Chris Fitzpatrick

To Have Our Lives Taped

Over the past decade, MTV's The Real World has become a mainline for cultural propagation. The archetype of the "reality tv" genre, this weekly, pretend-documentary consolidates, edits, and cannibalizes culture.

This season, taped in Chicago, showcased what is arguably the most agitating and self-aware cast of characters in its 11-year history. Aneesa, Cara, Chris, Keri, Kyle, Theo, and Tonya, appear to be plagued with hypocrisy, superficiality, and narcissism in various combinations. Like other recent casts, they grew up watching The Real World. Since they were 10 years old and younger, it taught them how to act and look, which problems to have in order to seem complicated, what fights to pick and with whom to seem independent, and what inner obstacles to overcome to seem heroic.

Such an understanding of the expectations held for them was immediately obvious when the seven cast members sat down on their first day together, lolling in their hot tub in order to "get to know each other." All jumped at their chance to reduce themselves to hyphenated identities: Kyle described himself as an all-American-white-fratboy; Aneesa, a Jewish-black-lesbian-princess; Keri, a party-girl-who'd-been-drinking-since-age-13, etc. The catch-quirks continued all the way around the tub. When the camera reached the relatively reserved Chris, the other six appeared shocked that he didn't have a label for himself. But they knew better. In fact, they refused to accept that he could have been chosen for the show without some kind of prefab baggage to be exposed. And the season proved them right: Chris is a former-latent-homosexual-recovering-alcoholic-with-fear-of-commitment. He used to be fat, now he is compulsive about working out and ogling himself in the mirror.

Even more obvious was the moment when Keri called out Kyle's "political campaign" (meaning he sculpted his image for the camera, even more than the others). Every cast member, other than the first season, has been a viewer and so, knows he or she is chosen to play a role and provide dramatic controversy, ensuring massive ratings and swarms of advertisers for MTV and its parent company, Viacom.

These ratings are the point of MTV's "cool-hunting" -- the focus groups, surveys, polls, house visits, and years of relentless programming. Consumers can be turned into product and vice versa. In the event that some consumers create their own lifestyles, or even worse, subcultures, MTV swallows them up and sells them back to its audience by incorporating them somehow into its programming.

Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, where The Real World XI was taped, is undergoing gentrification. For MTV, this meant sanitized urbanity, an opportunity to reveal the cast in a hip area doing hip things with hip people. Almost immediately, the MTV crew met with resistance. Local shops posted signs that read "No filming inside" and "Go back to the suburbs." Hundreds of activists, artists, anarchists, and concerned residents protested on the street outside the loft after its location was discovered. The bright orange door was hit with a can of red paint, traces of which could be seen on the sidewalk and doorway in certain episodes. Chicago police officers soon began patrolling the area, cordoning off the block, and, eventually, arresting two protesters -- one for writing on the sidewalk in chalk, the other for playing a drum, and both to send a message: disturbances at the loft would not be tolerated. (Not surprisingly, MTV is prosecuting both men.) Despite the turmoil, MTV still got the expected trendy nightlife, city skylines, roommate tears and shit-talking. The protests were simply left out.

While it is surprising that MTV didn't contextually edit the protests into TRL-style mobs of fans, they really didn't need to. The Real World's hand-selected characters, unlikable as they are, and probably because of it, did provide the goods. Kyle led Keri on for (what was edited to seem like) months, before callously dumping her for his ex and making her "feel like shit." Tonya, who just wanted to go home, passed kidney stones to the beat of her internal "countdown to Justin" clock. Cara took us on an ugly quest for male companionship, ugly not because she is "man-izing," as she calls it, but because her behavior is so clearly rooted in low, or no, self-esteem.

