Democratic Underground

The End of Cynicism
September 22, 2001
by EarlG

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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 snapped.

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 be cheesy.

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 us now.

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.