Notes & Queries by David Herkt

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Notes & Queries: In The Face of Global Terror: 9/11 Cakes, Costumes and Lego

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  • Paul Brislen,

    I took my kids to something a few months ago and they wanted to play on the outdoor bouncy castles. We wandered over and discovered a giant inflatable slide - The Titanic Of Bouncy Slides (or similar) which depicted that grand vessel sliding beneath the waves in a not-very-realistic manner.

    I was startled by it, but nobody else seemed at all concerned. It was, after all, just an inflatable slide. Never mind the scores of people who died on the ship itself.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 198 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Golly. I'll never eat cake, or Lego bricks, again.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Thomas Goodfellow, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Craig, if you stop eating Lego bricks then the terrorists win!

    Germany • Since May 2012 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Can you, or should you, try and maintain the ongoing sense of horror? For some people that ongoing sense of horror will never fade. For some people there is political capital to be made by maintaining that sense of horror. But for most people it is now history.

    I just don't see anything wrong with presenting that history in diverse even wierd ways. And yes even humour is fine. If anything treating it as something that can never be considered with any lightness at all is less than healthy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4445 posts Report Reply

  • linger,

    never eat cake, or Lego bricks, again

    Ah – hence the phrase “shit a brick"…

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1860 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Mixed emotions, mostly negative ones: "O, the lack of humanity."

    Which is the opposite of my initial response to the event itself: a cry of anguish, "The people!" That cry has never really stopped or changed (I have mostly managed to wall off the part of my brain that wants to return and return to the thought of what it was like to be one of the adults on those planes telling a child it would be all right.) and continues to be my response to any disaster, monumental or tiny in scale. The people.

    So I wonder at the casual dehumanisation on display here. Only number 9 seems to engage with the event with any genuine humanity; the fact that the project traumatised its creator to the point where he was physically unable to work on it for a long while is pretty eloquent. And strangely reassuring.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Darlington,

    Brings to mind a kind of hellish "Next Top Baker" reality series hosted by Dom Harvey...

    Nelson • Since Nov 2006 • 947 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I would find some of the things depicted in the post weird and tasteless if they were in front of me in real life. But here, they're just on the internet.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22712 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Jolisa,

    the casual dehumanisation on display

    But isn't that itself a human response?

    And I don't see it a dehumanising. Those depictions (except for the shirt) are people expressing a connection with the event. There are many many careful sensitive empathetic rememberances of 9/11, shouldn't there also be some crass tasteless unsubtle ones as well.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4445 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Don't make me mention the war... !

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Myles Thomas,

    People have different ways of reacting to things. Who are you to say that they are wrong.

    Auckland • Since Apr 2011 • 130 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP, in reply to Jolisa,

    Welcome David. Great to have you here.

    Don't make me mention the war... !

    The Anatomy of Unease. It all still seems Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. A child's perspective is hard to find, but seems a better window into the human response to tragedy than other forms, including these.

    ETA: IMhO.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2448 posts Report Reply

  • Christopher Dempsey,

    I see it as the material 'memorialisation' of a particular event in history. People take this horrific event (long since cleaned up and therefore made invisible), and make it material, fashioning it into cakes, or Lego towers, or a shirt. WWI and II was done with memorials, and the Titanic with stamps. It's a natural reaction in my view, but I'm no psychologist to explain the underlying cultural impulses that give rise to this behaviour.

    Parnell / Tamaki-Auckland… • Since Sep 2008 • 659 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher,

    Welcome, David. I'm very happy that you've joined the Public Address whanau.

    This post makes me wonder. A kid born in, say, 1997 would likely have no memory or 9/11 but would today be a 16-year-old. What would their relation be to 9/11? I'm guessing it would be similar to how World War II was for me growing up, but with less of a sense of exactly what it was.

    In coming years I reckon we'll see more of this sort of treatment of 9/11, from people who were too young to have experienced it first-hand. And then it'll come out of that with a stronger identity, like how society took several decades to figure out exactly what the Vietnam War was all about. Can you imagine a Mad Men-like series set in the early '00s including 9/11 in their plot?

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones, in reply to Jolisa,

    "O, the lack of humanity."

    Which itself is a reference to a tragedy that's been used repeatedly to comic effect:
    Oh the huge manatee

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 975 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    There is an idea lurking in the back of my brain that won't form properly ...

    Is an event like 9/11 more thanjust the event itself? Does it eventually become embedded in all the representations of the event as well? So instead of being just one point in time it becomes a continuing instance shaped by all the representations of it that people continue to create?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4445 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Partly, I think it speaks to the nature of 9/11 as a media event.