Keri, the aforementioned party girl, could, in fact, not keep up with the boys and their drinking, and her performance in the skit, "Bloody Mary," was eerie to watch considering its exaggerated similarities to her behavior toward Kyle (gee, maybe this had to do with his behavior). Exhibitionist Aneesa gave us street fights, numerous teary phone calls to her (understandably) abrasive mother, alleyway urinations, and sensational performances while on the toilet. Chris had a boring fling with the dorky Kurt, and proved to the world that alcoholism can be swapped for shallow self-obsession (one addiction for another). Theo will definitely reach heroic status for his "progress"; getting over his homophobia and caring about the kids he worked with while creating a community mural.

But the most telling aspect of the The Real World is often not how the cast-members act, but how they react. In that sense, the "9-11 episode" was for The Real World's producers, a goldmine, which they wasted no time taking advantage of. Breaking from the formula, they brought a television into the House to ensure maximum reaction from their "characters." This indulgence provided the perfect example of the network's drive to co-opt anything that sells. Much as MTV displays and shapes how "we" live and how "we" should vote (MTV is a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party, right?), here it sells an image of Real Death and Tragedy neatly packaged into "suspenseful" segments mediated by seven of the most wretched people ever caught on tape. They bought flags, lit candles, prayed, cried, huddled, called home, sang the national anthem, and talked about vigilante vengeance.

And then, Cara said she wanted to "kick some Palestinian ass." Such sentiments surely represented those of more than a few U.S. citizens who were saying the same things that day and since. And quite a few Americans did "kick some Palestinian ass" -- except that those "Palestinians" were largely Indian Sikhs, killed, beaten, and humiliated by a dangerous mix of testosterone and patriotic fervor.

Whether you're watching a love-huddle or call to violence, reactions to such horrendous events can be worrisome. Yet for the Real World-ers, privacy is a non-issue, if not a foreign concept. Their instant notoriety and desire for it expose the changing definitions of the words "private" and "public"; both seem to have merged into one convoluted mess. This notoriety is a reward for their unconscious self-revocation of privacy, and it has dramatic affect. For instance, Cara could not believe that Keri would listen in on one of Kyle's confessionals, which to Cara are "private journals." Consider that they are televised to millions of viewers, her attitude demonstrates just how distorted the concept of privacy has become to cast-members, and those who watch them.

Eleven years of The Real World have not only changed expectations of privacy, but have also helped to normalize expanding surveillance, at all levels of experience. The experience of The Real World has come to exist in the actual real world, through social, institutional, and "precautionary" networks of surveillance. It is easy to imagine that the grandchildren of this generation -- a generation who thinks it is "cool" to have their lives videotaped, recorded, and aired for the masses -- will have no problem with omnipresent surveillance cameras, keystroke and email interception, personal information becoming commercially integrated, retina scanning, one-cards, the selling of their genes, bar codes in their wrists, and microchips in their brains.

Chris Fitzpatrick is the features editor at PopMatters.

Paranoia over Privacy

For the first few seconds of September 11th 2001, it seemed as if the end of the world was being televised. Buildings were burning, people were dying, and the American social psyche moved immediately into a state of widespread terror-paranoia. This fear extended to nearly every facet of life causing many subsequent invasions of privacy and infractions upon civil liberties that would previously have been condemned without the jingoistic tolerance created and sustained by the tragic events. The normalization of this paranoia continues to affect the way in which security measures are conducted, which was precisely the case when my own apartment was searched due to my artwork having been taken out of its intended context and translated through systems of power. The ensuing dilemma created by this unwarranted intervention highlights the immediacy in the tense struggle between personal security and personal privacy reintroduced and amplified in America's new climate.

Something didn't feel right in my apartment when I returned from a short trip, things looked out of order as if someone had been inside. This feeling of violation was confirmed when Tami, my neighbor from across the hall, informed me that policemen had been looking for me and had searched my apartment. She and other neighbors were individually interrogated about me by the officers and asked to try and decipher a stack of "strange" photographs. After multiple agitated phone calls to the Daly City, California police department (who initially lied to me) it was revealed that a Walgreen's photo clerk had made a duplicate set of photographs they had just developed for me, which were turned in to the police.

