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Press Review November 15, 2001
 
Whole Lotta Pansies
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
 

Someday, historians are going to look back and try to pinpoint the moment when "the American moment" ended in world history. I am going to help them now by pointing it out for them, as a contemporary witness. That moment took place on Thursday, November 8, sometime in the afternoon, in Washington, D.C.

That is the day when Attorney General John Ashcroft stood up at a press conference and told reporters, with a straight face, that America was ready to announce "its first victory over terrorism" in the period since September 11. First and foremost, Ashcroft said, Americans had "scored a victory" by showing their bravery. "Americans," Ashcroft declared, first of all, "have endured the videotaped tauntings of Osama bin Laden."

Ashcroft's announcement raised an interesting question. What would qualify as an American defeat under those criteria? Was he referring to the possibility that millions of Americans, at the sight of bin Laden on television, would pull a mass Scooby-and-Shaggy and jumping cartoon-style into each others' arms? That a line of citizens ten miles long would glumly hurl themselves off the edge of the Grand Canyon, bin Laden's terrible visage the last thing on their minds? Spontaneous mass applications for Danish citizenship?

I'm about as dovish as they come—I didn't think it was a good idea to attack Afghanistan before we did it, and I don't think it's a good idea now—but even I'm ashamed to see what a group of utter faggots our countrymen have turned into during this war. It has been a real shock to see right-wing monsters like Ashcroft acting like EST counselors in their public statements, and our leaders in general running around Washington like a group of characters in a Woody Allen movie (not the early, funny movies, but the later, faux-Chekhovian Judy Davis/Liam Neeson movies), chattering like amateur therapists as they try to "heal" and get in touch with their feelings.

But even worse than Ashcroft, even worse than our scripture-consulting President, are our nation's newspaper editors. At a time when it is of vital importance for America to project a strong, silent image around the world, the masters of our nation's print landscape have spent the last two months wringing their hands like housewives, providing, I am sure, all the encouragement any of our enemies would ever need to keep fighting us. Deprived of a real role by the government in the reporting of the war, and having voluntarily re-nounced the right to criticize the policies of the President, newspaper editors have seemingly decided en masse that their primary role during the conflict will be one of "healing"—that is, helping Americans "cope" with the pain of the terrorist bombings.

And what "healing" has meant so far has largely been a massive, thoroughly embarrassing exercise in self-congratulation, along with an almost grotesque emphasis on the heroism of the victims of the 9/11 attack, and the "pain" we all feel at their loss.

Here is one specific example, and it is an example you will see repeated over and over again for at least one full year—and probably for longer than that. A few weeks ago, I thought to myself: unless Halloween is canceled all over America, the entire country is going to stand up and congratulate itself once the holiday is over for defying terrorism by letting their kids run around in the suburbs in fireman costumes, collecting Peter/Paul-Mars products.

I was a little off. Although fireman costumes were massively represented ("If you find [a firefighter costume] in a store, you're lucky," a representative of buycostumes.com told the Philadelphia Inquirer), the hit Halloween getup was, disgustingly, the mass-produced Harry Potter costume. I was also wrong about the neighborhood trick-or-treating: it turns out that the new trend these days, one that advanced by leaps and bounds in the wake of 9/11, is to have kids trick or treat in the safe confines of malls.


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