    On the day I wanted to punch some excited teenagers on the bus who were excitedly chattering to each other about how it was just like a movie. Yet it was, for almost everyone except those people who were actually there.

    I’m sure that TV and film spectacle has something to do with creating a sense of detachment, as we are fed horror for enertainment. No doubt someone more learned than me can find an appropriate French theorist to cite in support of this.

    I also see a mainstreaming of tastelessness and grotesque humor. The sort of thing I used to snicker at in alt.tasteless years ago has escaped and mutated via 4chan and Something Awful and memes and Reddit and so on to the point where it’s mainstream, particularly among the young. See also shockjocks, media deregulation, … If you had puerile tastes in the 70s or 80s it was pretty rare to find companionship except among people you actually knew, but some time in the last 20 years we reached a point where your formerly unacceptable snickering is shared by an extended, distributed peer group that competes.

    As to the Indian-looking guy in the shirt – it’s a world event far away. I remember reading about a Hitler-themed restaurant in Taiwan. We identify with the victims because we’re part of the Anglo cultural sphere, but maybe that’s too much to expect from others. Or maybe he’s just tasteless too.

    Finally: as a counter-proposal, maybe the internet is giving us a false impression. Perhaps carefully selected set of photos here that may have taken a long time to put together doesn’t really tell us as much about people at large as all that.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch, in reply to Jolisa,

    I wonder at the casual dehumanisation on display here. Only number 9 seems to engage with the event with any genuine humanity; the fact that the project traumatised its creator to the point where he was physically unable to work on it for a long while is pretty eloquent. And strangely reassuring.

    Likewise. My referential image for this tragedy isn't the crash or the collapse, it's the image of a man falling to his death. There's room for replication, and exploration of the event. But I don't think there's a place for things which seek to create joy and humour. That requires a degree of either distancing; in the case of societies which identify themselves with the victims, or of justification; in the case of those who identify with the protagonists (of which there were many, for quite some time).

    And I feel the same about wars. There's plenty of rationalisation and justification for those. But in the end, they're just objects of preventable tragedy and horror, and artworks which find entertainment or celebration in them leave me with the same hollow feeling inside. 'Do these people lack humanity?', I think.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Can you, or should you, try and maintain the ongoing sense of horror?

    Good question. I think we’ve reached the spoiler statute of limitations on Star Trek Into Darkness but erring on the side of caution… I suspect the opening sequence that climaxes with a suicide bombing in the middle of 23rd century London would have been sent back with “are you people high?” rewrite order even five years ago. And I don’t think I’m the only person whose eyebrows went up in a Spock-ian manner at the sight of not one but two movies released in recent months where terrorists lay waste to the White House and environs. Ten years ago, that would have been considered unthinkably tasteless.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    Personally I find the WTC Halloween-costumes shocking, but isn't that the whole point of Halloween? Contemporary fears are less to do with witches and ghouls, and more to do with guns and bombs.

    I think there'll always be humour and excitement derived from taboo-breaking. Yes, it's grotesque and distasteful, but there are always going to be people who get a thrill from causing an emotional reaction. Trolling is not confined to the internet.

    Also, I think of the kids who love the fake knives that retract on impact, creating the illusion of stabbing. And the axe-in-the-head headbands. Is laughing at scary things liberating? Is making a lego model or a cake of the WTC attack somehow taming the horror, making it less terrifying?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3886 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Lilith __,

    Personally I find the WTC Halloween-costumes shocking, but isn’t that the whole point of Halloween?

    Sure - but I'd still like to know what genius at New Line signed off on the license for Kids-sized Freddy Kruger costumes. Didn't anyone stop and ask themselves "Kids dressing up as a fictional child-molesting serial killer. Just a teeny-tad on the tasteless side, perchance"?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Didn’t anyone stop and ask themselves “Kids dressing up as a fictional child-molesting serial killer. Just a teeny-tad on the tasteless side, perchance”?

    *cough*

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • Brent Jackson,

    I did a project on 18th century piracy in primary school, and I've never understood why people want to dress kids up as rapists and murderers.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    And I don’t think I’m the only person whose eyebrows went up in a Spock-ian manner at the sight of not one but two movies released in recent months where terrorists lay waste to the White House and environs. Ten years ago, that would have been considered unthinkably tasteless.

    The White House did get trashed in the movies pre-9/11 - but by aliens rather than terrorists. And, years earlier, Air Force One was hijacked and depicted crashing into a New York skyscraper - but as a computerised wire-frame depiction in a post-Watergate dystopian setting.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5410 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to Brent Jackson,

    I did a project on 18th century piracy in primary school, and I’ve never understood why people want to dress kids up as rapists and murderers.

    *cough*

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

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