I was thinking about my own (usually ironic) way of discussing 9/11, and the title of this post at Gawker made me feel as if others may share my sentiments.
I remember when we were discussing the Holocaust in a class at school, some of my classmates insisted that it was inappropriate to be ironic or humorous about Hitler or the Holocaust because it diminishes or trivializes the deaths of millions of people. I said that it was not being humorous about a tragedy that can trivialize it, but rather a sort strict culture instruction on how to discuss a subject that trivializes it. That is, if the only way that we are allowed to discuss the Holocaust or 9/11 is by public demonstration of grief, then that grief just becomes ritual. In the same way that calling someone Hitler has become a joke, so has the phrase “never forget” when discussing 9/11, because both Hitler comparisons and commemoration of the attacks are so common that they have become banal.
As the Gawker article says, some emotional distance is appropriate in these situations, and irony or humor is a way of maintaining that distance rather than watching the planes hitting the towers 50 times or looking at pictures of Jews in concentration camps.
That’s because those images are the important thing. They’re self-fucking-explanatory, and when we demand that people deliver a visible or audible demonstration of the emotions they are supposed to feel when they are confronted with that tragedy, it just becomes a ritualized demonstration that people do because that’s just what people are supposed to do. It's difficult to return to the rage, horror, sadness, etc. of that day and demanding that everyone recreate those emotions is counterproductive on many levels.
To add another layer of irony, it’s these cultural demands for public grieving that allow politicians to exploit something like 9/11. To add another layer, it’s the politicians who exploit 9/11 who actually caused the tragedy with their empire building and whatnot. It’s never ending unless everyone just shuts up about 9/11 and let’s the tragedy speak for itself.
Maybe I wouldn't feel the need to be ironic about 9/11 if it hadn't been exploited so grotesquely, but I doubt that the exploitation was unique to this event.