Soft 9/11 sculpture by Jenny Ryan

Soft911 A

Some might think Johnny Ryan and Jenny Ryan's Soft 9/11 trivializes a horrible tragedy, but that kind of knee-jerk reaction prevents them from contemplating this profoundly heartfelt work of art. (Compare it to crass exploitative garbage like this.) It belongs in a museum.

Soft 9/11 sculpture by Jenny Ryan


  1. Am I missing something? Is it supposed to be heartfelt just because it’s made of felt? Is the word “heartfelt” a subjective reaction to viewing this, or is it something that the artist intended? Because I am searching Johnny Ryan’s website for something that justifies the description of “profoundly heartfelt”, but all I find is stuff like this…

    How is the kitsch commemorative coin you link to any more crass and exploitive than this?

    Context counts.

  2. As much as I consider pretty much ANYTHING from the “AS SEEN ON TV COLLECTABLE OMG” crowd to be extremely tacky and crass, I am genuinely interested to hear why this is heartfelt and that is exploitive.

    Seems to me that the coin/monument/piece of ground zero thing is at least pandering to people who are (while misguided) serious about the memory of the attack, whereas these are the sort of thing that might even be given as a gag gift.

    That being said, I don’t think it’s too soon.

  3. Mark I always enjoy your posts, but I feel like in a well intended effort to thwart a knee-jerk reaction, you grossly overstated the concreteness of the value of this work.
    The reaction (positive or negative) that individuals have to this not particularly involved work is probably going to be more or less valid on its own.

  4. ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive@1:

    “Is it supposed to be heartfelt just because it’s made of felt?”

    In part, yes. Jenny put a lot of love into this, and her interpretation of her husband’s drawing had a big emotional impact on me. Do you think I ought to feel the way you do about it?

  5. Hey Mark, I made a song with ytCracker and MC Lars that I thought you might like. It’s mainly about security theater in the US and events like the Star Simpson and Aquateen Hunger Force LED debacles. It’s called 911 AM and you can check it out here

    In regards to comparing the coin to the plushies, I think they are equally exploitative. The only difference is that one embraces it, while the other hides itself under a veil of honoring those who were affected. I don’t believe that one is more shocking than the other, it’s all just context. People will see whatever they want in either piece. I guess that goes for our song too.

  6. maturin@3: “not particularly involved work”

    I disagree, but you are entitled to your opinion. Jenny herself told me that I accurately described her intention.

  7. My only problem with these is that they would have been helpful right after the attacks to help children work through PTSD. Sometimes tragedy needs to be viewed through a lens of comfort and security in order to be processed.

  8. Depicting this event in this way does trivialise the event. That is a fact, you cant get away from it.
    But it’s not wrong to trivialise horrible events – sometimes the best way to deal with horrific things is to laugh at them in the face. It’s just a little insensitive to those affected, who might not understand or agree with that idea.

  9. I agree with #1.

    These dolls are *FUNNY* but they absolutely trivialize 9/11, and are just as crass as those coins.

    The difference is that (as long as they don’t start selling these) the dolls are a cute gag, and the coins are a greedy attempt to capitalize on grief.

  10. thomas12345@9: “These dolls are *FUNNY* but they absolutely trivialize 9/11, and are just as crass as those coins.”

    With all due respect, that means you just don’t get it.

    1. I shouldn’t have been so harsh, Thomas. I’m sorry. This following is just my opinion, of course: I think that Jenny is using a traditionally cute and happy craft style to interpret a major disaster. It’s well-executed, thought-provoking, very sad, and startling.

  11. I see this as comical & serious at the same time. It kinda helps accept the tragedy as a real event without having to break down every time you’re confronted with it.

    It also reminds me of this haunting gallery of 3D WTC photographs.

  12. Do you not see how anthropomorphizing the buildings humanizes the already-exploited tragedy? It helps people to deal with it. Stuffed animals exist for a reason. They’re a very useful tool for coping with tragedy and suffering that defy rational explanation.

  13. I stared at this for a while. Seems like art to me. Art that made me chuckle for a second and then feel sad. There is a subtle hand-holding between the two buildings in the photo that adds a little something extra. Perfect expressions.

  14. Now that you’ve explained it I can see that too. Sort of like how a child might interpret something horribly tragic in a very simplified way that might seem light-hearted at first glance but actually be much deeper than it appears.

    I guess I just read it wrong because the work reminds me a lot of style of Heidi Kenney’s plush ( and her work is all very whimsical.

    I still think it’s at least a little bit funny, though, and it reminds me a lot of the “I’m Falling For You” 9/11 doodle:

  15. Ok, now I have to mention my stupid, cruel & sick joke: “Now show me on this doll where the plane touched you.”

  16. These were made as a piece of art and are not for sale…unlike the 9/11 hair scrunchies you can find here. Howeverm several folks commenting on my husband’s blog and Flickr page have been begging us to make these to sell, which just underlines my whole point in making the dolls. Yes I think they are funny AND cute– and Johnny and I both have black, lowbrow senses of humor– but that doesn’t change the fact that these crafty-cutesy dolls are, I think, a not-too-far-off expansion of the ghoulish kind of capitalism that is already going on at Ground Zero. I was thinking of items like patriotic Beanie Babies and Bald Eagles with tear-filled eyes as I stitched them. I recognize that not everyone appreciates it and that is completely okay, but I thank Mark for posting about them and am glad he liked them.

    1. “I’ve never seen a Dachau plushie.”

      Art Spiegelman came close by turning Nazis and Holocaust victims into funny animals in Maus. A lot of people were angry with him but he ended up winning the Pulitzer anyway.

  17. I agree. Totally tasteful, artistic, and startling.

    Will fit right in on the shelf between my pop up Katyn forest massacre book, and my steampunk Smurph trail of tears diorama.

  18. Thomas12345: Thanks for the comments. You’re right. There is something funny about them for sure. But I hope you can see that I intended something a bit more with these. Maybe I didn’t achieve it, but it works for me.

