Sunday, August 12, 2007

Veering into the kitsch

Do you remember, boys and girls, that at some point after 9/11, our national mourning took an alarming turn toward graphic art of children firemen with big, sad eyes and crocheted American flag tissue box covers? There is hardly an issue, nor clear thinking about it, that can't be obscured or smothered in kitsch.

We are heading in that direction over the 35W bridge collapse. Spot offers as Exhibit A the Sunday Star Tribune's Opinion Exchange page one op-ed piece called A measure of who we are. In it, the author of the piece, Deborah Morse-Kahn, extols the virtues of Minnesotans that we on display when the bridge fell: the work of the first responders and ordinary citizens in the rescue effort, the medical response, the volunteers and donations to the Red Cross.

Exemplary, indeed.

But Morse-Kahn reports:

It was local media guy Joe Soucheray who said to a New York reporter, "On 9/11, everyone ran out and the first responders ran in. Here in Minneapolis, an interstate bridge falls at rush and everyone runs in!" That reporter's response had to be: "Everyone runs in? Who are you people?"

Please notice, boys and girls, that Morse-Kahn tells us what she thinks the big city reporter must have replied, not what s/he actually did say. Spot has no trouble believing the accuracy of the smug, self-satisfied remark from Soucheray.

As long as we're putting words in the big city reporter's mouth, how about these:

Are you kidding? You never heard about occupants of the towers who assisted the disabled and injured get to safety or died trying? You never heard about volunteers who drove for hundreds of miles to pick over the pile of rubble for days with their bare hands? You never heard about all the volunteers who set up aid stations in churches and other buildings in what should have been the shadow of the towers to help survivors connect with their families and families search for the missing? You got a lotta damn nerve, pal.

That's what Spot would have said.

 There is a natural tendency to trowel over the bridge with alternating layers of empty sentimentality and self-congratulation. It makes people feel better. That's okay, but not when it comes at the expense of a healthy discussion of what happened and why. The Minnesota civic character—regrettably—is more revealed by what happened in the months, and even years, leading up to the collapse that it is by what happened when it fell.

Before the many put out their shoulders patting themselves on the back for the efforts of a relatively few, the many need ask themselves, did I vote for the political leaders at the helm leading up to the debacle? And if the answer is yes, these persons have to ask themselves, "What was I thinking?"

And just by the way, Spot doesn't recall seeing any pictures of Joe Soucheray up to his neck in the Mississippi River.

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