Photo via Flickr user marada
On September 11, 2001, I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t actually need to do anything—when the planes hit, I was on way to my high school in Seattle, Washington, 3,000 miles and three time zones away from the attack—but I remember feeling odd and disconnected and powerless. History was happenening, everyone knew that, yet unless you were in lower Manhattan you couldn’t do anything other than pray, watch TV, and wait for the next morning’s newspaper to come out. (In 2001, I’m pretty sure my parents still had dial-up internet, and I don’t think I knew anyone with a smartphone that could bring up the news instantaneously.)
Now September 11 is officially Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance, because America needs another excuse to wave the flag and act serious and angry and pious. The problem is, we still don’t know what to do. Volunteering someplace seems like a good idea, though not everyone has the time to do that in the middle of the week. Spending a few minutes of thoughtful silence contemplating our mortality and our place in the world also couldn’t hurt. In the past, people have gathered together for rallies, some of which were basically excuses to bash Muslims. Hopefully fewer people are doing that.
But as the day becomes less and less connected to historical events—Osama bin Laden is dead, the US is finally, little by little, pulling troops out of Afghanistan—it’s a little unclear what the socially acceptable way to commemorate Patriot Day is.
The most visible way you can honor the dead and respect the tragedy is to tell every single person on the planet that you’re honoring the dead and respecting the tragedy. Thousands of people have taken to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to show how they’re spending Patriot Day, because we can no longer live without performing for others at all times. Here’s one representative dude who has decided that RON PAUL + CAPTAIN AMERICA + MORE STARS AND STRIPES + TWITTER = 9/11:
Another common tack was to show everyone a nice-looking photo of the World Trade Center and couple it with an inspirational quote, as the official Twitter account of a couple lovely young professional wrestlers did:
— The Bella Twins (@nicoleandbri) September 11, 2013
Makes you feel good, right? I mean, it’s a bit odd to quote the dude who lied to the UN and helped lead the US into the Iraq war, but diff’rent strokes, I guess.
Another, less sentimental way to mark the passing of the day on Twitter was to send out a joke that let everyone know you weren’t forgetting what day it was, you just didn’t want to turn into a cornball over it. The Iron Sheik went topical:
Osama Bin Laden Miley Cyrus same thing #Remember911
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) September 11, 2013
Tweeting a performance of your feelings on a day of remembrance can be hokey and look dumb, but it also serves as an outlet for maybe confusing feelings—if you’re walking around with thoughts of this strange, horrible day in your head, maybe an emoticon-laden #NeverForget Instagram post of a flag is a good way to release them. But brands and organizations got involved today as well, and that’s a stranger response. Do I need to know that the Walmart social media team is remembering 9/11?
Or the Dunkin’ Donuts social media team?
Do I need Epic Records to make their collective feelings known via an odd, borderline-inappropriate graphic? (And did they just call 9/11 “epic”?)
Then there are the sports teams and leagues, and while I know why these institutions, which are uber patriotic even when it’s not Patriot Day, want to break out the flag, it sometimes seems like they are trying to connect themselves to something that really has nothing to do with them.
… Especially when they use the occasion to announce out a new uniform variant.
And of course any time a brand sends a message out that’s not just simply, “Buy our shit! Our shit is not just shit but a whole lifestyle!” there’s ample room for things to go horribly wrong. JR Smith mistakenly told people to “Celebrate the deaths of the people in 9/11!” but that’s more or less fine since he’s just a single basketball player and people will excuse him. But when the Lakers tweeted a photo of Kobe Bryant under the #NeverForget hashtag, people got pissed at them, and for good reason. What the hell does Kobe have to do with 9/11, guys?
And the Phoenix Suns tweeted this photo, I imagine in a effort to be like, “YES FUCK YES AMERICA WE ARE AWESOME!” but it came off as more of an oddly-timed salute to space travel than anything:
Even less comprehensible were tweets from nonreal people, like Goku from Dragonball Z:
Let us remember the fallen, and cherish the protected. #Remember911
— Goku (@Goku) September 11, 2013
Or Bane from Batman—and I guess this is a fake account devoted to promoting The Dark Knight Rises? Only it has now achieved independence and now is devoted to promoting Bane the villain and the Batman franchise generally, when it’s not honoring the heroes of 9/11? I’ve got no idea, honestly.
#Remember911 as a day we all could have used a real superhero.
— BANE (@BaneTheBOSS) September 11, 2013
One thing you learn scanning Twitter hashtags devoted to 9/11 is that religious figures, who are used to dealing with tragedy in public, are good at honoring the dead in respectful, straightforward ways…
— TD Jakes (@BishopJakes) September 11, 2013
… While accounts devoted to weed humor and pics of hot babes are way, way less well equipped to honor 9/11:
— Weed Tweets ™ (@stillblazingtho) September 11, 2013
There’s a certain point at which another tweet or status update—no matter how iconic the photo linked to, no matter how powerful the accompanying half-mangled Gandhi or MLK or Rudy Giuliani—is not going to help anyone. It’s just holding up a giant sign that says “I FEEL SAD LIKE I’M SUPPOSED TO,” or, at worst, it’s an attempt to get retweets or likes (or traffic) by letting everyone know you still remember 9/11.
Someday, September 11 is going to feel less immediate. It’ll be something we tell our grandchildren about, and maybe people will have the day off and people will put on American-flag shirts or something. Maybe it’ll be another holiday that a bunch of people use as an excuse to drink. Maybe there’ll be a special football game or something where everyone gets real patriotic and a bunch of genetically modified bald eagles will fly over the stadium barfing red, white, and blue ribbon onto a cheering crowd of police officers and firefighters. Someday, there may be a bunch of “Patriot Day Sale” ads that don’t even reference the WTC or Osama bin Laden.
By then, the way we commemorate the occasion will be more ingrained in all of us. September 11 will be just another spot on the calendar when we do things slightly differently, and we’ll be able to handle it without feeling strange or worrying that we’re handling it wrong. We’ll watch the Patriot Day fireworks or sing the Patriot Day songs, and it’ll be a relief, because we'll know what to do.
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