    Bionicrat2: That is exactly the reaction I was hoping to get from people. You nailed it. And the hand-holding was completely intentional, in fact I sewed snaps onto their hands so they are held together permanently.

    Thanks for input, everyone!

  19. Jenny put a lot of love into this, and her interpretation of her husband’s drawing had a big emotional impact on me. Do you think I ought to feel the way you do about it?

    I can certainly see how you could interpret it to be heartfelt, and as your own subjective reaction, it’s certainly valid to look at it that way. But looking at the website of Johnny Ryan, who designed this, I can’t see how that could possibly have been his intent. I’m sure there are people who find the commemorative coins to be beautiful and meaningful, but that doesn’t mean that the people who made them aren’t intending to exploit 9-11 in a crass way.

    I’m not offended or outraged or anything. Artists can say whatever they’d like and we can all make up our own minds about the value of their work. But I just can’t see the link between your interpretation of the meaning of this and what the artist seems to be expressing. Is there a part of his site that would reflect better on his sincerity than the comics section that I looked at?

    1. Steve, honestly, I don’t know Johnny’s intent. Maybe he doesn’t give a damn, or maybe all his art is satirizing trash culture. I tend to think it’s the latter. But I have confirmed with Jenny (who has already replied here) that I accurately described her intention with the art (which, unlike the commemorative coins, is not for sale). I believe her.

  20. these crafty-cutesy dolls are, I think, a not-too-far-off expansion of the ghoulish kind of capitalism that is already going on at Ground Zero

    That message comes through loud and clear. But that’s an acerbic and biting sort of message, not a heartfelt one.

    1. I wouldn’t disagree with you. My use of the word “heartfelt” seems to be the thing that stuck in your craw, Steve. I used the word to mean that she create this with an authentic intent to communicate her feelings about 9/11 and its aftermath. Also, just looking at the expressions on the dolls makes me want to cry. My heart feels it.

  21. ASIFA, Johnny was not the only designer of this, it was a collaboration between the two of us. You may not like his work or website, that’s fine and completely understandable– to each their own, etc.– but this is a collaborative work and I can say with some authority that the interpretation Mark has posted (along with several other commenters) is indeed what Johnny and I intended to say with this piece. Which doesn’t mean every piece of work either of us produce has to be political or overtly serious or “sincere”. People can read whatever they want into it and that is a-okay with me.

    Sometimes cheap laughs and deep thoughts can co-exist. I’m just sayin’.

  22. i think they are cute (and i don’t mean that in the simple, demeaning way), very well done, and they definitely cause an unexpected reaction in me — so, hence, i agree that they are Art with a capital A. but for me, it’s still too soon to see 9/11 depicted this way.

  23. That message comes through loud and clear. But that’s an acerbic and biting sort of message, not a heartfelt one.

    Well, that’s your interpretation and Mark was posting his. Both could be valid and nothing is wrong with either one.

  24. putting cute simplified faces on inanimate buildings is heartfelt? wtf ? what about the airplanes? what about the crushed firetrucks? do they get plushies too?

    this is lame, if it’s art. the misunderstandings on this thread show that well enough, but how making plushies of anything is relevant or thoughtful is lost on me. so all the plushy animals out there are supposed to help us deal with our anguish over environmental problems? great! plushies of endangered species are somehow good for the cause? tell it to the kids.

    cuteness for everything! sorry, it’s not that easy. C+ at best.

    1. cherry shiva: “cuteness for everything! sorry, it’s not that easy.”

      You understand it without understanding. A true natural, you are!

  25. 9/11 isn’t about those two ugly towers. It’s about 3,ooo people. Everybody knows that, feels that.

    The Ryans of course do not want to sell that work or its reproduction. They don’t have to. It doesn’t matter. The piece will be known all over the world tomorrow. Will they be famous? In a way…

    They will be scandalous.

    1. “Will they be famous? In a way… They will be scandalous.”

      That usually works in favor for artists, after the scandal has died down and the brilliance of their work is better understood.

  26. “Some might think Johnny Ryan and Jenny Ryan’s Soft 9/11 trivializes a horrible tragedy, but that kind of knee-jerk reaction prevents them from contemplating this profoundly heartfelt work of art.”

    Some might. I certainly do. I find this couple’s work infantile at best, and entirely lacking in profunditiy.

    Furthermore, informing your readers their “knee-jerk” opinons are not valid because they do not correspond with yours seems like lazy art citicism at best.

    I consider this a low-point for BoingBoing.

    1. Commenters who have never commented on horrific human rights abuses are outraged over a pair of plushies. If you’re that concerned about terrorist attacks, where are your comments in the threads on the Mumbai bombings? It’s really just plushiephobia, isn’t it?

  27. Whether a work of art is exploitative or crass… isn’t that a matter of the artist’s intention? Seems like there are many who are quick to speculate. Yay, an excuse to get in a snit!

  28. With the greatest concern, can we all not see the humour?

    I know that the events of September 11th are in a way under glass for all time to most americans, but can I pass on a wee idea?


    Look, I like most UK citizens over 20 or so lived under the threat of IRA bombings for most of my life.

    And there is an odd sort of comfort to be had in humour, no matter how dark or how kitsch.

    Q: What is White and Shoots across the water at 100 miles an hour?

    A: Lord Louis Mountbattens sands shoe.,_1st_Earl_Mountbatten_of_Burma#Death

    OK, if you think that is bad taste, please remember before you round on me for my lack of understanding, that it was the citizens of the USA who bank rolled a lot of the IRA’s bombings in the UK.

    Now come on,how’s that for gallows humour.

  29. Ed Kienholz’s work was never scandalous. It was always funny. At its worst it was controversial, but mostly in the tempestuous teapot of the arts community. What the Ryans are about to face is outrage and anger.

    I do not envy them their coming fifteen minutes.

    1. “Ed Kienholz’s work was never scandalous. It was always funny.”

