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Drowning in Amber Waves of Sensitivity
by Brian "Y2" Mckay

Every generation of Americans seems to have a milestone tragedy that they can look back and reflect upon. "Where were you when J.F.K. was shot?" Or, "Where were you when the Challenger exploded?" The more recent events of 9-11 will haunt us as a nation for quite some time, especially those who were hit close to home. Clearly, a high degree of sensitivity is merited - but we eventually have to ask ourselves: How far is too far?

I remember 9-11. I'd been offered a nice job in the Bay Area a few weeks before, and a friend I used to work with in Utah graciously allowed me to crash on his floor until I could get my own place. I'd left a girlfriend behind with the tentative plan to have her follow me out in a few months. Things were rocky between us, but I figured the change would be a chance for a new beginning.

Then the job fell through. "Sorry you packed up your life and came out here on short notice, but we won't be able to fill the position this quarter. Better luck next time." Yeah, thanks, assholes. As if that wasn't bad enough, things had gone from rocky to stormy with the girlfriend, who was not taking the separation well. After a scant few weeks apart, she wanted to break it off. So much for the new beginning.

Then I woke up, turned on the TV, and saw the Towers burning. Seeing 5000 people die and a bastion of capitalism crumble into dust on live television kind of puts your own misery into perspective.

Yes, I felt the impact of the tragedy, as we all did. Yes, I have nothing but sympathy for the victims and their families. But where I start to have doubts is when people began playing revisionist history in the name of sensitivity. When the Towers went down, people were hurting, depressed, and angry. As a nation, we ran through the entire gamut of human emotions. It got to the point that we didn't want to be reminded of the horror we'd all witnessed, although the reminders were on every TV screen and website.

Then they started pulling any non-news item that featured the towers from the airwaves. First it was the Spider-man trailer - the one where Spiderman captures some bank robbers in a helicopter by slinging a web between the Towers. It was a very cool trailer for an equally cool movie, one in which the Towers really played a very small part. Pulling it seemed a tad extreme, but in lieu of the circumstances it was understandable that the studio decided to recall it. A short time later, Hip-Hop band The Coup opted to not release it’s album Party Music with the originally planned artwork – an image of the towers with flames and smoke billowing from them (a profoundly eerie coincidence since the album’s cover photo had been completed several months prior to the attacks, yet looks like it was taken during them). Again, an understandable move on the part of the artists and the record label, given the current state of the nation.

But then other things that showed the towers, even in a miniscule or background capacity, begin to disappear. Around the same time that The Coup delayed their album, the metal band Dream Theater recalled their album Live Scenes from New York because some might take offense to the cover art logo – A burning apple wrapped in barbed-wire, and topped by an outline of the NYC skyline in flames. The outline of the towers is difficult to spot if you’re not looking close, since the logo only takes up a small portion of the album cover. However, the label decided to pull the album from stores, even though nobody had yet complained.

This was the point at which I finally said, “Okay, give me a fucking break!”

When was it going to stop? Were they going to start recalling every piece of merchandise with an image of the towers on them, just because it might be construed as “insensitive” to the victim’s of 9-11? (Even if it was released before the attacks).

Apparently, they were. And the media whiteout wasn’t going to stop with things that actually had images of the Towers in them. It got even more ridiculous in April 2002 when Starbucks released their promotional posters for its new Tazoberry and Tazo Citrus iced beverages. The poster showed the two drinks in tall plastic cups, sitting amid fake grass made out of green straws (which seem to be on display in every Starbucks, for some reason). The poster bore the caption “Collapse into the Cool”, and showed the drinks against a pleasant blue summer sky, as a dragonfly playfully hovered overhead.
Starbucks issued a public apology in June and took down 3000 of the posters across the nation, however, when some people began to see the ad as symbolic of the fallen Towers, with the dragonfly above representing the plane about to crash into them. Not only that, but the use of the word “collapse” in the slogan was construed as referential to the Towers’ collapse.

At this point, my jaw dropped open and I said something to the effect of “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!” I could drink a fifth of tequila and smoke a good-sized bowl of Vulcan Hash, then stare at that poster for three hours, and not once would I have read any 9-11 subtext into it.

Several other companies spent millions of dollars removing any imagery of the towers, or anything that might even suggest the Towers, from their products or advertisements. Even the behemoth Microsoft announced a few days after the attacks that they were removing the Twin Towers from their Flight Simulator game after there were rumors that the hijackers had used copies of the program for training. (at the risk of sounding insensitive, isn’t that like slamming the barn door and nailing it shut after the horses escaped the week before?)

I find two things disturbing about this trend: 1)that people are reading way too much into everything, and 2)That studios and corporations are actually taking those people seriously.

Apparently, the proper level of sensitivity regarding 9-11 can only be attained by eradicating every picture or mention of the Towers from everything that isn’t either a news story or a memoriam. Those who know me will attest that even under the best of circumstances, I usually can’t be accused of sensitivity or sentimentality. However, I have tried to be as sensitive to 9-11 as much as possible, and though some may not believe it, the events of that day did have a profound effect on me.

However, it’s gotten to the point where I have to ask myself, “When did we as a nation become such an uptight, touchy, paranoid bunch of pussies?”

