Crass commercialism blights memory of 9/11

Lindsay Moore

By Lindsay MooreIn risk of annoying everybody to death with yet another piece on the Sept. 11 attacks, I feel the need to address a problematic by-product of the tragedy. Hailing from Minnesota, over Christmas break I made my seasonal pilgrimage to the Mall of America (no, I’m not proud) “in search of the perfect gift.” As I was walking down one of the many shop-swollen boulevards, I noticed a new establishment: “911 Marketplace.” Upon first seeing this store, filled to the brim with bright lights, American flags, “NYPD” shirts, and “FDNY” caps, I interpreted the title as “9-11.” Disgusted, it was only upon inspecting it closer (without having to actually go in!) that I figured out that it was technically just an EMS-themed store. However, my suspicion was not lessened. Just because the store forgot the hyphen or the dash (or whatever else could distinguish the phone number “911” from the date “9/11”) does not necessarily mean that it was completely innocent. The merchandise, heavily splashed with references to New York City and the American flag, said it all: they were making a buck off of Sept. 11.
Granted, the 911 Marketplace donates “a portion of the proceeds to charities” (those being the NYC Firefighter’s Fund, as well as a St. Paul burn unit), but that does not mean that the store-owners aren’t making a pretty penny due to a morbid, post-tragedy souvenir-buying craze. And they’re not the only ones. In the first few days after the 11th, numerous companies ran television ads consisting of solemn but hopeful messages regarding unity, tolerance, and the triumph of the human spirit, etc. Followed immediately by the none-too-subtle company logo.
Major fashion designers and labels are mass-producing line upon line of “military chic” inspired clothing. And where department stores used to carry their obnoxious teenybopper shirts broadcasting slogans like “BRAT” or “99% Angel,” they now stock glitter-sprayed, velvet-flocked images of the smoking Twin Towers. (I actually saw these at the Sears down the road at the Fox Valley Mall.)
I find it sickening to see such a horrific image-the deaths of literally thousands of people-spray painted in pink across some little “baby-tee” so that an empty-headed pre-teen can spend more of daddy’s money on what’s become, indeed, the latest trend. Not only is it crass commercialism, it is also sheer disrespect.
But the icing on the cake lies not in the Mall of America, the Appleton Sears, the television, or even the numerous Chinese sweatshops where many of the American flags for sale are still produced. It is at Ground Zero itself, where street vendors have set up shop, peddling tee-shirts, pictures, mugs, caps, etc., to the multitude of tourists who have made the trek in hopes of taking a glance at all-too-recent history. They have not even finished clearing away all the debris, and already there are vendors. Joining them are the tourists/reporters/the greedy/the curious, some even dressing up as emergency workers in order to get right into the thick of it.
Is this any way to treat the dead and wounded? By making a tee shirt out of their suffering, or selling a photograph, just so a little money can be made? Yes, I am fully aware that many of the products donate that portion of proceeds to various victims’ organizations-but if people want to help, monetarily, they don’t have to be tacky about it to the point of disrespect. And furthermore, if people want to sell these products under the guise of “healing” and “remembrance,” they should bear in mind that nobody needed a tee shirt or a coffee mug with a picture of an emaciated, toothless concentration camp victim on it to remember the Holocaust. Let the dead rest in peace, and stop prostituting their memory.