      To each his own, but I didn’t find his abortion room sculpture to be a laff-riot. It was pretty sobering, at least to me.

  30. a watershed moment, the dark slime of eight years is slowly receding and dripping away. They’ll look back at these toys and remember them for that.

  31. Over 3000 of my fellow New Yorkers — office workers, like me — died is the incident so “cutely” or “artistically” rendered. For them, I am deeply offended by this “piece”. I was there, and there is nothing at all funny about that scene of horror. People just like me, making an honest living — mothers, fathers, etc. — had their lives snuffed out in the second depicted by this thing.

    I am a supporter of artistic freedom, but I can also find this tasteless. Would we have a Hiroshima plush mushroom cloud? Or a felted Dachau oven? No. And that was over 60 years ago. Some things are just atrocities, period, and need to be treated with respect. This was the death of thousands.

    Laugh? Gallows humor? I think not. My friend’s parents were at Dachau, number tattoo to prove it. Ask them if it was funny.

  32. I lost two friends on that day, and my brother walking nearby was nearly hit by debris (a shoe landed near him) but after years of other exploitative crap like the commemorative coin, or any political ad using that footage, or the plain fact that 9/11 has been used to justify numerous more offenses against humanity and decency, how can this possibly bother me? “Heartfelt”? Ehhh, it’s more like dada at this point (lest we forget that dadaism was a reaction to the horrors of the first World War).

    On a side note, I think they should just rebuild the towers exactly as before (or, almost exactly); they WERE New York, like the Eiffel Tower IS Paris, or Big Ben IS London, or St. Basil’s IS Moscow. Besides, what a wonderful thumbing-of-the-nose to Al Quaeda: you wreck it, we rebuild it.

  33. ILL ICH

    You have my vote.

    Build them exactly like they were.

    As you say thumb your nose and say “You couldn’t build one of these towers once, we can build them TWICE.”

    great idea.

  34. Mark F, “Maus” was the first thing I thought of, too. I had a knee-jerk reaction to the plushy buildings, and then I read the comments, and then my point of view started to shift just a bit. I personally don’t find this exploitive or tasteless, which means maybe I, too, am missing the point.

  35. People respond differently to sorrow and tragedy and it disturbs me that people are so harshly criticizing the response by Jenny Ryan and Johnny Ryan.

    I have a scholarly interest in the Holocaust and the material can overwhelming–lullabies written in the time period are heartbreaking. I deal with it by crying when I need to and well…by coloring a picture. Sometimes I color in a coloring book, sometimes just a white sheet of paper. That’s the best way for me to respond to the material…a simple expression of sorrow…with a red and blue crayon. Is it an “appropriate” expression of grief? Beats me, but it helps me maintain some sanity.

    I know at least one teacher out there uses an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as part of a course on the Holocaust. Is it reverent? Most definitely not. Does it illuminate issues of memory? Certainly.

    Gallows humor was actually part and parcel of ghetto life (and for that matter, concentration camp life) during the Holocaust. It was a way of coping. It wasn’t intended to disrespect anyone, other than the Nazis.

    Everyone responds to tragedy differently. I something terribly sad in these sculptures. I don’t see politics and I don’t see patriotism. I see a wound, a hurt, I see shock, I see confusion. I don’t see trivialization, I don’t see greed. All I see is an expression of sorrow.

  36. You know, I think it’s weird how people always start expressingly their views as absolutist, and then change to relativist the second they’re challenged. Mark’s a perfect example – first he says that the plushie is a “profoundly heartfelt work of art [which] belongs in a museum.” and then his response to a few criticisms is, “Do you think I ought to feel the way you do about it?”

    I don’t have a big problem with the plushie. I don’t think it’s great art worthy of museums, either. And if there’s something to get in Johnny Ryan’s art, I’ve never gotten it the dozens of times I’ve looked at it. I just think they’re all kind of dumb. But as sure as I am that I’m right, I’m equally sure that I won’t be able to convince someone who disagrees otherwise. And that’s not – exactly – relativism, so I’m not going to act like it is.

  37. gt t. t’s nt ffnsv bcs t’s hp.

    Cn’t wt ntl frcd sdmy bcms hp. ‘m *rlly* trd f spndng 90% f my lf n jl.

  38. I want to make it clear that I don’t see anything wrong with making fun of tragedy as long as you’re honest about it. I’ve worked on shows that received flak for being wildly inappropriate myself and that’s fine. (I’m not a good judge of appropriateness as my friends can readily attest.) Lenny Bruce, Monty Python- a whole host of brilliant artists and performers- have tread merrily over the line with gallows humor, and I support their right to do that.

    I’m not horrified or offended or scandalized at all by this. I just didn’t understand the context it was being put into, because it seemed self-contradictory. I’m still confused by the argument that it’s somehow better than the commemorative coins because it wasn’t offered for sale, because it appears that “69-11” was offered for sale by the same artist (and it’s hard to identify any heart in that piece.)

    Perhaps those contradictions are the point of the piece and the artists are slyly criticizing society by being cleverly insincere themselves. Maybe they’re fooling themselves. Maybe they just never stopped to think what their statement would mean to other people. Maybe they’re scrambling to justify an idea that wasn’t fully thought out. Maybe it’s just a random non sequitur without any meaning or context at all… Perhaps a little bit of all of the above.

    In any case, it’s a nice job of stitching regardless of what it means. And it certainly did generate a lot of comments. (shrug)

    1. Some of these comments read like medieval islamochristjudaism. 9/11 is ineffable. Make no graven image. Let the memory remain sacred and inviolate. Screw that shit. People get over things by dealing with them. Talking about them. Writing about them. Painting pictures of them. Maybe even sewing plushies of them.

      This notion that the destruction of the World Trade Center is The Worst Thing That Ever Happened In The History Of The World is idiotic. Terrorist attacks, massacres and genocide happen all the time all over the world. Turning it into a sacred meme called 9/11 isn’t helping anyone get over it. It’s just another excuse to ramp up American outrage and anger so that we can go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. To keep 9/11 sacred so that we’ll have a reason to go to war with Iran next.

