TV's Window to America
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An Essay by Andrei Codrescu
I was a child in Romania when we gathered around our brand new television
to watch news of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Nobody believed it. My
uncle said that it was all fake, a plot by the Russians to destroy our minds.
Television had barely come into being and it was strange enough to see the
moving images. It was even stranger to see America for the first time. "Look
at the amazing tall buildings," my mother said. They were amazing. The tall
buildings. The energy of people moving fast even as they were weeping and
On Sept. 11, 2001, the 21st century began in earnest. The whole world
gathered around televisions to watch the horror visited upon us. My friend
Ioana wrote from Romania that she had been watching with her son. She sent
her heartfelt condolences and said, "We keep waiting for Bruce Willis to show
up and for the movie to end!" I thought about her son Luca, who is the same
age I was in 1963, and wondered what he was making of it. The tall buildings.
The airplanes crashing into them. The flames. The people killed. This was
his initiation into the new century, into how things really stand in history.
The movie has no happy end. There is no Bruce Willis.
I hate to say it, but we were overdue for disaster. A terrorist act in
Sarajevo ended the peaceful decades of the Belle Epoque and precipitated
World War I. After only two decades of peace, another terrorist
provocation, the burning of the Reichstag in Berlin, set the world on its way
to World War II. The attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon is
the beginning of another war.
Our Belle Epoque is over. We will look back on the '90s of the last
century with the same nostalgia people looked back to the '90s of the
19th century. My sons, who were born within the golden bubble of the last
quarter of the American century, have no idea. I wish they didn't have to.
Americans are not demonstrative people: We did not gather in public squares
to vent our anger at the terrorists. In other countries, people would have
been on the streets calling for blood. But make no mistake: The anger is
there. I just hope that we won't overreact. War isn't what it used to be.
Poet Andrei Codrescu lives in New Orleans and publishes the online journal, Exquisite Corpse.