Next episode of Never Forget Radio to feature Mike Piazza.
Next episode of Never Forget Radio to feature Mike Piazza.
a history of George Bush’s predictions for history
Not quite Hotspur
Transcript of “The Fall”, episode 9 of NFR
“WWE 24 presents – this week in wrestling history.
Just two days after one of the darkest days in American history, over twelve thousand people packed the Compact Center in Houston for a special live episode of Smackdown.”
[Vince McMahon:] “Tonight… the spirit of America… lives… here… in Houston Texas!”
I have been avoiding getting too close to temporal Ground Zero – this project is about the post-9/11 era, not 9/11 itself. It can’t be, I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. And why would you want to?
This podcast is about memory and history, but also their limits.
Remembering September 11th can’t be an excuse to forget what happened afterwards. And so not going beyond that morning, (which is what most reminisces and narratives do) just going back to it without going back-and-then-forward seems to me to be almost irresponsible. And what you really should do is go back-before, as well. For twelve years we’ve been instructed to never forget, and I want to take that seriously, and literally, and I want to remember not just the narrative that’s given to us, or its most resonant event, but also what happened afterwards, what happens now.
At this point, the arc of an American tragedy is fixed in our heads, and we could all be dapper morticians presiding over strangers’ wakes.
We have been through all of it together, in careful order so many times, the first rumors, the initial confusion, false reports, all the way to the aftermath, the stadia, the patriotic songs, the patches, the tributes, the funds, the acronyms and dates… and the pledges to never forget, whether New Orleans or Boston, Tucson or Aurora, Sandy Hook or Oak Creek Wisconsin…
they blend in with each other because their memorialization has been by and large the same. The individuality of the victims and acts fades into an obscured uniformity in our accepted cultural process of memorializing. When instructed to never forget… we forget.. the specifics. And what lasts are ceremony and pageantry, empty shells of real feeling.
[Music “Baptist Church” by Old Table]
So I’m not going to go there today, but we’re going to get pretty close, though, so, trigger warning in that we’re going right into September and October, the fall, the fall of 2001…
it was like we’d become a nation of bewildered relatives at an endless series of wakes, guided to our places by gliding funeral directors, half-smiling, competent, by the book – survivors over here — families here – music coming down from somewhere, cops, all in a line. Greeting people at the door. Flowers and cards. Standing and then not standing. Solemn words floating in the air. Leaves drifting down into the street.
[Music: “It’s So Hard to Remember” by Old Table]
Welcome to Never Forget Radio, where, from the comfort of your own home or your device, and from the safety of the future, we can revisit the memory of 9/11, of George W. Bush, and of all the years associated with both since. I’m no expert, but I’ll be your host as we explore our recent past, and try to reclaim it.
It wasn’t just September 11th, by itself, that got us to where we are now. The building of the institutions of memory was not an organic process. Somehow random and personal attempts, like the walls of handmade flyers in Lower Manhattan, were narrowed and boxed into institutional patterns. What we have now was established and codified in the new territory, after the 11th , in the fall… when all actions, personal and institutional, were subject to heightened scrutiny and emotion, and every move was the new tradition.
One idea that undergirds this project has always been that 9/11 itself wasn’t the beginning of what we understand as the post-9/11 era. I’ve always believed that there was this ahistorical emotional bubble right afterwards (I opened this project with an invocation of this, in the first episode.)
But now I’m not so sure, and maybe it’s a fallacy to think that there was this tiny moment where it was possible that the wars and domestic repressions could have been averted, that the spirit, by which thousands of people donated blood and citizens all over the world had so much sympathy, could have been harnessed for good. (Or at least, for less-bad)
[Music: “Art Critic Time Farting” by Old Table]
And I want to believe in this bubble, even though it’s probably a fallacy. Donating blood, for example, it made people feel like they were helping and doing the right thing, but a lot of it had to be thrown away,
there’s no point in bringing blood to a wake.
Like everything else about 9/11 this concept has been commercialized and exploited,
so I may be pushing a manipulative agenda, too, by lamenting that we’ve fallen from the hopeful heights of bubble-time. (9/12 is a much better term, but glen beck has already taken it.) We can be… bubblers.
And it is with that framework that I’d like to introduce a new series to Never Forget Radio, in the vein of our series Empty Sky Rising which examines 9/11 memorials, this new series will examine sports in the bubble and the subsequent post 9/11 era… how sports stood beside us, and guided us, through the night with the Light From Above – stadium floodlights tend to simplify and homogenize tragedy, and change its meaning with their overwhelming attention.