  39. Nothing that happened on 9/11 was cute.

    As someone that has a personal connection to 9/11, I am disturbed by this whole post. It was a horrific event in American history. The loss of loved ones, parents, siblings is never easy no matter how the cause. I’m sure that Jenny didn’t think far beyond “look what I made” up until this post. But as far as the other comments suggesting “too soon”… I agree. Jenny, why don’t you make a sinking replica of the Titanic or a bombed battleship depicting the battle of Pearl Harbor… and while you’re at it, some plushy lynchings including a burning cross. How about some stoned Salem witches and Tiananmen Square casualties… Oh and lets not forget to sew up a nice little plushy Pol Pot… Mark, generally speaking I like most your posts but this one has me asking “what were you thinking???!” Too soon? YES. There is nothing wrong with the making of the plushies, it was just a little wrong to post them. A lot of us are still sensitive.

  40. Roach@58: I’m confused. What males you think I was being absolutist and why would my asking a question suddenly make me a relativist? I find it weird that you read the comments with that kind of filter.

  41. Error404,

    Don’t you think it might be a teensy bit offensive to link to a greater horror to offer “perspective” to a witness of a great horror? Isn’t that saying, Don’t feel so bad about 9/11 — it could have been worse?

    And you’re definitely not going to get me to laugh by implying that I, as an American citizen, am somehow partially to blame not only for IRA bombings and the murder of Lord Mountbatten, but for your bad taste as well. (Although I must admit that “Mountbattens sands shoe” did make me smile.)

    If you are not confused, you are at least confusing.

  42. First of all I am a fan of Rothko and Pollack, meaning I like emotional art. This is emotional and is doing the one thing good art will always do provoke emotions. I think Mark’s comment @13 sums it up for me; when I think heartfelt, I don’t interpret the piece as heartfelt, but that it was created by two people who obviously feel just as deeply about this tragedy as we all do, as Mark states @28. These creatures are dying together, holding hands for the last time. I always felt that way about the people trapped as they held each other or spoke to their families by phone, they were holding on as long as they could.

    I started anthropomorphizing those buildings that morning. I’ve often thought, even if those buildings had been empty it was wrong to bring them down, they had obtained a strange status, the restaurant and its wine collection, the art contained within the buildings. But obviously this is not about the loss of the concrete and steel.

    Though for me personally I have another strange emotion. The other day I felt so shortchanged when everyone was able to remember where they were when John Lennon was shot. I only remember a few events, other the births of my children, in that way, Nixon resigning, the start of the first Gulf War, and 9-11 stand out. I’ve lived over fifty years, but have few real memories of historical events. 9-11 will always have the same inward sick feeling like the left plushie and the disbelief and shock of the other.

    That being said, I’m a Rothko fan. Though I may understand them to some degree, which I think I do after listening to Mark and Jenny, and the artists’ feelings are similar to my own, they aren’t my thing. Though I will say this, they are very well done. It is rare to find such simple work that communicates such complex emotions. Remember we are trying to describe and discuss an indescribable event that we would rather not discuss.

  43. I once had a great Mao T-shirt, which I could wear anywhere. I also had a Hitler World Tour T-shirt, which I couldn’t where very often. I thought the Hitler shirt was great, it had all the countries listed like concert dates with Russia and England marked canceled. Nobody seemed to get it.

  44. There is nothing slightly wonderful about these. Should I give them to my kids as a cute way to explain what happened that day? Maybe as a xmas gag gift? Or, I could copy them and hang them from my rear view mirror.


  45. These are great.

    Not everyone has the same reaction to the events of 9/11, and people deal with those events in a myriad of ways. Humor can be a way to make tragic events easier to deal with, to take back control from those (in power) who wish to present these tragedies in a certain way in order to push an agenda (the Iraq War).

    So, are these plushies disrespectful? To some people, yes. But they are certainly subversive, which is what art should be.

  46. #74: ROFL! I guess there must’ve been some debate as to who the “bigger” monster was, Stalin or Hitler…

    #70: And roflMAO t-shirts… (although I notice the link to the shirt itself on that blog has gone dead)

    I wonder how comparable this is to cartoons featuring Mohammed? Some people certainly seem to regard “9/11” with a reverence that’s almost religious.

    (OTOH, this is a cute plush toy, as opposed to the Mohammed cartoons which were, for the most part, puerile and at least a little racist.)

  47. What really bothers me is how so many people commenting say that their way to cope is the only acceptable way.

    I certainly don’t think the artist thought these would be funny (not in a ha-ha way anyways). I find the plushies touching. My immediate reaction seeing them was that the message here was a warm reminder. Of course, not a warm reminder of a tragic mass-murder, but an attempt at seeing pass the horror and remembering the people, the spirit, and yes, the laughter and warmth that the people who died no doubt enjoyed during their lives.

    These two towers were full of life. This is was I think about looking at those two little towers. They are a cute, small, endearing embodiement one could embrace with two hands. To me, these two little sad plush towers aren’t the tragedy: they represent the people.

    Then again, I am a big kid at heart and a bit of an animist. But please don’t be so bitter towards the artist’s ‘intent’. There is something nice and earnest here, just give it a small chance.

  48. The world is full of horror, and probably always will be. Certain things are always going to touch a nerve, rape for example, and yet I am not going to get all upset about Andrew Dice Clay telling a rape joke. I have joked about drunk driving, and for some that is taboo, and yet I myself was in a drunk driving accident of no small measure and still have no problem with joking about it. To say “too soon” is a matter of taste; what’s too soon for some is right on time for others.

