SINCE 1759

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America's Absurdist Journey
From Solemn To Embarrassing

It’s the 9/11 anthem five years on, by orders of the Department of Homeland Security: “Due to enhanced security measures liquids, gels, lotions and other items of similar consistency will not be permitted in carry-on baggage.” At this rate, here are the “enhanced security measures” we can expect on the 10th anniversary of 9/11:

  • Excessive hilarity, social, political, economic or corporate humor, or satire and mimicking of government officials and/or security personnel may result in revocation of flying privileges. All jokes must be explained to authorities upon request.
  • Foreign magazines including The New York Times, The Nation and The New Yorker are strictly prohibited as carry-ons by order of the Transportation Security Administration’s Division of Subversion and Sensitivity Training.
  • You may be required to submit DNA, handwriting, and creative writing samples before boarding. Swarthy passengers may be required to submit mucus and odorous clothing samples that will be returned to them upon arrival. Random urine tests will be performed.
  • No talking or humming while passing X-ray machines. Reasonable whispering is allowed but may only be of a faith-based and denominationally verifiable nature.
  • Passengers with children 12 and under are requested to familiarize themselves with security regulations regarding suspicious-looking children. Teens may not be on flights departing any North American airport between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, or fly out of Dallas, Los Angeles and Burlington, Vt., at any time. They may, however, land there, except during Ramadan.
  • All stuffed animals will be subject to a cavity search.
  • Sneezing will be kept to a minimum, as will staring at the ceiling or meditating other than in the provided meditation/prayer rooms. Correct meditation and prayer posture will be observed at all time, ensuring minimum interference from the Federal Office of the Grand Inquisitor.
  • Asking questions is prohibited.

And that’s just in airports. But it isn’t necessary to look five years ahead to tally up America’s infliction of the absurd on everyone for the last five years. Morbidly romancing 9/11 was a narrative begging to happen. We’re a country where cheap fictions and brute force are our best exports, after all. The combination has had the volatile effect that those imaginary liquids they fear on board airlines never managed: We’re raining nitroglycerine on the world, and getting drunk on it here.

We went deaf hearing that line five years ago: “America will be changed forever by the attacks.” Back then it was a line of grief and expectations. It begged measuring up to the offense inflicted, but with the sort of doggedness and sacrifice great challenges have historically inspired of Americans. It’s an embarrassing line now considering what changed, and what didn’t. At home we’re the same consuming, wasteful, oil-addicted island of ignorance we were before 9/11. Economically we’re poorer, more in debt, more socially unequal than at any time since the 1920s. And we’re in love with fear, feeding on it from the Bush administration’s hands like tamed creatures slurping oats from their zookeeper. Unlike us, zoo animals have sense enough not to cut their own keys and lock their own cage.

Abroad we’ve started two wars, three including that Orwellian one on terror, none of them finished, all of them by now more devastating and less productive than 9/11 warranted, except in their recruitment of new terrorists. Our many shortcomings aside, in the eyes of the world we were a well-meaning, hopeful, inspiring nation before 9/11. Now we’re just vengeful, resentful, bullying. Incompetent, too: There is no greater symbol of that incompetence than the gaping hole still offending Lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers used to stand. Ground Zero’s comeback towers were to have been well on their way to scraping the skies by now. The void is post 9/11 America : Five years of absurdities and lawbreaking in the name of American security have beaten all the solemnity out of what once was a scared date. That’s how deep the hole is.

Conspiracy theorists who love to blame 9/11 on an inside job are missing the point. It’s the plot on America since 9/11 that’s been the inside job, in plain sight, and with Americans’ approval. The joke is on us, though only the terrorists are laughing. Ice-breaker between two terrorists: “Did you hear the latest rules from the Transportation Security Administration?” Heart-breaker at the latest funeral for an American soldier: “What did he die for, again?”

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