posted by laurabecker
last night after i got home from the works, i watched charlie rose on pbs. this may sound completely irrelevant, but trust me, it’s leading somewhere.
all of charlie’s guests were new yorkers, all discussing the fifth anniversary of september 11th and what it means to them five years later. the first guest was sculptor richard serra who lives downtown and truly had a horrific experience that morning witnessing the event from his studio window and sidewalk. his horror, he noted, was combined with a certain inexplicable exhilaration, and the inability to look away at some of the most tragic (voluntary) deaths from that morning. in his excellent discussion with charlie he noted that his work since september 11th has taken on a sense of urgency; indeed he almost implied that he’s done his best work since that day. when charlie asked him how the country has changed since that day, his response was a major critique of the war, the administration, and their deception. preying on our vulnerability and grief, we were led into a war with no relevant reason and now no end in sight. in the meantime, everything else about our country, healthcare, education, foreign and domestic policy, katrina, etc, had all gotten worse. he couldn’t think of a single way america had gotten better since september 11th.
the next set of guests included several staff writers from the new yorker, including calvin trillin (who will be here for portland arts and lectures on oct. 10th), nora ephron and george packer. just like richard serra, none of them could discuss how they felt about september 11th without tying it to their anger over the iraq war. charlie pressed them all to give september 11th a memorializing distance, to focus on the bravery, heroism and patriotism from that day and that time, to remember how we all joined together and the world all joined us too.
“nope, not gonna do it, wish we could but we can’t”. they all said. it’s not that they didn’t feel that way about that day, it’s just that it had all been abused and exploited by the administration’s pride and hubris.
okay, now, what does this have to do with TBA, you’re wondering? well, for me, it was actually incredibly refreshing and cathartic to watch this episode. there was no moderation, no “yes but the terrorists are gonna get us and we gotta get them there so they don’t get us here” lie from the other side to diminish that truth we all feel. a revived urge and responsibility to share and express that anger without it being tempered.
watching those writers and artists finally made a giant connection for me about what was making this TBA feel the way it did. yes, the artists in previous years felt anger, showed protest, and added greatly to the post 9-11 artistic conversation, but this year, and i don’t know if it’s just a culture shift, an intention by pica programming, or an unavoidable condition, but the artists this year seem to show a greater responsibility to engage the audience in the protest, to remind us and make damn sure we know the state of things, the state of how things have always been, the fact that we have only so much control and need to make the best of every day, and the state of how things don’t have to be if people will just pay attention. itching of the wings (subtly), the american war (so not subtly) holcome waller’s lyrics last night, matthew day jackson’s narrative, vanessa renwick’s program including vietnam footage and a draft dodger’s violent protest film, even stan’s cafe, and i’m sure a lot more that i can’t remember, haven’t seen or haven’t seen yet.
is it just me? is it just that i’ve finally become engaged? perhaps. perhaps i’m just too young to really understand the weight of protest art. perhaps the peaceful bubble we’ve been in for the last 30 years left me blind to it, taking it for granted in a world whose problems didn’t really affect me. perhaps i…okay perhaps i should stop rambling and get to what’s next on my schedule.