    The gallows humor cited above (#59 STARS_IN_THE SKY) is probably the best example; some of us need this kind of art to help us cope. I always get a kick out of Soviet jokes, where you could get sent to the gulag for a joke, and yet people still told those jokes amongst themselves. I imagine one guy telling the joke, getting sent to prison, and finding his friend there too, “What are you doing here Alexei? I was the one who told the joke?!” and his friend replies “Yes Misha, but I was the one who laughed at it.”

  49. Different people have different senses of humor; if a particular joke strikes you as more disturbing than amusing, that’s fine, but recognize that other people may find it funny because their sense of humor is on a somewhat different wavelength than yours, it doesn’t mean they are any less nice and empathetic than anyone else. Also, having a personal connection to a tragedy does not make someone an arbiter of whether jokes about it are “appropriate” or not; I’m sure a lot of people whose lives were directly affected by 9/11 or the holocaust wouldn’t find dark humor about these events funny, but these people were probably not fans of dark humor before their experiences either. On the other hand, the people who liked dark humor before becoming involved in a tragedy most likely would continue to appreciate this kind of humor afterwards, no matter how horrible their own experiences. Here is a study on gallows humor among concentration camp survivors, for instance. Here is a longer article on humor in the camps, and among the children of survivors, from the Utne Reader. And here is an interesting essay discussing the author’s thoughts on why people find gallows humor funny in general:

    The idea that appreciating gallows humor involves distancing was inspired by Thomas Nagel, in his paper, “The Absurd.” In that paper, Nagel argues that the feeling that life is absurd or meaningless is a result of the juxtaposition of our usual, personal point of view with an objective, impersonal point of view. The inspiration for the present comes from Nagel’s description of the objective point of view. He writes:

    “Humans have the special capacity to step back and survey themselves…with that detached amazement which comes from watching an ant struggle up a heap of sand. Without developing the illusion that they are able to escape from their highly specific and idiosyncratic position, they can view it sub specie aeternitatis—and the view is at once sobering and comical.”

    Now, it would seem that being objective could be a good way of dealing with terrible things only in the manner that euthanasia can be good: it eliminates the bad, but it does so without bringing about anything that is positive in its own right. It is easy to see how objectivity might bring temporary relief from anxiety or unhappiness, but hard to see how it could bring about happiness. This raises a problem for my thesis. How could distancing, which is the transition from the subjective mode to a more objective mode, make us laugh? The answer lies in the fact that we never become entirely objective. Distancing works like a pain killer that relieves our suffering without knocking us unconscious. There remains a subjective self underneath the objective view we have constructed, and that self feels safe and untouchable, free to laugh at its erstwhile tormentors.

  50. It’s interesting that the emotional responses here seem to be polar opposites. Some people react emotionally warmly and others with outrage. Some people even use the emotional response as propaganda to justify political opinions. That probably says more about the people than the issue or the stuffed animal itself.

    It’s pretty clear what Johnny Ryan was thinking when he did the original sketch. He was creating exploitive kitsch for shock value. Nothing wrong with that. There is a long time honored tradition in creating that sort of thing. But I guess once people start reacting and wallpapering their own biases and justifications over the top of it (both ways, mind you!) what he intended doesn’t matter at all. If there is art here, it’s completely unintended, completely different for each viewer, and completely solipsist. Not too different from the radically different reactions that the limited edition commemorative coins probably receive from a variety of different types of viewers. I’m sure they elicit warm responses and outrage too. You know what they say- We should choose our enemies carefully… because they are the ones we end up most resembling!

    This thread has kept us at the archive busy this evening debating and discussing. Interesting stuff.

    1. Thanks for contributing interesting ideas to the conversation, Steve. Here’s a question – do you feel that Jenny’s felt sculpture sends a different artistic message than Johnny’s drawing does? I do. Jenny’s version really hit me strongly.

  51. oh i get it now. they’re “ironic”. how could i have missed that ?
    just to be clear, i don’t find them tasteless or offensive, just lame.
    the irony trend is defeatist and over-rated, and i’m not sure these plushy disasters are worth the debate.

    come to think of it, a whole series of plushy disasters would be more interesting. the hindenberg, the titanic, the union carbide bhopol explosion… cutenenss for everything.

    i’m not commenting on anybody’s need or method for coping.

  52. Note that neither the coin nor the plushy includes the south towner’s antenna. In fact, in the coin advertisement looks to have airbrushed the antenna out of the photograph of the buildings, apparently because it wouldn’t fit on the coin.
    Meanwhile, the Patriotic Hair Scrunchie includes the antenna.
    Therefore, in my book, scrunchie wins!

  53. It’s been more than 7 years, so if it’s still too soon, it’s probably going to remain off-limits for a while. If that’s true, we might as well get used to a steady flow of commemorative, tribute-y stuff for sale. Getting used to these products means figuring out which ones are, I suppose, in the right ‘spirit’ or what have you. The commemorative coins are and will always be crass. Tragedy-tax? profit from pain? Whatever you call it, it’s coldly opportunistic, tasteless, and shamelessly devoid of any real meaning. This is even before it’s being sold in conjunction with sham-wow cloths and gimmicky as-seen-on-TV steam mops.

    As far as trivializing 9/11 (@ comment #11, others), I’m a little confused. Commemorative merchandise aside, hasn’t 9/11 been trivialized enough? Pundits right and left for seven years have used 9/11 as a talking point to justify or sensationalize opinion pieces about everything from, I don’t know, shoplifting to video games. Politicians have used the towers as impetus for new laws – some of which remarkable for their subsequent abuse or irrelevance. 9/11 has been also notably used for – ahem – military engagements around the world. Engagements which, like it or not, are usually barely tangential to the towers themselves. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard something to the effect of “IN A POST 9/11 WORLD,” and been surprised, offended, or just flat out put-off.

    As far as the felt towers are concerned, I like them. They look good, they’re not saying anything other than :( or ‘this sucks, hold me,’ and they don’t offend me one bit. Of course, I’m Canadian, so what would I know, right?

