Ten years, and still too soon for those who will forgo television’s Sept. 11 mega-wallow and head for the nearest “Storage Wars” marathon instead. I get it. The memories are hard. The maudlin alert is orange.
In advance of the barrage, I watched more than 35 hours of specials and documentaries and barely made a dent in what’s out there. Even as I write this, DVDs are still arriving: two solid weeks of 9/11 shows from Animal Planet, TLC, History, Smithsonian, Showtime, Nickelodeon, PBS, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, Investigation Discovery, Univision, OWN, and on and on. This is just the prerecorded stuff, not the live wall-to-wall coverage you can expect in the final hours of retrospect.
TV is coming at us with much too much too much — content that is surprisingly rote, perfunctory and often unimaginative. A lot of what you’ll see on TV lacks the power to deeply study the events and their impact on culture. It’s as if most networks were afraid of getting too introspective or thinky about 9/11. Narrative trumps thought.
Instead we get clip jobs and sound bites, with a strange mix of nostalgia and despair. The motto was “Never forget,” and TV never did. For most Americans, after all, the television set remains the principal experience of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Thousands died as millions watched. As such, TV lays rightful claim to all anniversaries of it. There are miles and miles of footage to repackage, re-edit, repurpose, reflect.
It starts now, Sunday night, with National Geographic’s exclusive, detailed, but not terribly illuminating “George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview” — promoted by the channel as the only in-depth sit-down the former president is giving this time around. (It was taped months ago.)
Here Bush meticulously recounts his actions, his anger, his thoughts. The Florida classroom with its cheerfully regimented reading drills, the president’s Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispering in Bush’s ear; Air Force One’s frantic leap frog from one military base to the next as events dramatically unfolded in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania; the emotional speech the president delivered atop the World Trade Center’s rubble three days later, via bullhorn.
It’s the president’s opportunity to adjust a slightly askew picture frame. He sat through the classroom reading of the pet goat story because he didn’t want to alarm the children. He was madder than spit that the Secret Service wouldn’t let Air Force One return immediately to Washington. He never wanted to be a wartime president. He thinks that over time, Sept. 11 will eventually return to its former status as just another day. He is as helpful and lucid as an ex-president can be, but he seems to have little else to say. He doesn’t seem ready to go back — not yet, not fully.
Which raises the question of whether any of us are ready?