Year after year it was just another day on the calendar, no more remarkable than the next. Then, on a routine New York morning in 2001, everything changed. From that moment on September 11th would resonate like no other, a day for unilateral solemn remembrance.
At least that’s what should’ve happened. Instead, TV had a better idea, seizing the opportunity to curl a massive turd across memorial proceedings, reducing the single worst atrocity perpetrated by international terrorism to nothing more than a low risk/high yield slaughter-porn franchise.
Quick tip for any aspiring documentary makers out there: prefix any old gratuitous sh**e with "9/11" and you've got yourself a one-size-fits-all disclaimer for broadcasting what basically amounts to legalised snuff movies, 2006's 9/11: The Falling Man being pretty much your York Notes on the technique – a documentary that took a series of rapid-shot photographs of an unidentified man leaping from the North Tower, bound them together into a morbid flickerbook then bid you gawp at looping footage of a life plummeting at terminal velocity toward the most horrific of ends ‘til your erection finally subsides and you drift off into a blissful post-coital slumber.
Quick tip for any aspiring documentary makers out there: prefix any old gratuitous sh**e with "9/11" and you've got yourself a one-size-fits-all disclaimer for broadcasting what basically amounts to legalised snuff movie
Oh, Humanity, you make’s Momma so proud.
As appalling and degrading and indefensible as it was to have sat through it, and as much as it left me wanting to drink bleach, I distinctly recall coming away naively hopeful that at least our species couldn’t sink any lower. It wasn’t ‘til 9/11: Phone Calls From The Towers, Ch4’s 2009 grief-smut flagship, hoved into view that I realized just how wrong I was. As enduringly unpleasant as untreated syphilis, Phone Calls remains a veritable event horizon for the totally, indefensibly unnecessary – 1hr 40mins of final phone calls from people who are about to die. Nothing more, nothing less.
Devoid of any investigative or journalistic merit whatsoever, this film clearly needed to be made; with its ghoulish trawl through desperate voice-mail messages bequeathed to loved ones who didn't make it to the phone in time, and recordings of frantic pleas for salvation made to fire departments, police stations, news rooms, and anyone else who'd listen.
Maybe it’s because I dropped out of film school before the relevant module, but I failed to glean anything insightful from an evening in the company of people in the last throes of choking suffocation. People in offices, stairwells and corridors; people trapped by flames and rubble and corpses and sheer unimaginable terror. People who'd seen others leap from floors above them. People on people on people – all real, all with feelings and lives and families and dreams for a future that, for them, would never come.
And then, just as I thought it couldn't get any worse, the recreational autopsy reached a truly cannibalistic crescendo as we eavesdropped on a 40-year-old father of three pleading for assistance from an audibly upset emergency services telephone operator... at the exact moment Tower 1 collapsed on top of him.
Thank god his last words were robbed of all dignity, smeared across the airwaves, farted down our coaxials as idle entertainment, and punctuated every 15 minutes by a stream of adverts for meaningless ephemeral tat. My only hope is that my dying breath will be sponsored by Audi too.
Jump-cut to the here and now and TV’s disingenuous annual eulogy is well under way again; so much so that we’ve long since passed saturation point. It’s a shameful admission to make but I’ve seen the planes rupture their targets so many times over the past ten years the impact has lost all meaning. Ten years and I’ve grown numb. Ten years and the sight of two passenger jets slamming into towers full of human beings no longer upsets me, and that’s what terrifies me most.
So, in a bid to save whatever’s left of my soul, I’ll be boycotting 9/11: Emergency Room. And I shan’t be series linking Children of 9/11. Nor will I be stood around the watercooler, 9am Monday morning, debating whether 9/11: The Firemen’s Story really was “a beautifully eloquent work of compassionate film-making” or just a thinly-veiled excuse to leer at psychologically scarred emergency workers reliving the moment they saw a middle-aged man’s thorax explode.
Now I’m not suggesting for a second we shouldn’t remember the dead. Far from it. I’m just saying now might be a good time to stop defiling the corpse.
Just a thought.
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