  54. @ #73:

    I’d like to think I can appreciate, or at least fathom your frustration. I can’t really begin to imagine what it must of been like to witness things unfold that day first-person. Personally, I’ve seen terrible, traumatizing accidents firsthand, and although these accidents are certainly smaller in magnitude and historical significance, I think I can understand the frustration and disgust. When someone that hadn’t been there or known the parties involved jokes about it, even lightly, i know it’s hard to hide the ensuing anger. As someone so geographically removed from the tragedy, I don’t really know how to say this, but I’ll try. All this commemorative bullshit, all the music and TV tributes, all the pundits: most of them will never know what that day was truly like. But either way, these people have to cope with whatever feelings they have, and the unfortunate meritage of tastelessness and misguided commercialism won’t probably ever go away. So maybe homemade, frowning felt twin towers is crass and unnecessary, but it’s nowhere near the depths of tastelessness that we have and will continue to see. Maybe in the face of collector’s items with “.999 pure silver recovered from ground zero!”, stuffed characters of the towers holding hands and looking unhappy isn’t all that bad. I’m sorry in advance, in all sincerity, if this offends you. You have a right, no matter what I’ve said, to feel how you feel.

  55. Mark@67 – Well, I’m a weird guy. But the initial post was very strongly worded – even more so the labeling of the coins as crassly exploitative (and I happen to agree with that). It seemed to place a definitive interpretation on both pieces. Then, after a couple posts against it, the question you asked ASIFA seemed to fall into the camp of “everyone’s opinion is sacrosanct and your impression shouldn’t be the same as mine.”

    Having read it again, I did notice that your first post was more a call to contemplation, even with the “heartfelt” in there. It’s just that I see this a lot – people come on strong with their opinions, and at the first disagreement go behind the “to each his own” thing. Plus I’m a literary interp guy, so it’s all those pesky theory questions in my head whenever I see people discussing meaning and interpretation and such.

    Maybe it’s the wrong filter (but who are YOU to say it’s wrong! arg). Don’t know if this – or my other post – were at all worthwhile, but I’m bored and writing shite.

  56. I don’t think this is too much of an original idea because in the weeks immediately following 9/11 in NYC I remember seeing a children’s drawing in the window of the fire fighters union building on 23rd Street near 2nd Avenue in Manhattan that is very similar to this.

    In the drawing, both towers had sad/frightened faces and were reaching out to each other in a terrified embrace as two planes approached them.

    Parallel thought maybe, but the kid’s drawing was pretty profound when I first saw it.

  57. Wow – a controversial, touchy subject involving strong views and a diverse audience, and yet the comments are filled with patient, sympathetic, thoughtful views and support a didactic discussion. boingboingers, you’ve totally messed with my perception of internet threads.

  58. Remember the Holocaust Float in Carnival? I asked a question then: who owns the Holocaust? Who may legitimately protest about appropriation of voice? If anyone?

    Similarly; who owns September 11th , W.T.C.?
    The day after the attack, virtually the entire world said they were New Yorkers. Even Muslim nations deplored the murders. Or at least the moderates didn’t make a point of reveling in it.
    The sympathy of sane,normal humans everywhere was there and manifest and it took the Cabal years to squander this goodwill.

    Much has happened in seven years and 99.9% of the terrible parts of that have happened outside America. A new day is dawning and a gaping abyss has opened up at the same time. Perhaps the time is now for art like this to punctuate things and make clear signals that life is moving on.

  59. kababok – Wouldn’t it be more fun to have the planes apart, so you could throw them at the buildings. You could sell them as an executive toy. Set ’em up I’ll knock ’em down! And then you can have a good heartfelt cry when they fall over.

    I think you just defined ‘the line’ that these plush toys are barely on the correct side of.

  60. I think another important part of this is closeness to the event. Several people on this thread, myself included, who take offense at this were either in NYC when this happened or had loved ones lost. I get the feeling that many of you, especially overseas, just experienced this event on TV. And like so many disasters trotted across our tv screens, we get disconnected from the terror involved. It’s “just a building on fire”. For a recent example, let’s look at the attacks in Mumbai.

    It’s a horrible event, but can we real feel the terror those people eating dinner in the cafe or waiting for a train to go home after work felt as people were cut apart by machine guns in front of them, and that they had seconds to live? Not really.

    Like many of you, I am guilty of this insensitive too. I was lucky to never feel the impact of terror or war, growing up as I did in relative peacetime in NYC. People like me were getting blown up by IRA bombs in London on their way to work. I was not able to imagine living with that overcast threat of sudden death as I led my mundane 9-to-5 life. Until, of course, it was right in my face. While I was shuffling along getting my coffee and paper like I did every day, people who had been sitting next to me on the train were at that moment downtown being burned to a crisp by aviation fuel.

    Intellectualizing about this is, in itself, a defense mechanism for some people. Art also helps to deal with horror and injustice. And there have been poems, essays, photographs, and video works about 9/11, just as there has been about the Holocaust, Khmer Rouge, Hiroshima. But I really don’t feel anything that caused such human loss and suffering can be reduced to the level of a child’s toy, with the buildings that entombed my fellow New Yorkers rendered the same as Goofy Grape. It’s over the line and in poor taste.

    And it’s the treatment that’s the issue here. The scrunchie to me is almost less offensive because if it merely a realistic rendering of the buildings and an American flag motif. Not much unlike the countless window decals I saw appear on Police and Fire vehicles after the attack. It is the way some people chose to remember the attack and the friends they lost.

    It has nothing to do with the number of years, either. As someone pointed out, some things are too awful to trivialize this way. Imagine, as I said in my earlier post, a Hirsohima or Nagasaki mushroom cloud with a goofy face. Or the gate at Auschwitz with a smiley face, complete with plushie boxcars full of Jews. It’s just not right, nor will it ever be.

  61. @91: “Remember the Holocaust Float in Carnival? I asked a question then: who owns the Holocaust? Who may legitimately protest about appropriation of voice? If anyone?Similarly; who owns September 11th , W.T.C.? ”

    We can all comment on it. No one “owns” a crime against humanity. They all make me sick, as a human being. Arguments over who “owns” things is what guarantees more such atrocities, though.

