Last night my husband Sid walked into the living room to see me watching the latest reincarnation of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” the improv comedy show featuring the hilariously talented Wayne Brady, Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie.
“We used to watch this all the time!” he said. Within minutes, we were both cracking up. No political rants from The Daily Show tonight, our usual daily diet of must-watch TV. Instead the ice cream was suddenly, gleefully, out of the freezer. We continued to guffaw as we traded pints of Haagen Daz.
It was a ’90s moment. Remember the ’90s? Some of the most popular movies were Forrest Gump (Run Forrest Run — and he does!), Shawshank Redemption (he had to crawl through a tunnel of crap but dang it, he made it out!) and the Austin Powers movies (Ooh behave!). They were inspiring; they made us laugh. Even the suspenseful movies allows us to suspend disbelief: Jurassic Park (dinosaurs!), Independence Day (aliens!), Men in Black (more aliens!).
What do we watch today? The Walking Dead (killer zombies in a postapocalyptic hellscape brought on by a mutated virus — Ebola anyone?). Homeland (U.S. hostage is released by terrorists only to become a terrorist himself — I think. I could only watch the first episode. It had too strong a “that could happen” vibe for me.) “Gravity” stuck in my head for days — there’s a part of me, too, that wants to escape this earth and its pain and suffering, and is completely aware of the energy required to have the courage to move forward instead of getting stuck in the past.
Pop culture is a syllabus for what it means to live in post-9/11 America. The threats aren’t conjured by our imagination; they’re seen daily in our Facebook feeds and Breaking News text alerts. The heightened level of anxiety has pervaded every aspect of how we live our lives. Every day there’s a new warning about passwords being hacked (next comes my identity and my bank account, right?). A new disease that could kill you or your children (enterovirus –stay away!). Helicopter parenting is almost too polite a term — we are tether parents, petrified of letting our children out of arm’s reach even at ages when they need to learn how to walk away.
I, like you, will never forget where I was the day those planes hit. I’ll never forget the bright blue cloudless sky, that first feel of autumn-is-coming crispness in the air. I’ll never forget driving home that day in my new car (a recent birthday gift from Sid) to the home we had bought just a year before. We were a young married couple living the American dream. I pulled into the driveway and looked at the modest three-bedroom ranch, the front porch we sat on in the evening and told stories about our day, the picture window from which we could watch the sun set over Lake Erie… This is why they hate us? Because of the lives we live? I sat in the car and sobbed.
I know it’s more complicated than that. America has done a lot in the post World War II era to draw the hatred of people from around the world. But we’ve done it, for better or for worse, to preserve and defend a way of life that we hold dear.
And while the vision of our lives might not have changed much in the last 13 years, I feel the essence of it has. And that is the scab that will not heal. That’s the continuing legacy of 9/11. The lives that were lost and forever changed was only the initial assault. Now we live in fear — ISIS, torpedoed passenger airlines — and that is the secondary assault. Sadly, it’s one I doubt my generation will ever get past.
I realize this and try to cope with it in the only way I know how — by shutting it all off sometimes. My mother says that the problem with our generation is that we have too much information and I believe she’s right. So instead of reading every news account of the latest beheading, or educating myself on ISIS, sometimes I just need to sit on the couch, eat hundreds of calories worth of ice cream (guilt-free) and laugh.
I invite you to join me. If this anniversary is getting you down, check out this fantastic list of the 12 Funniest Whose Line is it Anyway? skits. It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to not be mired in seriousness. It’s okay to forget about the threats for a while. Go on, live like it’s 1997. And then try to bring a little bit of that optimism into your 2014 world.