Within an art context, these projects commented on a variety of issues anywhere from social displacement through technology to the spectacle and power relations inherent in musical performances and the spaces in which they occur, but the pairing of these disparate images without their intended contexts elicited an abject reaction from the clerk who read them as a potential "bomb threat."

This situation was resonant of a recent news story, in which a photo clerk notified the police of a roll of photographs containing pictures of a young man posing with guns and bombs. He had planned to murder his classmates and teachers by blowing up De Anza College in Cupertino, CA. When he came to get his photos, the police took him into custody and the clerk received instant notoriety -- the media's new vigilante hero! At the time of the De Anza bomb scare, I had no idea that it would soon parallel my own life.

The first on the roll of my photographs was a still from a Takuji Murata film entitled Ash that I was commissioned to compose music for. Consisting of a young child's face covered in blood from a terrorist attack, this image, along with the De Anza case, must have contextualized my other photographs in the mind of the photo clerk, such as The Quiet Between Silences. The flash of light in the photographs documenting this performance, in which sound and light are synchronized in a changing pattern, was assumed by the clerk to be a detonating bomb and was followed by similar bomb-paranoid analyses for each of the other projects.

Photographs in hand, the police were dispatched to question me, but I was not at home so they returned an hour later with the same outcome. On the third trip, with the forced aid of my landlord, they entered and searched my apartment without a warrant, my presence or my consent, dressed in bomb gear and armed with a clause called "welfare" as a key for entry. Depending on the situation, "welfare" (which essentially allows authorities to override one's right to privacy if another's welfare is suspected to be in danger) is indeed something for which to be thankful or fearful. It shows law enforcement as being far less fragmented or hierarchically tiered than is commonly believed; individual police officers can operate as judges. Their verdict was wrong.

The police officers of course found nothing and retreated, admittedly embarrassed by the mistake, but left me with a concerned landlord and frightened neighbors. On top of that, when questioned, an upper-division manager of Walgreen's said that it is simply their "unspoken policy" to report anything unusual to the authorities. How is a sense of security retained in an environment embedded with hidden policies and clauses that come to the foreground only after the fact? The same security measures put in place to protect our privacy have the capacity to strip them from us.

So, what's the big deal? Sometimes actions that seem to violate our privacy are actually beneficial, as in the aforementioned De Anza bomb scare where lives were actually saved by the ethically complicated intervention of the photo clerk and police. Similarly, in the case of Polly Klaas, police worked with California phone company Pacific Bell to trace phone calls made by her killer, Richard Allen Davis to enable his capture. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, Brian Dance, who allegedly beat, raped, and carved swastikas into the face of a 15-year-old girl, was caught by officials who traced the conversations they had together in the Internet chat room from which he lured her. The underground pedestrian tunnel that leads to the Daly City BART station is equipped with numerous security cameras and acoustically referenced motion sensors. Those who use it at night could face far worse violations without the watchful set of eyes and ears that surveillance technologies provide. They all become, like any technological innovation, tools or weapons depending on their application and control.

That is certainly not to say that there is no cause for paranoia, surveillance is not a new technology -- just ask J. Edgar Hoover. Yet since September 11th, such paranoia over privacy and civil liberties has reached new heights in America. These tragic events forged a new climate of patriotism in which nearly anything can be justified in the name of national security -- from Stateside strip-searches to the overseas bombing of civilians in Afghanistan simply because one of them was unusually tall. The ghosts of foreign policy may have come home to haunt America, but the impact has caused the government to review, rethink, and redesign the reach of its legal powers, not its morality.