For exampleMajor league baseball (which will be the subject of several episodes in this series, A Light from Above) – they shut down for six days - games resumed nationwide on the 17th, and the first major sports game in NY was played on the 21st at Shea Stadium.
And today we’re going to look at a a unique and representative American institution – a hypermasculine homoerotic hybrid of violent action sports, corporate concerts and reality television – which suspended its scheduled taping on the 11th and returned two days later.
So there’s a bubble, bubblers, two days, six days, ten days, between the 11th and when institutions started to reopen. What was happening in those few days?
What was happening was that people were shocked and didn’t know what they were going to do. But people in charge – even of little things – they were working. These people were shocked and confused and frightened too. But responses were needed.
In the bubble between a death and a wake, one way you can fight grief is with logistics.
So the institutions went to work. I don’t mean to just paint a picture of people sitting around conference tables shaping organizational responses to 9/11 — shaping their and our future — self-consciously forging a new and ongoing historical era out of the minutes of a few crisis meetings. Although there must have been a few nihilistic innovators draping our world in red white and blue, the dons of Madison Avenue ready to seize the day and sell us ribbons and home security systems and overseas wars, but I don’t think that most responses were by canny profiteers or propagandists.
When you walk into a funeral home, you give some control over your grief over to experienced professionals, and to the audience of the other mourners, and what you get is competence, sympathy and especially the relief of giving that control away.
But this signing over of responsibility to institutions is one of the reasons things have changed quite a lot from the fall, whether the bubble was real or not, over a decade later,
from the mountains to the prairies to the oceans white with foam,
9/11’s become a rhetorical bludgeon for conservatives, the justification for the government’s endless dirty wars and dystopian data aggregation and almost an annual holiday for the deification of the police.
How did we get Here?
The first sporting event to reopen, only two days after 9/11 was the WWF’s Smackdown, but don’t listen to me let’s let ceo and spokesman Vince McMahon introduce it.
“Tonight the Spirit of America… lives… here… in Houston Texas!
Our nations leaders have encouraged us to return to living our lives the way we normally do – our nations leaders have encouraged us to continue to live our lives the American way.
Make no mistake about the message this public assembly is sending to terrorism tonight.”
[Music: “Steam Power” by Old Table]
Now it would be very easy to make fun of this hypermasculine man, McMahon, or these fans, but
but if conventional memorializers have made 9/11 into a product, detached ironists have only made it into a punchline.
Neither is the right tone for a wake. I think we can do better
And really nothing McMahon says is as over-the-top as that 10th anniversary tribute I played at the beginning. All that separates his speech from any boilerplate institutional remembrance is that cartoon inflection.
(And that his message of sympathy and pride was followed by men in tights hitting each other with folding chairs.) (And that there were no troops to support yet) there’s a bubble, bubblers.
“The citizens of Houston are not afraid. The citizens of Texas are indeed not afraid. And by God the citizens of the United States are not afraid!”
“USA USA USA USA”
And one thing this dubyan demagogue says is true, that even in Houston, even attending an event in the fall was a brave act – there was no certainty that there wouldn’t be more attacks, and if there were, most likely they would have been against places where there were a lot of people.
“And we… and we will fight”
—and that legitimates McMahon’s assurances to the audience, and to himself,that they are not afraid —
“we would like to extend our condolences to the victims of the terrorist acts that occurred on Tuesday”
[Music: “Baptist Church” by Old Table]
none the referential signs – 9/11, September 11th, 9-1-1, — had been permanently codified yet; McMahon and several of the wrestlers (in recorded out-of-character statements) continually use the much much more meaningful, and poetic term “Tuesday”… that’s how soon it was, how raw, and that closeness justifies almost any response.
On September 13th fear and patriotism and even anger and yearning for revenge were understandable feelings. And I honestly can say not-ironically that Vince McMahon really was speaking that day, for most Americans. But that was two days later….. unfortunately twelve years later we still remember Tuesday through the largely unexamined precedents set by this event and others later in the fall.
“for we are a proud people, proud of who we are, proud of our nation, and damn proud to be Americans!”
