End of Cynicism
September 22, 2001
I sat down before the television coverage of a terrible fire
in the World Trade Center's North Tower at 8:50am on September
11, and watched in horror as fifteen minutes later a plane
smashed into the South Tower. I couldn't get the thought out
of my head: I'm watching a movie. I'm watching a
movie. Except this was no movie. It was the most disgusting,
and successful, terrorist act the world has ever seen.
Since then, it almost seems that the television networks
have been trying to turn September 11 into the movie that
it so tragically is not. We've seen video montages of buildings
collapsing, over and over again, sometimes in slow motion,
we've seen people covered in dust (it must be studio dust,
right?) running terrifed through the streets, we've seen stoic,
chiseled, emergency personnel breaking down in displays of
emotion not normally associated with the occupation. And we've
frequently seen these montages backed with stirring orchestral
music designed to tug at heartstrings which have already been
I'm not so sure it works any more. After a while I became
numb to the TV pictures. I believe it's known as "desensitization."
It wasn't until I read the newspaper on September 12 that
it really hit me again.
I was recently discussing the concept of cynicism with a
friend after seeing the remake of the movie Planet of the
Apes. My argument was that in the last decade American
society has become noticeably more cynical and sarcastic.
The remake of Planet of the Apes bore out my theory.
It seemed no longer possible to make a modern movie without
a heavy dose of sly winking and elbow-nudging and insider
jokes. It's what the audience expects. Anything less would
Cynicism and large doses of irony are seen everywhere these
days, from TV commercials, to popular music, to newspaper
reports, to websites such as this one. It is a cynicism born
from a generation of comfortable, well-off adults who have
grown up in a time of peace and prosperity, never having to
worry about the threat of war or famine. To most people the
Gulf War was simply an extended television event, not a brutal
desert battle where tens of thousands died. The video footage
of Cruise missiles flying down ventilation shafts wasn't even
that impressive to a generation who grew up on expensive movie
special effects and video games.
But after the initial attempts by the network news shows
to "market" this tragedy, with their "America Under Attack"
and "Terrorism Hits America" graphics daubed across the screen,
it slowly became clear: there is no more cynicism. On September
11 reality broke down the door and robbed us blind. Last night
I watched the multi-network fundraising event "A Tribute to
Heroes" and it was like nothing I'd ever seen before on American
television. Simple tributes interspersed with moving music,
no audience, no commercials, no cynicism, no sarcasm, no sly
winking, no elbow-nudging, no cheese-factor. It's way beyond
Which puts Democratic Underground in a diffcult position.
DU was born out of cynicism and skepticism, a skepticism brought
about by the shameful turn of events in last year's election.
We've collected a large group of people who feel the same
way - who feel that George W. Bush is in no way deserving
of, or capable of, the office of the Presidency. So where
do we go from here?
In these times I have been told that to criticize the President
is an unpatriotic, un-American act, and there is a part of
me that wants to believe that. Part of me wants to stand up
and say that I support the President, because by supporting
the President I am by extension supporting the country. Who
could be so anti-American as to criticize the Commander-in-Chief
at a time like this? He needs our support, he needs the whole
country's support, if he is to succeed.
But another part of me realizes that while cynicism may be
dead, critical thinking is alive and well. It's a patriotic
act to support the President if you believe he is right. Is
it also a patriotic act to keep your mouth shut if you believe
he is wrong? Does American patriotism mean censoring yourself?
I'll say this: he's not Dumbya any more. He's not the Chimp-in-Charge,
he's not D-Dubya-I. We're way beyond that. He's President
George W. Bush, and he's in the driving seat, whether we like
it or not. The only thing that sarcasm ever did for us was
to make us feel better about the situation. As of September
11, I'm finding it very difficult to feel good about anything.
But it is up to us - it is our duty - to make our
voices heard if we disagree with Bush's policies. In a time
of crisis our resolve should be strengthened, not weakened.
And while we are still free to criticize Bush, it does not
mean that we love this country any less. Far, far from it.
Despite the network news shows' attempt to turn this into
the latest made-for-TV event, in my lifetime America has never
been more united, more honest, more upright, more genuine.
It is up to us to make sure it stays that way.
Perhaps the end of cynicism is not such a bad thing.