Behind the red, white, and blue media spectacle came the "Patriot Act," which is not quite so colorful. Its most debated tactic -- that the Justice Department now allows eavesdropping on inmates' communications with their lawyers -- seems to nullify the sixth amendment to the constitution and is only one example of the changing dynamics. Even terminology is changing to accommodate these "necessary precautions" against terror. Inmate once meant in custody, but has been stretched to now include witnesses, detainees, or otherwise. On top of that, and on a more covert level, the implications that new technologies such as Carnivore and Magic Lantern (viruses being used by the FBI that record computer keystrokes and therefore bypass encryption) present are dangerous. Yet uncritically accepting these and other tactics as anti-terrorist measures is even more dangerous, and is not ironically facilitated by network-news.

U.S. mainstream media has been beyond complicit in the creation of such a hyper-paranoid star-spangled context; their representational role following the attacks had more to do with feeding hysteria and fueling nationalism than it did reporting. The ethical dilemma behind the repeated broadcasting of those victims jumping from the burning World Trade Center buildings to their certain death was quickly silenced by the lust for ratings, yet thousands of civilian deaths in Afghanistan still go unreported. A handful of Palestinians celebrating the terrorist bombings (in return for candy and cake) were portrayed as representative of the country as a whole, and was of course provided without explanatory political context. American racist crusades of vigilantism -- from pig's blood poured onto mosques to the murdering of Sikhs and Middle Eastern Americans -- soon followed, reacting to the sensationalism and conflicting messages broadcasted on hypnotic repeat in the news under titles such as "Attack on Democracy" and "Why They Hate Us."

It seems that "They" has been stretched to include the thousands of Arab Americans who were detained and interrogated (and continue to be) by authorities of that "democracy," who intrude the privacy of these citizens' houses, mosques, offices, and lives due to race-based paranoia and profiling. These actions draw a clear parallel between the policing of my photographs and the "War on Terrorism." The connotation of the word "terror," like "inmate," has changed since September. It is now questionable whether protesters will now be considered terrorists; activists considered to be committing treason; artists considered propagandists; will any voice of dissent be tolerated? If the reaction to my photographs is any indication, there is little tolerance. While these images were simply documentations of art projects, they were interpreted as weapons of terror too "real" to be represented without precautionary action taken.

If 9/11 is truly being utilized as a pretext for the American government to install laws and acts and take action never before afforded an opportunity, what role does artwork play in such a dangerous new era? That depends on the function of the work (or in my case, the new function given to the work). It is unrealistic to expect or even want all art to fulfill a function beyond aesthetics, but in such a visual culture as ours, where the hegemonic empire of advertising has bought the rights to visual culture, dissenting and subversive art plays an ever-important role. Just how important is evident in the actions taken to censor such art, from the vandalism attempts on Andre Serano's "Piss Christ" to the government's threat of withdrawing funding to the National Endowment for the Arts in the United States. Art and tolerance have never had a simple relationship, and when my photographs were approached outside of their intended context, the reaction they elicited was problematic in that it foregrounded injustices within the systems of power through which they were translated.

Perhaps to avoid my threat of a lawsuit and the publicizing of these injustices, the officers responsible agreed to apologize to my neighbors and landlord for the unnecessary harassment they inflicted. Walgreen's, on the other hand, was not quite so apologetic; they dismissed threats of legal action against them. They are, like others in positions of power very aware that an individual citizen does not have access to the resources needed to take on a company of their magnitude. Still, despite the obvious violation, if they had not duplicated the photographs or the police had waited until they could question me in person and I was indeed a mad bomber, lives could have been lost.

It is just as easy to get lost in the paranoia over privacy and civil liberties as it is to become swept into over-enthused nationalism. After all, these photos were not being responded to in the context of an art gallery, but rather in the context of a police station. In that sense, it is more understandable that in their minds the "threat" posed by the photographs had to be neutralized. Yet rewarding the type of social surveillance the photo clerk practiced will simply create more of these mistaken cases. The clerk's analysis grounds privacy paranoia in reality. Which clerk was responsible was never revealed nor was Walgreen's held accountable for the embarrassment and victimization its actions caused. The clerk's mediation left no one person accountable, but two organizations too large to respond to with action.

