Sunday, June 25th, 2017

The dichotomy between memorial and commodity: September 11

Bradford Spurr

Posted on March 18, 2017 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Bradford Spurr
Bradford Spurr
Bradford Spurr

By Bradford Spurr, Multimedia Editor

2,977 people died on Sep. 11, 2001, not counting the 19 hijackers who I even debated mentioning in this piece. I removed their statistics from the final death count. Cowards deserve no fame from their deaths. An innocuous day in an otherwise auspicious city. Terrorism, hijacking, an indoctrinated theory of hate. People died on that day. Nearly three thousand Americans were consumed in the fire, the rubble, the utter destruction of the symbolic center of American capitalism.

We all remember where we were, Mrs. Caruso’s third grade class for me, and yet the memory remains emotionally attached to our sentience. There is a memorial now, two in fact. Infinity pools, reflecting pools, holes in the ground. The 9/11 Memorial Plaza was built to evoke some emotion, feeling, suffering, loss, finality. It was just after noon when I emerged from the T.S.Elliot-esque metro. Faces amongst the blank and bleak darkness. The 9/11 Memorial Plaza sits outside what one would consider a construction zone. There are pathways etched into the ruin of commodity. Two reflecting, infinity, perpetual pools of grief.

We have all seen the falling man, the man who made that decision to leap from a tower so high it seemed impossible, an image out of place, lest the insatiable flames of hatred consume the body and technical soul, one had to make the choice between flame and freedom. People threw themselves from the edifice of American capitalism just so they could escape the inevitable flame.

It was just above thirty-five degrees when I climbed the stairs. The subway is just exactly what you would picture the subway to be. Sweatshirt, light jacket, preoccupied mind, we all remember where we were.

There are kiosks dotted across an otherwise busy square. Carts pulled atop the ruin. Here you can buy a flag, emblazoned with the victims’ names, and wait, there is a sale. Canvas totes of the ‘Survivor Tree,’ the only remaining thing in the plaza that was there before the terrorist attacks.

The perimeter of each memorial is made of laser-etched slabs, metal I believe, the names of the dead sit there in silent reminder. These people did not ask for this, they were not martyrs, they were just people, Americans. These were not monks in protest, their immolation stemmed from extremism and hatred. There were fathers, mothers, husbands and wives, first responders, humans.

One World Trade Center looms down from the South, an eerie reminder of just why the twin towers were chosen as targets. It cost four billion dollars to build. Let that sink in. It is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The September 11 Memorial Plaza also contains the 9/11 museum and memorial center. The line was out the door, winding in deliberate fashion, herded by the black nylon straps that designated lanes. There is, naturally, a strong police presence, counter-terrorism police no less patrol the grounds and laugh amongst themselves, every now and then someone will approach them and they will shift their mode of nonverbal communication, adopting a stoic and controlled face, their stance hardens, some shift their guns. A kid would just want a picture because to the young they are objectively cool. The mother thanks them for their service, as if their standing in a plaza extends to their brothers and sisters in arms who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.

The real problem happened as I was awkwardly following a policewoman to see if I could get a picture. A father motioned for his son to join him at the edge of the South Tower memorial. He pulled out a selfie stick and posed, smiles and all, with his small child. This was not the only example of this, this perverse sensationalization. Men a little older than me, 23/24, stood adorned in a tasteful scarf and designer sunglasses, snapping a picture with a sly grin. Tinder must have become frighteningly morbid if these are the pictures that get results.

I had an epiphany-like moment. Standing there it felt as though I was the only one who saw what was going on around me, it made me furious. I’m a photographer and I stopped taking pictures. I put my camera into my bag and just stood in the middle of the plaza. People, heroes in my book out of sheer circumstance. They did not ask for this and yet in 2017 we have turned 9/11 into a commodity with key chains, a physical space that begs for a picture to preserve the moment, but this is no pilgrimage, it is a box to check on the NYC double-decker tour.

People hit the pavement where faceless masses now jockey for the perfect selfie. Men and women were making a deliberate choice, a choice of their own, to throw themselves from a skyscraper because the alternative was just so terrifying that 60 to 100 stories seemed a better option. Most of us will never have a moment like that. It is dark and scary, probably better to just not think about it but that would be a dishonour to those who died.

They didn’t get a choice really, and in their final moments they took their destiny into their own hands, they refused to let hatred dictate their finality. So they jumped and they fell, and they died on impact. Some families would be lucky, in a horribly ironic sense of the word, to receive body parts to bury. But at least the 9/11 reusable shopping bag is six dollars instead of the usual MSRP of nine dollars. What a bargain.