“USA USA USA USA”
[Music “Steam Power” by Old Table]
And consider that this was the first, or one of the first, major-cultural institutions to respond to September 11th. McMahon was and is the very visible CEO of the WWF (now rebranded the WWE) and so in the speech we just heard he can literally be said to have been speaking for a major cultural institution, which straddles television, spectacle, and sports, and, though it’s usually an ignored punchline or excused guilty pleasure,
it is an institution, as Sut Jhally and Jackson Katz argue in Wrestling with Manhood, that cannot be laughed off – which presents a culture of bullying homophobia, violence against women, and sometimes lethal steroid use without televised consequences to millions of young men, whose real attitudes are influenced by its fake codes.
And this horrifying overgrown vision of the American id also seems to have had a part in shaping the post-9/11, in its own image
from this immediate response, to its annual performances for soldiers,
and of course, in 2004 and 5 it continued its long history of racially stereotypical villains with the character “Muhammad Hassan”, played by an Italian-American in arabface for people to boo and chant “USA USA” at.
The WWE is so influential in the post-9/11 world that the presidential candidates filmed exclusive campaign ads for it in 2008!
[Hilary Clinton:] “Hi, I’m Hilary Clinton, but tonight, in honor of the WWE, you can call me Hil-Rod. This election is starting to feel a lot like ‘King of the Ring’. The only difference? The last man standing may just be a woman.”
“So to the special interests who’ve been setting the agenda in Washington for too long, I’ve got one question: Do you smell what Bar-rock is cookin’?”
“Let me give you a little straight talk, WWE fans. You want to pull out of Iraq? Well I say, ‘no surrender’. America can win the war against terror — I’m going to introduce Osama bin Laden to the Undertaker. So can you smell what the Mac is cookin’?”
You can ignore the significance of the things you make fun of – performative masculinity, obligatory group remembrance, professional wrestling – but they’re not going to go away.
“You see my friends, we watch WWE because wrestling is about celebrating our freedom. It’s about fighting to be the very best.”
[Music: “Star Spangled Banner” from 9/13/01 broadcast]
And so tonight, and probably for many more nights still to come, the “Spirit of America” … lives … in Houston Texas! On September 13th 2001. It seems like we’re still stuck there.
“This memorable episode of smackdown was a small early step on the road to recovery which we are still traveling down today”
“USA USA USA USA”
We’re going to hear those chants again in our next episode, and you’ll probably hear them at public events for the rest of your life.
“USA USA USA USA”
Because maybe we haven’t fallen from any heights, as much as slipped back into unexamined ceremony, patriotic and militarist pageantry, waiting for us in the traditions of sports entertainment.
So if 9/11 was initially commemorated by a series of well-meaning wakes, it seems like the way we officially memorialize it now in public events and discourse is with military funerals. Cops and bagpipers. Sacrifice and duty. honor and god. But the majority of victims and their families were not cops or soldiers or firefighters. They died randomly, narrativeless, and so they’re a lot harder to remember.
End Bumper [Music: “Party Music” by Old Table]
Never Forget Radio is a production of Bookstyle Publications, currently located in West Philadelphia… Music for this episode was provided by Old Table…..special thanks to Corey Bechelli and Sammy Shuster for their expert advice (on professional wrestling) and Muffin & Gatsby for editing.
Portions of historical footage were commented on for a non-profit, educational purpose. Its fair use does not harm the potential market or value of the copyrighted work. Never Forget Radio would like to personally apologize to John McCain.
All of our episodes can be downloaded for free…but please feel free to donate any amount – You can find us at neverforgetradio on itunes, facebook, gmail, bandcamp or tumblr, or neverforgetpod on twitter. …..
We’ve heard from “Bar-rock and The-Mac”, now let’s smell what The Rock is cookin
[Dwayne Johnson/The Rock 9/13/01:]
“Difficult… to talk about this. I will say… that I can’t couldn’t imagine.. what it must be like to be there, I couldn’t imagine if my own family were there… I will offer my condolences and certainly say that everyone is in my heart… and in my prayers.”
you probably thought that was going to be a joke.
But all feelings are welcome at a wake.
Thank you and never forget.
Late night research at Wikipedia University
The WWE’s annual Tribute to the Troops, covered unexpectedly by NFR, below:
Real 2008 campaign footage produced exclusively for WWE broadcast.
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Updated this snazzy looking episode page
The Fall, Episode 9 of Never Forget Radio
The first major spectator event to reopen after the attacks? WWF Smackdown, 9/13/01.
Never Forget Radio begins a new series examining post-9/11 sports pageantry with this professional wrestling competition. Featuring President Obama’s first appearance on the show, bubbles, drapers, wakes, and music by Old Table.
The 9th episode of this podcast is now available.