The case raises a simple question with a complicated answer: how can citizens be protected while still retaining some semblance of our privacy and civil liberties being irrevocable? While many of us remain paranoid of losing our privacy to social surveillance, to police and military intervention, to legislative manipulation, to media representation, and to radicalized, violent terrorism, others violate or exploit that paranoia to their own end. However harmless or insidious, the photo clerk's reading of my artwork, which caused the policing of my photographs, the searching of my apartment, and the harassment of my neighbors and landlord, represents an example of necessary intervention and paranoid insurrection at the same time. To view that confliction as one or the other should be just as impossible as being "with us or against us."

Privacy and Paranoia

For the first few seconds of Sept. 11, it seemed as if the end of the world was being televised. Buildings were burning, people were dying, and the American social psyche moved immediately into a state of widespread terror-paranoia.

This fear extended to nearly every facet of life causing many subsequent invasions of privacy and infractions upon civil liberties that would previously have been condemned without the jingoistic tolerance created and sustained by the tragic events.

The normalization of this paranoia continues to affect the way in which security measures are conducted, which was precisely the case when my own apartment was searched due to my artwork having been taken out of its intended context and translated through systems of power. The ensuing dilemma created by this unwarranted intervention highlights the immediacy in the tense struggle between personal security and personal privacy reintroduced and amplified in America's new climate.

Something didn't feel right in my apartment when I returned from a short trip, things looked out of order as if someone had been inside. This feeling of violation was confirmed when Tami, my neighbor from across the hall, informed me that policemen had been looking for me and had searched my apartment. She and other neighbors were individually interrogated about me by the officers and asked to try and decipher a stack of "strange" photographs. After multiple agitated phone calls to the Daly City, California police department (who initially lied to me) it was revealed that a Walgreen's photo clerk had made a duplicate set of photographs they had just developed for me, which were turned in to the police.

Within an art context, these projects commented on a variety of issues anywhere from social displacement through technology to the spectacle and power relations inherent in musical performances and the spaces in which they occur, but the pairing of these disparate images without their intended contexts elicited an abject reaction from the clerk who read them as a potential "bomb threat."

This situation was resonant of a recent news story, in which a photo clerk notified the police of a roll of photographs containing pictures of a young man posing with guns and bombs. He had planned to murder his classmates and teachers by blowing up De Anza College in Cupertino, CA. When he came to get his photos, the police took him into custody and the clerk received instant notoriety -- the media's new vigilante hero! At the time of the De Anza bomb scare, I had no idea that it would soon parallel my own life.

The first on the roll of my photographs was a still from a Takuji Murata film entitled Ash that I was commissioned to compose music for. Consisting of a young child's face covered in blood from a terrorist attack, this image, along with the De Anza case, must have contextualized my other photographs in the mind of the photo clerk, such as The Quiet Between Silences. The flash of light in the photographs documenting this performance, in which sound and light are synchronized in a changing pattern, was assumed by the clerk to be a detonating bomb and was followed by similar bomb-paranoid analyses for each of the other projects.

Photographs in hand, the police were dispatched to question me, but I was not at home so they returned an hour later with the same outcome. On the third trip, with the forced aid of my landlord, they entered and searched my apartment without a warrant, my presence or my consent, dressed in bomb gear and armed with a clause called "welfare" as a key for entry. Depending on the situation, "welfare" (which essentially allows authorities to override one's right to privacy if another's welfare is suspected to be in danger) is indeed something for which to be thankful or fearful. It shows law enforcement as being far less fragmented or hierarchically tiered than is commonly believed; individual police officers can operate as judges. Their verdict was wrong.

