10 Septembers, 20 Septembers

Revolutions happen overnight; apathy takes time.

We’re approaching the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings. This was a one-morning, shock-and-awe event. We all knew, while our parents’ generation had the assassination of John F. Kennedy to say, “I remember where I was when I found out…,” this would be that event for Americans of our generation.

» Amy Toyen Remembrances

We’re all talking about it this week. I have the New York Times from Sept. 12, 2001. I have the special memorial issue of Time magazine. I have memories.

And I have disgust. What I learned in the pursuant days and years is that as individuals, we are amazing. As systems, we just don’t get it.

That Tuesday and the rest of that week would have been a great time to go on a crime binge – almost all the news, from CNN to NPR to FOX to the Wall Street Journal to local newspapers across the country, was about the hijackings. No one would have known if anything else was going on. When the markets re-opened and lost something in the area of 700 points on the following Monday, everybody ran for the hills without noticing that the markets had been in steady decline and were probably going to lose that cumulatively over the previous week if they’d been open.

Airline security got crazy; flying became a really difficult form of transportation because nobody, until very recently, looked at the more successful models (I’m thinking about El Al’s method, which, in addition to being really effective, feels really non-intrusive).

I learned a sense of frustration and cynicism from the media and airline industries.


Ten years prior, in late September of 1991, a trio from Seattle called Nirvana released their second album, Nevermind. The lead single was a loud tune with unremarkable lyrics that were difficult to understand. The title was “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the cacophonous arrangement was the antithesis of the deodorant ad the song riffed on.

There had already been punk, and rock ‘n’ roll, and heavy metal, and hip-hop, but middle class, east coast high school students surrounded by gangs, punks, AIDS, dropouts and teen pregnancy had something new in the flannel-clad un-hip grunge movement, which was bringing back Converse All-Stars and giving parents a new reason to slam doors while shouting, “Turn that crap down!”

Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Mudhoney and a bunch of others – many also hailing from the Seattle area – soon followed into the mainstream.

I had already become aware of personal-political revolutions. Now I was experiencing a creative revolution for the first time.

As the 1990s crawled on, Eastern Europe was in constant turmoil, the U.S. experienced domestic terrorism in Oklahoma City, and popular music began a slide into boy bands and Brittney Spears.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks woke up a country that had more or less fallen asleep through the end of the Clinton administration and the dot-com bubble. The creative revolutions that followed were primarily in technology and business, and now the U.S. is drifting off to sleep again.

We’ve given up a lot in the way of privacy. Our airline security procedures make it worth driving a trip up to 8 hours or more, because flying won’t save us any time these days. Gas costs nearly 4 times what it did 15 years ago, even though minimum wage hasn’t even doubled in that time. We’re in a couple of wars that have been going on nearly 10 years with no resolution – or clearly defined goal – in sight.

But the rest of the world is back in the midst of revolution. We want in on a lot of that (see Syria, Egypt, Lybia). What’s next for the U.S.? For my generation? For the next? You’d have to be tuned in if you were going to stay tuned. So, guess it’s time to start. And…go!


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