Surges of patriotism and sensitivity over 9-11 seem to be the “in” thing this year. Suddenly, slobs who never bothered to watch the news, vote, or attend a political function in their life are hell-bent on driving with American flags tied to the antennas of their SUV’s as they head to the nearest National Guard recruiting center. Apolitical soccer moms are wearing their 9-11 memorial pins everywhere and putting pithy little 9-11 slogan bumper stickers on their minivans. Teenagers are wearing official-looking “NYFD” jackets. Hey, kid, are you on the NYFD? No? Is a family member of yours on the job with the NYFD? Didn’t think so. Why don’t you take the fucking jacket that you bought at the GAP off and show some real respect? Don’t walk around with some trendy jacket that touts the NYFD as if it were a baseball team.

Am I saying that I don’t have respect for the NYFD? You couldn’t be more wrong. Any few hundred guys who run up into a burning building about to collapse, just in the hopes of saving one more life, get nothing but respect from me. But when we turn their memory into a hip jacket or other marketable commodity, I have to wonder where we draw the line between patriotism and consumerism. And by the way, if you think all the proceeds from those jackets and bumper stickers went to the victims of 9-11, think again. But that’s another story.

I don’t really blame people for trying to be patriotic, even if it is in a mostly superficial manner. People need a way to cope, and a sense of unity can be soothing. And I can understand how some people might have become upset by an image of the smoking, burning towers on the cover of a Hip-Hop CD (though I don’t believe that forcing the artist to change it would have been acceptable).

But a fucking Starbucks poster with slushies and dragonflies?

The absurdity has reached a new height, however, with a website devoted to changing the title of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Found at, this brainchild of one Kevin Klerck is an on-line petition to change the name of the film by any means possible. Observe their logic in supporting such a notion.

“We believe that Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema's actions are in fact hate speech. The movie is intentionally being named The Two Towers in order to capitalize on the tragedy of September 11.”

Actually, the movie is intentionally being named The Two Towers because that’s the name of the goddamn story it is based on, one that was written fifty years ago! Yes, J.R.R. Nostradamus must have foreseen that a movie of his work would be made in the wake of the attack, and decided to capitalize on it with this title.

“Clearly, you cannot deny the fact that this falls under hate speech. We believe that if they will not willingly change the name, the government should step in to stop the movie's production or to force a name change.”

Oh yes, appeal to the government to make things right. The Government will save our sensibilities from being offended by this travesty of a title. The terrorist attack wasn’t just about taking lives and destroying a prominent American symbol. And it wasn’t just about making a political statement that would have a profound and long-term effect (although in that regard, they certainly succeeded). It was about disrupting a way of life, and sowing the seeds of fear, paranoia, and doubt. The proponents for banning the title are playing right into the Al Qaeda’s hands. Just in case you’re wondering, there is also a site to petition the petitioners at - and yes, I signed it. (Like writing this article, it was probably pointless, but fun nonetheless).

The site also claims that “Several of our members were already successful at making 20th Century Fox delay the movie Phone Booth due to the Maryland sniper attacks.”

Funny, everything I’d read indicated that the studio pushed back the release date of the film on it’s own recognizance, not because a group of hypersensitive crackpots made a stink about it.

Obviously, nothing is going to come of this petition, since the film has already hit screens across the nation. However, I find such reactionary rhetoric alarming, even from an obscure group of internet goofballs. Even though Peter Jackson had considered changing the name because it might be considered disrespectful, he came to the conclusion that to change it could only disrespect Tolkein, his work, and his fans – and rightly so. Life went on before 9-11. Life goes on afterward. Yes, 9-11 will haunt us for some time to come. Even now, I can’t see the Twin Towers in the skyline of a movie or TV show without taking a moment to think about the victims, the heroes, and the former majesty of the Towers themselves. And damn it, why shouldn’t those things be there to remind us? Why are corporations and studios and activist groups like so intent on removing all traces of the Towers from our collective memory? Why are we so afraid to see something as innocuous as a trailer for a superhero movie that even casts the Towers in a positive light? (hey, Spidey used them to fight crime!)

Had this group of protestors succeeded in forcing a name change of a film that is destined to become as classic as the novel it is based on, the concepts of artistic integrity and free speech would have received a damaging blow. However, logic and common sense would have been the true victims.

A parting word of advice, first to the studios and corporations who pander to neurotic and reactionary minority by taking care to avoid any sight or mention of the Towers. Quit treating customers like delicate children who are upset by the sight of their own shadow. Rolling back a release date on a film about sniper attacks at a time when the real thing is happening makes sense. Taking down a poster of a beverage and issuing a public apology does not. As for these sensitive patriots who would beg the government to abate freedom of speech at their whim in order to save them from being reminded of a horrible tragedy - Get the fuck over it. Dwelling on the past, while simultaneously trying to erase whatever traces of it that you find painful, is a futile cause. Quit using the flag as your blanket and 9-11 as your bullhorn when you want to believe that you’re making a difference for the better. We should never forget 9-11, but we don’t need to relive it every day, either.

Life went on before 9-11, as it does now.

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originally posted: 12/20/02 13:04:50
last updated: 12/20/02 13:08:03
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