One of the things I'm proudest of in my usually quietly trite liberal life is that I was at this community early enough to bag the screen-name "Joseph."
But another is that I wrote a novel about 9/11, as I think any writers who have a civic conscience would be obliged to do.
My novel didn't start out as a novel about 9/11. It started out as a novel about reality television...
...reality television, which I hated.
I was over a hundred pages in when 9/11 happened.
I stopped writing my reality television novel. After all, I was writing a comic novel, laden with satire, and America was laden with tragedy and gravitas.
But a few weeks later, I spoke to a loose acquaintance of mine and confessed that I was disappointed to not be writing my novel anymore. This was but one of many selfish responses I had to the events of September 11, 2001, but it was the first one I confessed to publicly.
My acquaintance said to me:
“Just write it anyway. Write 9/11 right into it. Look, it’s just television. We should make things up about it. It makes things up about us all the time. If 9/11 hasn’t proven that, nothing will.”
So I did. It was first released in 2005, and I recently re-released it on Kindle.
I'm not going to be so crass as to promote the novel on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I won't even mention it's name, in fact. But I do feel the effort entitles me to make a couple of observations on 9/11 and the medium of television, which still controls so much--too much--of too many political lives.
Even at a local level, there's a sentiment among political consultants: "If it doesn't happen on television, it doesn't matter." This is how pitchfork people can flail at corrupt mayors for years and years, to almost no result, for instance. But among top political consultants, the way they try to game what appears on television is even more pernicious.
The rise of the Internet came shortly after 9/11. We already had AOL chat rooms and Yahoo message boards by 9/11--they were almost a decade old, in fact--but we had almost no blogs. And almost no Wi-Fi either. The earliest WiFi, some of you may recall, was so subcutaneous and street-oriented that it was better known by the guerrilla tactic that identified hotspots, known as "warchalking."
I hate black-and-white thinking, but I look at the Internet as nearly all good and television as nearly all bad. The two are more than different stripes of media--they are almost perfect complements. One dictates, the other interacts. One is carefully culled by high-salaried producers who have large commercial stakes in outcomes, and the other is hastily patched together by people of often limited means for the sake of revealing what might be important for the greater good.
One is oligarchic in the worst sense, and one is democratic in the best sense.
When I was exploring reality television in 2001, 9/11 suddenly happened and interrupted my contemplation. I had to rethink everything. Here is what I concluded, in a nutshell, and sparing you reading my book:
To the degree that we shared anything beyond outrage and grief on 9/11, it was this: we were all watching a particular medium, television, which was fighting its own death.
From that point forward, television's primary ambition has been to herd us all together—for American Idols and Iron Chefs and Super Bowls and dream houses and other would-be shared national events—even as many, and perhaps most, of us instinctively turn to other kind of media that make us feel less herded, and on more individualized roads.
I don't want to trivialize the profound grief of this day. Ten years later, the wounds are far from healed. But I'm also suggesting that it's in the interest of one admittedly declining medium in particular to keep them from healing perfectly, to keep the false dichotomies up forever, or as long as we're willing to tune in if only to see how outraged we are by tuning in.