The Kitsch of September 11

-and the realization that we’ve learned nothing at all-

I was distressed to read this morning that “September 11: The Musical” is premiering in Vienna on 9/11. I thought at first it must be a joke, perhaps something along the lines of “Springtime for Bin Laden and Afghanistan” or somesuch–which would be bad enough for a first anniversary commentary. Instead the lyrics describe “screaming fire engines” and dying people, using an actress and an investment banker to tell the story. Singing America’s pain in a way I find just plain disturbing is only the start of mounting 9/11 kitsch. You can read about the musical here.

The New Yorker hit all new poetic lows in its commemorative edition, which hit newstands today. Galway Kinnel’s (who?) longish “When the Towers Fell” is bilious beyond belief: “The plane screamed low down…struck with a heavy thud…leaving a hole/the size and shape a cartoon plane might make/ if it had passed harmlessly through and were flying away now….” A cartoon plane? Many vomitous lines later, the poet quotes extensively from “When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloom’d.” The New Yorker would have done better to reprint the original and vastly superior Whitman. The Back Page is hijacked by more kitsch in free verse featuring bored seagulls and tombstones with the shivers. Far from being moved by these middle brow commemorations, musical and poetic, I was horrified by our cultural inability to comprehend September 11 in a meaningful way.

My frustration extends to Twin Towers pins, plates, T-Shirts, and miniature statuary being sold by mail order catalogs and in the impulse racks at grocery stores. I get a continuous stream of email forwards in my inbox, imploring me to seek healing (healing?) and “closure.” (I have never really understood the concept of closure, but that’s another blog altogether.)

Our national self-pity makes me want to vomit.

The anniversary of 9/11/01 has been touted in the media as “9/11 week.” So for the remainder of the week, as news programs bombard us with tragic stories, softly mournful piano music, and waving flags, and as we rattle our American sabres in the direction of Iraq full of righteous and horrifyingly immature anger, I wish we would move beyond the attitude of “poor us” and knee-jerk patriotism. We need to realize that musicals and bad poetry, faux-gold jewelry and commemorative clothing are not fitting memorials to those who died.

9/11 didn’t provoke thoughtful self-examination; it created a hard-headed unwillingness to recognize our own imperfections. We covered ourselves with pity and insulated ourselves with kitsch. I was horrified by the violence of Sept 11. Tomorrow my thoughts will be with the relatives and friends of those who died at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. I will observe a moment of silence. But I suggest that as we all remember the tragic and senseless loss of life of last year, we also take a good hard look at ourselves. What we see shouldn’t be a flag and a few bits of doggerel.

Education and the Incredible Shrinking Uterus

A recent column by Ellen Goodman bemoans the emphasis on one statistic: that 59% of bachelor’s degrees are now being awarded to women. Conservatives say this constitutes the destruction of the American boy (!). Thank goodness Ms. Goodman had the guts to point out other numbers: the so-called gender gap swings in the other direction by the time you reach the PhD stage. In other words, men are still getting postgraduate degrees in greater numbers than women. And leaving gender aside, real and troubling education gaps exist between whites and minorities. I won’t even touch glass ceiling and wage disparity issues that make even eduacted women second-class citizens.

Conservative complaints about educated women are still taking sexist forms. Writes Goodman, “You don’t need a bachelor’s degree to pick up a subtext in the crisis reporting: Somehow or other, women are upsetting the natural order of things. Even, or especially, the marital order. As Thomas Mortenson at the Pell Institute told one reporter, ”There’s 170,000 more bachelor’s degrees awarded to women than men. That’s 170,000 women that will not be able to find a college-educated man to marry.”

Congratulations to me, I guess. The chances of me finding a male PhD to marry rise significantly, since there are more male PhDs than female. Yet no one seem concerned about my male counterparts’ ability to find wives. The subtext of Mr Mortenson’s worry is this: men are threatened by educated women, and therefore men without bachelor’s degrees won’t marry more educated women. However, women aren’t threatened by educated men–therefore it is natural for highly educated men to marry women with less of an academic background. In other words, ladies, your job in life is to find a husband and make marriage as intellectually undemanding on your mate as possible.

I am sorry to disappoint Mortenson–marriage was the last thing on my mind when I got my bachelor’s degree, and here I am, ABD, and blissfully unengaged. As Goodman points out, my uterus has shrunk as my brain expands…posing a threat to the fabric of “traditional” society.

You can read her column here.