I changed the channel during 9/11.
Now, in my defence, I was 14. Also, the moment I switched channels, bleached out tit parade Jillian Barberie and the rest of her gang of early-morning yell-boxes on FOX 11’s Good Day LA had assumed that it was just some prop plane that had accidentally crashed into one of the towers. Tony Hawk was on ESPN2, and that was the type of rad shit 260-pound pubescent me was dying to relate to cool people about. My cereal had barely gotten soggy by the time I flipped back to see that a second plane had already hit and practically every channel had switched over to live coverage of the attacks.
I headed to school, unsure exactly of what the hell was happening on the other side of the country. I think I was still too young to comprehend it, but I remember laying on our football field with some friends, looking up at the planeless, cloudless sky in awe. Since that day, no matter how many times I saw the footage of the planes, no matter how loudly the logical side of my brain screamed, 'It doesn't matter. Stop being so self-centred!' I’ve always felt like I missed out on something, like I did something wrong. I changed the channel during 9/11.
I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
At 10PM, I was filming an incredibly silly comedy sketch in Silver Lake, LA with a few friends. During a break from the dumbness, I checked my Twitter feed to see preliminary reports of more explosions in Boston. I have a soft spot in my heart for that city, even though I’ve never set foot in it. Despite living in LA my whole life, I have more friends from Boston than I do from my hometown. Part of that is because of the transient nature of LA, but a lot of that is because of the TV production/comedy factory that is Emerson College. My high school ex lives somewhere in Boston too, I think. I don’t remember if she lives in Worcester or Watertown or where either of those cities are or if they’re even cities or just neighbourhoods of Boston.
As soon as I got home, I opened a bottle of wine and Twitter. I did not turn on my TV. If we take the senseless loss of human life out of the equation, the biggest loser in this whole catastrophe is cable news, who got nearly every fact about the bombing and the suspects wrong at one time or another. There is, of course, an argument that the New York Post is the most gaping asshole of all the media outlets, but there’s always an argument for that.
I was met with a flurry of false reports. Some were just dropped without mention: the suspects jacked a police SUV, possibly another car and blew something up at Harvard. Others persisted, specifically the story of Sunil Tripathi. According to a police scanner, Tripathi was confirmed as the second suspect, and the internet had all but closed the book on him.
I believed it. I hadn’t heard of him before, but after reading a few articles, a terrible pit ballooned in my stomach. He was a 22-year-old who'd disappeared from Brown University, left a cryptic, three-word note and struggled with depression and alleged other mental illnesses. It seemed as though this was another case of our country’s hapless relationship with mental disorders. Then someone retweeted Anonymous, who tweeted something to the effect of “watch this before they pull it down” and a link to this video:
I couldn’t help myself. I broke down. All I could think was, 'This poor family.' Either his family truly loves him or they’re incredible actors. But it didn’t make sense. His dad’s a fucking software CEO. This kid seemed so troubled, but not violent. From what I read, I got the feeling this kid would, at the worst, try to commit suicide by cop, not kill innocents via a complex terror plot. I struggle with depression and my sadness leads me to hurt myself, not others. But the internet had spoken, so he became suspect number one for a while. After that kick in the gut, I needed two cigarettes in a row.
I stepped outside in time for my roommate to get home. I told him about Tripathi and my doubt surrounding him. He countered with the most convincing argument I’ve heard all night, or at least the most convincing one that referenced Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
“So, check this out. Will dies, or something fucked up happens, and Carlton Banks gets depression. He leaves Bel Air for college and he’s lonely. Nobody wants to hang out with him, he dances like a white guy. Nobody, except a Black Panther. It makes perfect sense. Suspect one was the Black Panther, the only one who made Carlton feel like he was a part of something, he channeled his anger into hate, and there you go.”
I went back inside and tried to turn to Reddit for some news, but was feeling so awful that I stopped at the cute animal GIFs. I tweeted a few of those out, along with advice to take some Xanax and go to bed, hoping to follow it myself. But I couldn’t. Someone had just tweeted the link to the live feed at WCVB, a local station in Boston. I was enthralled. It was actually good reportage. No mention of Tripathi, because there were no facts. They had field reporters in nearby homes, interviewing witnesses first hand. They were soberly describing procedure without showing manipulative images of victims or bloody sidewalks.
They showed grainy cellphone footage of a shootout, complete with the word “fuck”, and played it again a few minutes later, warning the viewers there would be some “salty language”. They didn’t cut away to the anchors to formally apologise, they realised we were adults. Plus, their sources were right! They had a source at the hospital who confirmed suspect one was dead, and a different source at the hospital to confirm that a cop was alive but in critical condition. They never claimed these were facts, but they were confirmed at the first press conference.
That's when my roommate knocked on my door. Did our couch-surfer’s cat get out?
At this point it was 3:45 AM in LA and there hadn’t been much new information in the past hour. I didn’t want to experience the dread of seeing Tripathi’s sunbeam of a sister cry on the fucking news, so I turned on Knife Show to try and shut my brain down. Knife Show features two middle-aged redneck dudes and a 30-something redneck Reba excitedly trying to sell hillbillies knives, and it is hypnotising. I turned back on WCVB just before going to sleep – right at the moment it was announced these dudes were Chechen.
My mind erupted with red foam and I shot up out of bed.
See, just last week, mere days before the bombings, I wrote my first article for VICE, an account of the time the Russian government sent me and a film crew, much to our surprise, to fucking Chechnya. And no matter how loudly the logical side of my brain screamed, 'It doesn't matter! Stop being so self-centered!' I couldn’t help but feel like I had something to do with this. Look, I know, it doesn't involve me. But after reading the swirl of conspiracy theories disguised as fact on Twitter, anything seemed possible. So I wrote this to try and finally get to sleep. As of 5:30 AM, it hasn’t worked. I should’ve changed the channel.
Follow Josh on Twitter: @ShutUpAndrosky
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