The police officers of course found nothing and retreated, admittedly embarrassed by the mistake, but left me with a concerned landlord and frightened neighbors. On top of that, when questioned, an upper-division manager of Walgreen's said that it is simply their "unspoken policy" to report anything unusual to the authorities. How is a sense of security retained in an environment embedded with hidden policies and clauses that come to the foreground only after the fact? The same security measures put in place to protect our privacy have the capacity to strip them from us.

So, what's the big deal? Sometimes actions that seem to violate our privacy are actually beneficial, as in the aforementioned De Anza bomb scare where lives were actually saved by the ethically complicated intervention of the photo clerk and police. Similarly, in the case of Polly Klaas, police worked with California phone company Pacific Bell to trace phone calls made by her killer, Richard Allen Davis to enable his capture. As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, Brian Dance, who allegedly beat, raped, and carved swastikas into the face of a 15-year-old girl, was caught by officials who traced the conversations they had together in the Internet chat room from which he lured her. The underground pedestrian tunnel that leads to the Daly City BART station is equipped with numerous security cameras and acoustically referenced motion sensors. Those who use it at night could face far worse violations without the watchful set of eyes and ears that surveillance technologies provide. They all become, like any technological innovation, tools or weapons depending on their application and control.

That is certainly not to say that there is no cause for paranoia, surveillance is not a new technology -- just ask J. Edgar Hoover. Yet since September 11th, such paranoia over privacy and civil liberties has reached new heights in America. These tragic events forged a new climate of patriotism in which nearly anything can be justified in the name of national security -- from Stateside strip-searches to the overseas bombing of civilians in Afghanistan simply because one of them was unusually tall. The ghosts of foreign policy may have come home to haunt America, but the impact has caused the government to review, rethink, and redesign the reach of its legal powers, not its morality.

Behind the red, white, and blue media spectacle came the "Patriot Act," which is not quite so colorful. Its most debated tactic -- that the Justice Department now allows eavesdropping on inmates' communications with their lawyers -- seems to nullify the sixth amendment to the constitution and is only one example of the changing dynamics. Even terminology is changing to accommodate these "necessary precautions" against terror. Inmate once meant in custody, but has been stretched to now include witnesses, detainees, or otherwise. On top of that, and on a more covert level, the implications that new technologies such as Carnivore and Magic Lantern (viruses being used by the FBI that record computer keystrokes and therefore bypass encryption) present are dangerous. Yet uncritically accepting these and other tactics as anti-terrorist measures is even more dangerous, and is not ironically facilitated by network-news.

U.S. mainstream media has been beyond complicit in the creation of such a hyper-paranoid star-spangled context; their representational role following the attacks had more to do with feeding hysteria and fueling nationalism than it did reporting. The ethical dilemma behind the repeated broadcasting of those victims jumping from the burning World Trade Center buildings to their certain death was quickly silenced by the lust for ratings, yet thousands of civilian deaths in Afghanistan still go unreported. A handful of Palestinians celebrating the terrorist bombings (in return for candy and cake) were portrayed as representative of the country as a whole, and was of course provided without explanatory political context. American racist crusades of vigilantism -- from pig's blood poured onto mosques to the murdering of Sikhs and Middle Eastern Americans -- soon followed, reacting to the sensationalism and conflicting messages broadcasted on hypnotic repeat in the news under titles such as "Attack on Democracy" and "Why They Hate Us."

It seems that "They" has been stretched to include the thousands of Arab Americans who were detained and interrogated (and continue to be) by authorities of that "democracy," who intrude the privacy of these citizens' houses, mosques, offices, and lives due to race-based paranoia and profiling. These actions draw a clear parallel between the policing of my photographs and the "War on Terrorism." The connotation of the word "terror," like "inmate," has changed since September. It is now questionable whether protesters will now be considered terrorists; activists considered to be committing treason; artists considered propagandists; will any voice of dissent be tolerated? If the reaction to my photographs is any indication, there is little tolerance. While these images were simply documentations of art projects, they were interpreted as weapons of terror too "real" to be represented without precautionary action taken.

