppose the subsequent twenty-year global war of terror where millions of (mostly Muslim) lives were lost to the fury of America’s thirst for revenge, a war (or series of wars) which, in retrospect, seemed to have been in the planning for quite some time?

My own views on 9/11 probably now border on the prosaic. I find the official narrative to be a piece of absurd contrivance. It seems to me that the event could not have happened without its own fair amount of (internal) advanced planning. That the towers fell as a result of controlled demolition seems beyond doubt, and once that is established, one is forced down a whole series of scary rabbit holes. But who cares? Twenty years later, the story has been buried in the rubble and no one much wants to go digging anymore. People’s attention span is short and there’s always another atrocity to hypnotise us for a few short seconds, and if no tragedy exists, then we’ll find some other inane bullshit to latch onto. Transgender weightlifters, for example. And tomorrow, the story will be much the same: Who cares?

I hope that the people of New York and America find out the truth one day, and not so far down the line that the response is the one I have paraphrased above. But it’s, what, fifty years since Kennedy was shot? And by the time the truth is admitted to by the state (10, 20, or 100 years from now), there will be nobody around who truly gives a damn. But I also hope that the cycle of ‘blood for blood’ comes to an end, too; the 200 dead Afghans in Kabul only a few weeks ago would suggest we are far from there yet and it shows no sign of slowing.

We live in a visual world and we are mostly anaesthetized to media depictions of violence. But whereas we in the West see most of our massacres onscreen, those in the global East are well-used to carrying their bleeding dead in their arms. Other than army personnel, 9/11 was the first and only time that the people of the US were subjected up close to warfare, and for that reason it leaves such a massive psychological imprint on modern lives and will likely do so for years to come.

We do not live war, but for one brief moment in 2001, we all did. But largely because of neo-colonialist policies by Western governments, there are those in the world who live with it continually. We suffered once, they suffer daily, weekly, yearly. And if we don’t like it, all we have to do is turn off our TV. They don’t have the luxury.


Artwork: ‘Empire Fallen’ by Babul Miah, age 17, from the book “The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11.”

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 ‘9/11, the TV show we could not turn off’, by Ultan Banan. Please note: flash fiction, nonfiction and all other content is the sole work of Black Tarn. Ask before republishing.

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