Editorial by John Ziegler

Will Someone Please Admit That Not Much Has Changed?

1/11/2002

Will Someone Please Admit That Not Much Has Changed?

For the last four months one of the most asked questions in America has been: How has our nation changed because of September 11th? Virtually every conceivable answer has been given to this important inquiry, except the one that seems to have the most validity: Not very much.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found virtual unanimity in the affirmative (an incredible 91%) when it asked whether the country had changed in a lasting way because of the attacks. However, the very same "pro-change" poll found that only 14% of the respondents felt that their own lives had been altered significantly. Judging from the current look of the cultural environment, even this tiny number will continue to dwindle (other than in New York and D.C.) as the horrors of that historic day begin to fade into our collective memory. For better or worse, it is clear to me that the events of September 11th were more like a hurricane that causes catastrophic but largely temporary damage, rather than an earthquake that fundamentally distorts the landscape forever.

For those in the 91% of the population that are likely to be in disagreement with me, I offer a quick look at the state of several segments of society in which real, lasting transformation is alleged or presumed to have occurred.

Air Travel: I was as irritated as anyone at the long lines to go through security during Thanksgiving, but by Christmas things had already significantly improved. While there was one foiled attempt to bomb a plane with a sneaker, there have been no other hijacked planes. Passenger rates which dropped to almost nothing in the weeks after the attacks have long since returned to normal. Certainly the industry is very vulnerable, but with the help of a government bailout it appears as if there won't even be any significant airline closings and the only real change seems to be that we have to get to the airport about 30 minutes sooner, and boyfriends are no longer able/required to take their girlfriends all the way to the gate before dropping them off.

Politics: In the weeks following the attacks partisanship was dormant. It has already long since been revived. Tom Daschle and President Bush, who shared an emotional embrace after Bush's speech to Congress, could not come close to agreeing on an economic stimulus package before the end of the last session. At one point Daschle even went out the back door of the White House after one particularly unproductive meeting. Now, he and other Democrats are already trying to pin the recession on Bush and some have actually been quoted as charging that he is TOO focused on the war at the expense of domestic issues. Also, if anything, the events of the past four months have shown that "political correctness" is even stronger than many of us had feared.

News: Brian Williams and Chris Matthews have long ago ceased to be our "must-see TV." In fact, the ratings for television and radio news programs (except in New York and D.C.) are remarkably unchanged from the same time last year and experienced only tiny bump after the initial shock of 9-11 wore off. While far more coverage is now being devoted to international affairs than ever before (and less attractive but more knowledgeable guests tend to be on the cable news shows), the television networks have not broken into regular programming for anything related to the war on terrorism since the two month mark when NBC, CBS, and Fox all elected to ditch the President's speech in favor of more "sweeps friendly" fare. If we had found bin Laden by now, Gary Condit might already be in trouble again.

Sports: Game attendance and TV viewing are almost exactly the same as before the attacks. Ugly incidents in Cleveland and New Orleans showed that the nature of fans has not changed a bit either. In the days after the attacks I heard a local sports radio host in Philadelphia lament he couldn't imagine hating the New York Giants ever again. Last week I heard the same host celebrate how much the Giants fans must have suffered during their heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Eagles. I guess to not hate Giants fans would be to "let the terrorists win."

Pop Culture: Remember when irony was supposed to be dead? When our shifting priorities were going to spell the end of our focus on frivolous diversions? Well, how about a roll call of what is still on the air? "Entertainment Tonight"? Check. "Extra"? Check. "Access Hollywood"? Check. Jerry Springer? Check. Sally Jessie? Check. Howard Stern? Check. "South Park"? Check (thank goodness!). And correct me if I am wrong, but didn't Hollywood just break another yearly record for box office gross despite a sagging economy and an utter lack of movies that were even remotely satisfying? Heck, the truly awful "Vanilla Sky" actually elected to keep the former Twin Towers in its bizarre final scene. A Carol Burnett special a couple of months ago did garner unbelievably high ratings, but that may be attributed to communal case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Religion: While churches saw a dramatic increase in attendance in September, it appears as if things have returned to normal here as well. I guess to some "believers" God is only important when you think you might be seeing him soon.

Family: More people decided to stay home with relatives for New Year's Eve than in recent memory, but odds are that they still had the same conflict issues as before 9-11.

Sex: We are supposed to see a "baby boomlet" nine months after the attacks, which is an interesting phenomenon considering the world was supposed to be so dramatically altered after 9-11. Purportedly women are now finding "manly" men more attractive than those in suits, but somehow I think that, in the long run, the men with the money will still be much better off than the ones with the muscles.

Patriotism: President Bush's staggering approval numbers suggest that the shelf life of this post-attack development may be a little longer than most of the others. While the percentage of cars with Old Glory on them has seemingly diminished, the spirit behind them hopefully has not. If so, this is one change that we can all hope sticks around for a while.

source:<a href="http://dailynews.philly.com/content/daily_news/2002/01/14/opinion/ZIEG14E.htm">The way that this column appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News</a>

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