Eating Our Popcorn While We Weep

Karen Ballentine:

Dear Abbas,

When I read that 3QD was devoting all of Monday’s blog to 9-11, I had mixed feelings. I know you grieve it, as many of us do. I know you lost a friend. And even for those New Yorkers who came out with themselves and their loved ones unscathed, as I did, still, it was traumatic.

Since then, as we know, so many others…the Bush Administration, the Hollywood executives, the lawyers, the real estate moguls, Anne Coulter, Osama, and every justifiably angry but tragically misguided jihadist has found what they need to promote their own agendas in that tragedy.

Even as we “New Yorkers”, the children of so many different nations, religions, races, and beliefs found our own community, and our own hope, the rest of the nation has been stuck on the virtual (via CNN and the web) trauma, without experiencing recovery, as we all did through the force of our common humanity.

That might be the key difference between 911 and Katrina: both Manhattan and D.C. recovered from the terrorist attacks on 911. But the nation did not.

With Katrina, on the other hand, the nation got over it, but the victims, the dead, their loved ones, their comunities, especially the poor African Americans of the lower ninth, as well as the working people all along the gulf…they did not.

In both cases, albeit for different reasons, America has let its people down.

So, to get to my request:

I don’t patronize the 9-11 movie industry, just as I have boycotted Holocaust films since I was 17. And I don’t watch Hollywood dramas of the Rwandan genocide, either.

I don’t need to have commercial cinema vindicate my feelings and views of human suffering, and I loath their pat versions of catharsis by focusing on heroes, however heroic, that can let us more easily eat our popcorn while we weep.

But I did come across this on Youtube, while I was searching for something related: the video of Jon Stewart’s first show after 9-11. It is raw, it is honest, it is affecting, and it is hopeful. Still.

It is not an intellectual viewpoint. It is an engaged, traumatized, and hopeful New Yorker’s viewpoint.

I had never seen it before. Possibly because I was then in the post 911 fetal position, which disinclined me to even bother to turn on the TV.

Maybe you have seen it. But Jon Stewart gives a great tribute.

But even if you have, watch it again.



Dr. Karen Ballentine is Project Manager at the Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery of the United Nations Development Program.