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A Tragedy of Aesthetics: The "Dianification" of September 11th

I can’t remember where I first heard the term “Dianification” but it seems a particularly accurate way to describe the events of September 11th, 2002, the anniversary of the terrorist attack that resulted in the collapse of the World Trade Centre in New York City. The morbid pageantry that surrounded the commemoration seemed inappropriate to both the nature and scale of what was, in effect, celebrated. While I do not dispute the fact that the loss of nearly 3000 lives was tragic or that some sort of catharsis is required in order to allow New Yorkers to get on with their lives, I was under the impression that the American public had already progressed beyond the early stages of the grieving process.

In the days leading up to the one-year “anniversary”, a number of statements from many of the families of victims have appeared in the media. In most of them, people indicated that they wished to move on and deal with their loss privately. However, it seems that September 11th still has a hold on the American public’s attention and thus is still useful to both the Bush administration and the mass media. It is reasonable to suspect that the Bush administration is using the anniversary to ratchet up patriotic fervor in order to prepare Americans for a war in Iraq. For the media, the seemingly endless, emotion-wringing coverage of the event is a ratings ploy. The media has argued that it is acting as a grief counselor at-large, helping the public work through the issue, but I don’t buy it. Any newspaper or network worth a damn knows a good story when they see one, and this one is a doozy. They simply can’t resist the opportunity to exploit it, and the image of Robert DeNiro reading a brief section of the names of the victims live on CNN confirmed my suspicion that September 11th is being “Dianified”.

What do I mean by “Dianification”? On an obvious level, the term refers to the events surrounding the death of Diana Spenser, the estranged wife of the Prince of Wales. But, on a more subtle level, it refers to the cult-like response to a tragic event and to the momentum that the event acquires independent of and out of touch with the reality of the situation. The sight of hundreds of thousands of people lining the route of Diana Spenser’s funeral procession or the mountains of stuffed animals and other child-oriented paraphernalia laid down in her honour, often in very strange places, resonates with the images of mourners grieving on national television while holding pictures of their loved ones aloft for the cameras that defined, for me at least, the September 11th anniversary coverage. In both cases, deeply personal and private emotions were played out in public and transformed by the pageantry into something consumable and marketable. In seizing on these events – in the case of September 11th with 32 page daily sections and non-stop coverage on television – the media has responded with opportunistic glee.

September 11th has apparently become an opportunity to utilize the grief of the victims as a means to proclaim the unwavering greatness of the American people and their government’s military apparatus. In a cruel irony, the September 11th celebrations reminded me of the fanaticism commonly associated with the radical Islamic groups that perpetrated the attacks in the first place, only with better production values. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that it is inappropriate for the United States to grieve for the victims of September 11th, 2001. The terrorist attacks punctured the American public’s sense of invincibility and replaced it with an anxious fear that in most people has yet to abate. But as anyone who has lost a loved one understands, the grieving process is an intensely personal and private one. It is not something to be carted out in public and displayed on national television, dressed up in red, white, and blue and used as a rallying point for nationalist rhetoric and military aggression. The “Dianification” of September 11th is a tragedy of aesthetics, an abrogation of human dignity and common sense, and it should not be allowed to go any further than it already has.

706 w. September 17th, 2002

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Max Fawcett

Max Fawcett is the former editor of the Chetwynd Echo, a weekly newspaper in the small northern town of Chetwynd, B.C. He currently lives in Edmonton, and works as the managing editor of Alberta Venture Magazine.

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