If 9/11 is truly being utilized as a pretext for the American government to install laws and acts and take action never before afforded an opportunity, what role does artwork play in such a dangerous new era? That depends on the function of the work (or in my case, the new function given to the work). It is unrealistic to expect or even want all art to fulfill a function beyond aesthetics, but in such a visual culture as ours, where the hegemonic empire of advertising has bought the rights to visual culture, dissenting and subversive art plays an ever-important role. Just how important is evident in the actions taken to censor such art, from the vandalism attempts on Andre Serano's "Piss Christ" to the government's threat of withdrawing funding to the National Endowment for the Arts in the United States. Art and tolerance have never had a simple relationship, and when my photographs were approached outside of their intended context, the reaction they elicited was problematic in that it foregrounded injustices within the systems of power through which they were translated.

Perhaps to avoid my threat of a lawsuit and the publicizing of these injustices, the officers responsible agreed to apologize to my neighbors and landlord for the unnecessary harassment they inflicted. Walgreen's, on the other hand, was not quite so apologetic; they dismissed threats of legal action against them. They are, like others in positions of power very aware that an individual citizen does not have access to the resources needed to take on a company of their magnitude. Still, despite the obvious violation, if they had not duplicated the photographs or the police had waited until they could question me in person and I was indeed a mad bomber, lives could have been lost.

It is just as easy to get lost in the paranoia over privacy and civil liberties as it is to become swept into over-enthused nationalism. After all, these photos were not being responded to in the context of an art gallery, but rather in the context of a police station. In that sense, it is more understandable that in their minds the "threat" posed by the photographs had to be neutralized. Yet rewarding the type of social surveillance the photo clerk practiced will simply create more of these mistaken cases. The clerk's analysis grounds privacy paranoia in reality. Which clerk was responsible was never revealed nor was Walgreen's held accountable for the embarrassment and victimization its actions caused. The clerk's mediation left no one person accountable, but two organizations too large to respond to with action.

The case raises a simple question with a complicated answer: how can citizens be protected while still retaining some semblance of our privacy and civil liberties being irrevocable? While many of us remain paranoid of losing our privacy to social surveillance, to police and military intervention, to legislative manipulation, to media representation, and to radicalized, violent terrorism, others violate or exploit that paranoia to their own end. However harmless or insidious, the photo clerk's reading of my artwork, which caused the policing of my photographs, the searching of my apartment, and the harassment of my neighbors and landlord, represents an example of necessary intervention and paranoid insurrection at the same time. To view that confliction as one or the other should be just as impossible as being "with us or against us."

The Selling of 9-11

It has been six months since 9-11 and already we have had a formal anniversary. Stilted moments of silence, child poets, giant laser beams, and solemn speeches brought out the ghosts that have yet to be put to rest and never will, so long as there is a profit to be made on their continued haunting.

HBO, Showtime, and FX have all announced plans to produce TV movies about the events, but on March 10th, CBS took the lead with a commercial-free special, 9/11. An important documentary to some and exploitative reality programming to others, the nearly uninterrupted two-hour broadcast of footage shot inside the World Trade Center provided an insider's view of the results of the terrorist attacks. Gaining an estimated third of the American viewing population, 9/11 was profitable, but at the expense of many of the victims' families who felt the timing was inappropriate. Although they publicly voiced their concern, it did not change the network's decision to air the program.

CBS defended the program by explaining that no deaths were filmed and that the footage would be "respectful." Yet, this is completely untrue; death is heard over and over and over and over and over again, as people jump or fall from the burning towers. CBS' ignorant justification shows just how visual our culture is. As we hear a woman screaming while she burns to death, narrator Jules Naudet explains: "The image was so terrible; I made a decision not to film it. It's not something anybody should see, or want to see." Isn't it also a sound no one should want to hear? One can only imagine how the families of the victims felt as they listened to the constant sound of bodies slamming the pavement. Not to mention all those who now get to guess whether it was their loved one heard burning in the lobby. CBS' sensitivity is truly heartwarming.