  62. These stuffed toys are deeply, deeply patronising to people who had relatives die in the terrorist attacks. They are basically saying the suffering involved is trivial and stupid. I don’t know how you can’t see this. At least the coins suggest pride and defiance and are traditionally commemorative. The toys are exceptionally crass!

  63. Yeah, and the fuzzy machete with an arm attached? Hilarious and touching, right?

    Please, this is awful. Stop trying to be so dang cool and realize that things like this are really disgusting, not just play disgusting.

    BoingBoing, again you disappoint with your willingness to yank people’s chains without respect for people who may be truly upset by what you’re spotlighting.

  64. Have we heard yet from what the vile Ann Coulter called ”The weeping widows in the peanut gallery”? You know, the 9/11 victims’ survivors that pushed for (and got) a Congressional investigation into the event?

    Their comments on irony, humor, and context should be interesting.

  65. Who owns this tragedy, was a rhetorical question.

    Not a toy. Maybe crass in your opinion, but not a toy. Medium does not define function.

    Art is a mirror with filters. Think about it this way, some people look into an ordinary mirror and still don’t see themselves. Always remember the end result of art is the emotions it provokes, which are always yours. This tends to piss off some artists. Some of them don’t like being misunderstood anymore than we do. Other artists have this as their goal, and love being surprised by our responses to their work. Sometimes we feel the same as the artist, other times not so much, but be careful assigning intent until you have spoken to the artist. I like to say, whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words, must have met the artist.

    Remember too, how difficult it is to express your emotions and thoughts. Art is a manifestation of the artists experience, thoughts, and emotions, and sometimes its just a truncheon. This piece is a little of both and obviously quite successful.

  66. do you feel that Jenny’s felt sculpture sends a different artistic message than Johnny’s drawing does? I do. Jenny’s version really hit me strongly.

    Jenny did a pretty good job of maintaining what was in the drawing. She’s evened out the asymmetry and made the expressions a little more symbolic and less cartoony, but that doesn’t impact the message all that much, because the drawing is pretty symbolic and symmetrical anyway. The materials are certainly more traditionally “friendly”. But I don’t think that alters the cynicism of Johnny’s statement. I’m trying to think if a velvet painting of Idi Amin or a weeble playset of John Wayne Gacy’s basement would make the subjects any less horrifying to those who appreciate the true nature of their crimes, but I don’t think it really would.

    Up to now, I haven’t really commented on the message itself, just the way it was presented. But I’ll add my 2 cents on that I guess… This strikes the the same as Andrew Brandou’s Golden Book style paintings of animals enacting Jim Jones murder scenes. I’m not shocked or offended- with me, that isn’t an easy thing to do- I’m just annoyed at the generic symbolic reduction of something that has a lot of meaning to a lot of people, and what seems to be a deliberate attempt to distance the viewer from the humanity of the situation.

    Part of our humanity is our illogical ability to anthropomorphize- to project human aspects on animals and inanimate objects. It’s possible for us to still feel genuine sympathy for animals. (In fact some people seem to care more about animals than they do people.) But I can’t picture someone actually feeling the depth of sympathy for a building that they might for an animal, much less an actual flesh and blood human who lost their life in a tragedy like this.

    Buildings weren’t injured and killed at 9-11 and animals weren’t forced to drink poisoned Kool Ade in Guyana… people were- moms, dads, sons and daughters. When you remove the human aspect from the tragedy, you take away a lot of its impact and reduce it to a symbol of a disaster that is much easier to dismiss without serious thought.

    Spiegelman’s Maus tells the story of a real person’s struggle in “mouse face” so to speak. I’m not convinced that’s as much of an artistic achievement as some other people seem to, but at least it personalizes the situation, and doesn’t reduce it to symbols that are easier to ignore than real suffering.

    When the coffins came back from Iraq with our soldiers in them, the administration tried to keep the focus on the generalities of solemn ceremonies involving flag draped boxes being unloaded off planes rather than putting specific names and faces to the lives lost. They did this for a reason. They knew that by keeping it symbolic and avoiding the humanity of the situation, they could keep a lid on the impact of emotion.

    What works for one side works for the other. I think a lot of people who oppose the war would like to see the emotional impact of 9-11 defused to justify their own view of its aftermath. I see that clearly in some of the comments here. It’s important to recognize that sort of thing. I tend to hold people I agree with to a higher standard of intellectual honesty than I do people I don’t see eye to eye with. And when I discover intellectual dishonesty in myself, I get twice as angry at myself as I would someone else making the same mistake.

    Symbols have power, but nothing has a greater impact than genuine humanity. If an artist is going to reduce something to a symbol, it should be to increase its emotional power, not to trivialize it. Jenny might have had a good intent here, but it’s swamped by the contextless shock value of Johnny’s original concept.

  67. I’d be less horrified if Mark had simply posted the photo for discussion. His text, however, totally missed the mark. Was he being sarcastic? If so, what was he really trying to say? Whatever it was, the text AND the photo do seem…wrong. Calling this art is just plain silly–they’re toys. And call me a buzzkill, but the sites of mass murders shoudn’t be turned into toys.
    Of course we SHOULD be able to joke about 9/11. But not all jokes are created equal, and this one is not funny at all.

  68. One more quick thing… sorry…

    If this was presented as just a funny shock gag, I would have absolutely no problem with it. It would be in bad taste, but a comedian has to tread over that line sometimes to know where the line is. The problem is that it was presented as a heartfelt tribute. I don’t think it’s at all effective at that.

  69. Always remember the end result of art is the emotions it provokes, which are always yours.

    No truer words, Foetusnail.

    The fact that some respond with disgust and others with warmth speaks about them, not the artist.

