September 5, 2002

On Reflection

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September 11, 2002 is still over a week away, and yet networks have already begun dishing out primetime specials to commemorate the anniversary. NBC is boasting Laura Bush in their “Concert for America.” Others are sticking to their tried-and-true news format. Still, as the media barrage gears up, I find myself approaching it with a sense of hesitation. The idea of reliving the infamous footage in slow motion may be enough to make many turn the channel, and yet the question still remains — how does the nation mark such a day in a respectful and responsible way?

On Tuesday night, MTV and PBS were the first to offer their approach. PBS’s acclaimed Frontline aired the first of their specials entitled Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero. Soberingly honest and graphic, it examined how 9/11 has changed the nature of religion in America through a series of interviews with survivors of those lost, religious leaders and scholars. Like the father describing how his son is always watching over him, some have let their faith carry them through grief. Others have focused on the darker connection of religion. Islamic scholars rationalized the blow their faith has taken. One priest recounted how he could no longer “count on” God after such a tragedy. With President Bush trumpeting the threat of “evil,” has the US entered a new religious mindset?

Alternatively, MTV News aired a self-conscious hour-long look at how pop-culture has reacted in the past year. TRL was back to airing N’Sync videos within a few weeks, which has MTV asking if helping the nation return to normalcy is really helping the nation at all. Our parents had Bob Dylan, but it’s hard for me to picture Britney as the voice of a new awareness. Did Sum of All Fears become the number one movie in America because we wanted to face our own nuclear fears? Or maybe the age-old American appetite for violence and consumption hasn’t been impacted in the least. MTV seems to be championing its role in helping America cope. I’d draw the line before Flights of 9/11 feature films start going into production, as one poll puts 76% in favor of seeing.

This is the dilemma television faces. What is a more fitting tribute to the events of Sept. 11th — remembrance or analysis? PBS has attempted to plumb the aftershocks and permanent changes the nation has gone through in a year. It’s extremely relevant, when suggestions of invading Iraq are being tossed around, to ask whether we are wiser than a year ago. And while one more rendition of the national anthem may soothe some still jittery nerves, excessive displays of patriotism almost do an injustice to the profound experience we’ve all gone through. Despite the over-absorption of Sept. 11 images I feel like I’ve gone through, I found myself getting emotional at the end of Frontline, if only because it seems to suggest there is a choice, or a chance for some kind of connectedness. Which raises the question — what will you be watching next Wednesday?

Archived article by Lauren Sommer