Or, maybe CBS is simply looking at the "larger picture." Speaking to reporters after an exclusive media screening, producer Susan Zirinsky said that it's important we don't forget there's a war going on. Her attitude, borrowed from John Ashcroft, suggests the true function of 9/11 may be getting America's jingoistic blood boiling, rather than paying tribute to the heroism of the New York firemen who died and survived, which is what we are led to believe by the public service announcements and photographic tributes that support the program suggested.

Yet, it is doubtful that the thousands of families who lost loved ones in September or more recently, in Afghanistan, need such a reminder. The flags may be coming down, but no one has forgotten what happened because it is still happening. And now, as the Bush administration prepares to take their "anti-terror" campaign even further, into Iraq especially, the media is playing a large role in not letting us forget what happened on 9-11.

When Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty (a terrorist group who claimed responsibility), it should have surprised no one that the footage of his execution ended up in the hands of career sensationalist Geraldo Rivera. In between February's Olympic events, he went on NBC to announce that he possessed said footage but would not air it because it would "inspire" terrorism. Not showing it out of respect for Pearl's family seemed an afterthought. However, like the producers of 9/11, he aired the next best thing: footage of an unidentified Filipino man's head being chopped off and rolling into the bushes -- the same fate Pearl suffered. Considering the U.S.'s current involvement in both Afghanistan and the Philippines, it seems the function of this type of "world premiere" goes beyond informational; it is overtly political and shamefully exploitative. Yet, while Geraldo has always been the Jerry Springer of the news world, such media propaganda and exploitation are rarely so overt, which is precisely the case with CBS' 9/11.

The special was sponsored by Nextel, and the public service announcements that segmented the program tried so hard not to be commercials that they came off looking even worse. And the photographic tributes to the fallen firefighters that aired at the end of the program looked cheap. Nextel most likely had good intentions, but the idea that major corporations are putting conscience over profit as a result of 9-11 is laughable at best. After all, in the midst of the patriotic fervor inspired by those tragic events, innumerable Enron employees were robbed of their life savings.

Of course, Nextel is working to give an impression that it is the leader of a new trend in responsible practice (the company did donate countless phones to aid the rescue efforts of 9-11). Such a PR trend is nothing new, before Enron became a universal symbol of corporate and political crime, established corporate slogans like Chevron's "People Do" and Nike's "Just Do It" had long provided ironic messages in the context of what these companies really "Do" behind their warped humanitarian disguises.

There were no commercials during news coverage on 9-11, so why did CBS' 9/11 need Nextel's sponsorship? The reality is that just as 9-11 has been turned into a pretext for the US government to do whatever it wants, it has been turned into a product by networks to gain huge money. It is naïve to think the expressed wishes of those whose lives were most affected by the events would matter in the face of a massive, ratings-generating media spectacle. Perhaps to refute such an argument, 9/11 was immediately followed by a CBS newscast that reiterated just how "respectful" the show was to the victims at this sensitive first anniversary. As far as a remembrance, the two silent beams of light in New York City were far more tasteful than the shocking and disturbing footage and sounds of 9/11.

Politicians and journalists have repeatedly stated that the attacks on 9-11 were "the worst acts of terrorism ever committed on U.S. soil." While that claim seems to overlook Slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, the attacks were certainly the worst ever televised on U.S. soil. But 9-11 is simply not yet history for many people, still too present to be co-opted and sold back to the rest of us. Of course, the same argument can be made for the aforementioned genocides, as well as Apartheid, East Timor, the Holocaust, and countless other semi-recent atrocities. There will always be conflict over when "now" is appropriate and to whom, but in terms of 9/11, perhaps the families of the victims knew best.

Chris Fitzpatrick is features editor at PopMatters.

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