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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: There’s Got to Be A Mourning After

14 Sep, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

It is a day of infinite sadness.

It is a day that President George W. Bush has solemnly commemorated as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance in the United States of America for what he has memorably, absent any hyperbole, termed, “The first war of the 21st Century.” It is a hallowed day that I can not in good conscience betray by writing in this space about the mundane machinations of home entertainment.

Nothing about what transpired in New York and Washington, D.C. this past week can possibly be overstated. It defies any mortal’s comprehension.

It has been a week unlike any other in American history. Just as Sept. 11, 2001, was a day of unspeakable horror like no other. I departed my beloved home of New York City 24 hours before all hell broke loose. I am in Los Angeles at this writing, nervous about not getting home in due time — and just as nervous about getting home.

I mentally applauded the National Football League and Major League Baseball for having a rational sense of proportion about the ultimate triviality of the businesses in which they traffic —amusement. Pro sports have long since assumed inordinate importance in our culture. It was reassuring to see prominent members of the NFL workforce — namely, players — tell TV interviewers they deemed it disrespectful and inappropriate to take the field this particular Sunday.

As one NFL player eloquently put it, those who glibly parrot the clich? that “life must go on” obviously speak from the luxury of personal detachment. It’s hard to imagine anyone directly touched in any way by the massive loss of life making such a cavalier pronouncement. I nodded in agreement as Miami Dolphin Zach Thomas — a warm, personable soul who was on hand to greet retailers and press as a guest of USA Home Entertainment at this year’s Super Bowl — said the game of football, in essence, is a form of celebration, and this was no time to flaunt that form of expression. With too many craven characters spoiling pro sports — the tiresome Michael Jordan not least among them — it’s comforting to find people of character like Thomas.

Yes, my local little league voted to play ball this weekend. If I had been home to attend the board meeting, my vote would have been nay. Hitting a ball can be taught any old weekend. Appreciating the sanctity of life, especially for grade-school kids, is much more elusive. Protecting children from the harshness of our world can be taken too far by parents who, of course, mean well. I claim no special wisdom on this. Just my opinion.

No, life never can resume exactly as before for Americans — not this weekend, not next week, not next year — so rationalizations like “life must go on” become the refuge of the confused and, in some cases, the self-absorbed. Whether or not everyone accepts it, we all are having a life-changing experience. Understandably, people are in denial.

Temporarily suspending routine activity — especially superficial sporting contests — is a fitting and featherweight form of self-sacrifice. Yet it also is a strong-willed, ascetic show of respect for the families and friends of the thousands who went to war Tuesday morning at the Pentagon and World Trade Center — without a clue they would be ambushed in the most grotesque and merciless manner possible.

Onlookers were televised repeatedly likening the surreal sight of planes puncturing the twin towers to watching “a movie.” Yes, we’ll see “America Under Attack” DVDs documenting the episode in all its enormity. Multiple-angle views, no doubt, of what no horror movie or digital effects can equal for verisimilitude. Movies are vivid and vicarious. Reality is vital and visceral.

Inevitably, we won’t be spared the utterly tasteless jokes, the rank commercial exploitation (“I survived the World War Trade Center” T-shirts, natch). We’ve already suffered the fools who commit copycat bomb threats that thankfully are false. (Fool Bulletin: the all-too-authentic terrorists don’t phone in their attacks with, “Ready or not, here I come,” as if it’s kids’ play.)

Most terribly, Americans have been further humiliated by native terrorists, the terminally ignorant who prey on innocents suddenly misfortunate enough to belong to the same race as some advocates of international terrorism. Such vicious bigotry against an entire ethnic group makes as much sense as randomly attacking young white males in the name of the Oklahoma City bombings, which were, after all, perpetrated by young white males.

Offices of Advanstar Communications, parent of Video Store and Hive4media.com, at One Park Avenue in Manhattan were eerily quiet most of the week, as many employees bunkered down at home. One employee took five hours to make it home by foot and rail last Tuesday, while another didn’t cross her doorstep until Wednesday morning. People spent much of their time tracking down family and friends who hadn’t been heard from. Throngs of workers teemed in the streets as office buildings were evacuated, thanks to those hoaxes. Even before Broadway reopened Thursday — probably too soon — New Yorkers’ voices still were shaking from the traumatic aftershock of experiencing the theater of war.

To paraphrase classic dialogue from The Godfather, if our increasingly uncivil culture has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is allowed to remain sacred. Why? Because, of course, “life must go on.” Sure. Easy for us to say. Tell that to the lifeless thousands and the tens of thousands who knew and loved them.

From the nadir of humanity emerged the triumph of humanism. It is embodied in those, like video executive Steve Scavelli of Flash Distributors (whom I have never been more proud to call a friend), who reflexively responded to the situation at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan by doing whatever it took to lighten the load of other rescuers.

The triumph is reflected in the demeanor of those far from the scene of the crime who can put aside their own material indulgences this weekend to consider all those precious moments and persons we take for granted. The triumph is manifested in the money — no matter the amount — that people across the country are earmarking (such as tax rebates) to donate to the orphaned families of the victims and to various relief — or revenge — efforts.

There is also the triumph of technology, namely television news coverage, which has been unprecedented in its constancy and pervasiveness. When have we ever seen so many smooth-as-silk newscasters, involuntarily invoking patron saint Walter Cronkite on Nov. 22, 1963, shedding their game faces to spontaneously shed tears on air? None had ever had to report a story quite like this.

And who among us could hold back a tear or lump in the throat or sigh at the sight of President Bush himself choking back tears, or the c.e.o. of WTC top-tier tenant Cantor Fitzgerald anguishing in front of ABC’s Connie Chung and a national audience over the obliteration of 700 of his 1000 employees, or — symbolism summa cum laude — the British Palace Guard, in an unprecedented and poignant breach of stiff tradition and show of hands across the water, playing the American national anthem.

Those who saw the carnage close up, such as New York State Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, avowed that however vivid the images the rest of the nation has seen on television these past days, it still “trivializes” the profound devastation as eyewitnessed at ground zero.

Indeed, at a time like this, we cannot live by video alone.

From clear across a country that has come together in an emotional surge like precious few times in our history, I called my wife Elyse to make sure we were waving the flag in front of our home. Prior to my prompting, she already had hoisted the Stars and Stripes.

I felt doubly proud. Now, I yearn to stand in front of my home, 45 miles due north of two great gorges where skyscrapers once towered, to proudly salute the home of the brave.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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