Letterman Said it Best…
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Television.
This started as a Facebook post. Initially I feared putting something like this up on the blog because it might be misconstrued as another in this weekend’s parade of tasteless grabs for pageviews and misplaced online celebrations. But my words eventually outgrew the word-count limit on Facebook’s “wall,” and I’d like to think that my concluding idea might be worth sharing with more people than the few dozen friends I have. (That last part is arguable.)
The idea of “where were you” is nearly foreign to me. My generation has no moon-landing, Lennon assassination or even its own “Who shot J.R.?” Additionally the news that does seem relevant is tweeted, aggregated, and archived before its genuine relevance is even really felt. Yet keeping that in mind, we don’t really have another time where we were collectively shot in the chest as when we were ten years ago: 9/11 is our only real “where were you.” And in my own “where were you,” I was at the dentist’s office with my father. I don’t remember the exact reason behind the visit, but I imagine that I was there to get a check-up because we weren’t sure when we might next be able to get our teeth looked at as we were on the verge of moving to the U.S.
I’d love to say that we had some kind of rah-rah patriotic intention in mind with the relocation, but we didn’t. We were merely moving to try something new. For my parents our leap from Alberta to Minnesota marked a return home: my dad was born in St. Paul and my mom, while born in Iowa, grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids. For my sister and I, the move would put us closer to our many cousins, aunts and uncles who live in the area. But at the dentist’s office, things changed.
We’d already sold our house, purged most of our belongings through a series of successful garage sales (which in my case included a mean 1984 Chevy pick-up), and were packing up what little remained, preparing it for the moving truck. But after what happened on the television in the dentist’s office we became afraid. This wasn’t Y2K, this was something real that could potentially prevent us from making the leap that we’d planned; after all, it’s damn near impossible to make a move from one country to another if the border is closed.
Without drawing this out, we were fine in the end. Making the journey in October, we found a small, minimally trafficked crossing between Saskatchewan (I believe, it might have been Manitoba) and North Dakota and as we had our documents in order, we were allowed to pass through. Our fear was that we’d have to unload the entire truck so that our belongings could be searched but the patrol guards barely gave us a once-over. Although I’d just turned 18, even then I knew that things could go sour real quick for us, but we made it through without complication. What a gigantic relief.
Despite the circumstances, the process of looking back on that period of my life, and comparing it with where I am now, is an enjoyable one. Comparing that time with the present in terms of where we are as a country, however, is much more complicated. There’s been a lot of change in ten years, and unfortunately much of that change has included painting the nation with a myriad of grays where black and white once appeared. This morning I was directed to an essay that David Foster Wallace wrote in 2007 which speaks to this shift while questioning the price of our liberties. Immediately my mind drifted from there to the foreboding article that Hunter Thompson wrote for ESPN in reaction to the events of September 11, before creeping toward David Letterman’s first show back on the air after, what he described as, the “obscene chaos.”
Acting as a modern-day Nostradamus, Hunter’s “Fear & Loathing in America” accurately mapped out just how war would evolve on a global scale and how it would affect each and every one of us. If you haven’t done so before I encourage you to read the entire article (it’s brief), and if you’ve read it before, it probably wouldn’t hurt to re-familiarize yourself with it.
“The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.”
But the Letterman clip is something different.
I don’t feel that there’s a place for Alex Jones-ian, Loose Change, building seven conspiracy rhetoric this weekend, so I’d like to stay away from dissecting his points about Rudy Giuliani and the like. Rather, what’s important to me about this clip is Letterman’s seemingly earnest, heartfelt reaction. This speech is the only time that I can recall hearing the utterance of “goddamn” on network television (which actually helped cement it in my mind), and the statement that surrounds that word is what continues to resonate with me,
“As I understand it — and my understanding of this is vague at best — another smaller group of people stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings. And we’re told that they were zealots, fueled by religious fervor… religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any goddamned sense?”
Dave’s words on confusion still move me, but more important than those, his remarkable thoughts on courage, and his brave ability to find humor among the darkness, was Dave’s touching anecdote about the spirit of the country’s people. While time has helped mask the bleak confusion that followed the events that took place a decade ago, what remains is something that I still cherish: the human spirit. This isn’t exclusive to a small town in Montana, nor the U.S., nor North America, but what continues to flourish around the world is the spirit to come together and help one another in time of need. We saw it after 9/11, we’ve recently seen it Haiti, and we continue to witness it in Japan.
So on a weekend when levels of celebratory flag-waving might reach an all-time high (if not for the anniversary, then certainly for the kick-off of the NFL season), what makes sense to me is to reflect not on the actual events of 9/11, the questionable politicking which followed, or the static surrounding the entire package, but rather: the persistent human spirit that remains within us all.