    You can say that you don’t understand the artist’s point of view or choice of expression, but why throw such shit and venom at it? Just because you’re hurt? At least, don’t imply that you know the ‘vile’ intentions behind it: The artist herself explained her position and several people saw something positive and, as Mark said, heartfelt (not counting a possibly larger number people who understood it but don’t want to express that for fear of being called tasteless, disgusting and crass).

    I, for one, don’t understand why the fact that this is portrayed as a toy makes it so patronising and in poor taste. I think that possibly speaks volume about your opinion of childhood. Toys, to me, represent innocence and straightforwardness because that is how children usually are. They see the world through a simpler scope and I think the piece captures that spirit well. I see it as simple, honest and touching, some see it as disgusting, crass and patronising. Why does this have to be a vehement right/wrong argument? You can be hurt, but you can’t just dismiss(and demonize) another’s attempt at expressing their own emotions towards this.

    I know how I see it and I know (along with people who know me, not people for whom I’m just distant words on a screen) I am a sensible, caring person (No, I wasn’t in NY that day but a very esteemed co-worker of 8 years was in one of the planes. But I think it is also trivializing the event to claim that ‘you had to be there’ in order to be entitled to an opinion or an emotional response). I don’t see why it should be automatically expected that the artist is any less.

  70. I’ll just ignore the shitstorm in this thread and say OMG, these things are so friggin’ cute! But hey, it’s everybody’s right to get offended about whatever they want.

  71. One of my best friends died in those towers. I understand this is supposed to make some artistic statement, but I don’t see it.

    He managed to call his parents from the North Tower, he had been eating in the restaurant. He heard the South Tower go down and saw it from his location. The call got disconnected about ten minutes before the North Tower went down. He still had some hope for a rescue.

    This… toy? Plushie? Whatever it is, I doubt you’d send it as a gift to any survivors or the victims families.

    I personally think it’s wrong. But that’s just my opinion, and obviously I am biased.

  72. These towers are SO cute! But she forgot to add the people that jumped to their deaths from the windows while the towers were on fire.
    They could be little gingerbread men! It would be SO heartfelt !
    Wouldn’t that make it even cuterer?

  73. OK, lets look at the numbers. There are six billion people on this dirt clod, is it at all possible some of them are thinking the same? Maybe more than one person is thinking the same thing you are right now. Maybe someone is stealing your thoughts.

    1. To the last five commenters who linked to the exact same thing, I’ve unpublished you for not bothering to read the thread before spewing.

  74. My thoughts are in a locked box, under my bed. I don’t ever look at them or consult them for anything, otherwise they might get corrupted or fall into the wrong hands. If someone changed them or even made them just a little bit different, they wouldn’t be mine anymore, so they stay safe, unused, under the bed.

    You guys should try it, not thinking about stuff is so much easier. Turns out everything we need to think about is on TV, 24/7.


  75. As someone pointed out, some things are too awful to trivialize this way. Imagine, as I said in my earlier post, a Hirsohima or Nagasaki mushroom cloud with a goofy face. Or the gate at Auschwitz with a smiley face, complete with plushie boxcars full of Jews.

    Or a novel about talking barnyard animals?

    People overreacted to that too.

  76. @121: Nice. Of course, this is about atom bombs, and while perhaps stupid and in poor taste it doesn’t attempt to trivialize the exact moment of incineration of innocent citizens of Hiroshima.

  77. @123: “Libera admits that he himself did not know exactly where he was going artistically when he applied to the Warsaw Representative of LEGO for permission to use the product name. ”

    So he tricked them. That’s far from “with the help of”.

  78. @Takuan: Again, a story about atomic warfare. Science fiction. In that respect, not much different than the disintegration of Tatooine.

    Not a plush toy depicting the death of thousands of real people.

    Can you not see the difference?

  79. @109: “You can say that you don’t understand the artist’s point of view or choice of expression, but why throw such shit and venom at it? Just because you’re hurt? At least, don’t imply that you know the ‘vile’ intentions behind it”

    I never said the artist was vile or meant anything cruel by the work. To me, the piece is just in poor taste. YMMV.

    And, it’s likely it was created anyway to get attention, which is what most artists strive for. And posted here to get page views, which is what most blogs strive for.

  80. stk: read please, including the moderation policy.
    Our stance is people who won’t read the thread and endless repeat things are deliberately wasting our time. Last chance.

  81. Small toys showing an airplane flying into the World Trade Center were packed inside more than 14,000 bags of candy and sent to small groceries around the United States before being recalled.
    Lisy Corp., the wholesaler that distributed the candy, said Friday that the toys were purchased in bulk from a Miami-based import company.

    The toys came in an assortment purchased sight unseen from L&M Import in Miami and included the toys depicting the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the twin towers, whistles and other small toys, said Luis Pedron, Lisy’s national sales manager. The invoice said the toy was a plastic swing set.

    “I hate to blame the importer. He probably did not know what he was getting. He brings them in 40-foot containers. But whoever made it knew exactly what they were making,” Pedron said.

    Pedron said Lisy did not notice the small plastic figurines until two people complained, but there is no mistaking what the toys represent: At the bottom of each is the product number 9011.

  82. And now, maybe the most obvious and perhaps the worst offenders of all:

    Do they not mock every gun-related-death with their cute, colourful, soft fun?

    It may sound like I’m reaching here, but genuinely: what about toy guns trivializing the horrors of war?

  83. I like the Ryans’ soft sculptures. I don’t think they trivialize 9/11. In fact, I think it’s … something short of perfectly insightful … to even suggest that they could. 9/11 was a great big grim event. These are cute little felt stuffies.

    The seriousness of 9/11 has survived the tidal wave of tacky, pseudopatriotic crap we’ve had shoved in our faces for the last seven years. It’s even survived having Georgie-boy use it as his own personal ad campaign. It’s still the same event it ever was. The stuffies aren’t going to change that either.

    You remember how it was the day of the attacks, when the news media were playing the same bits of footage over and over and over? I managed to avoid watching until our friend Ellie arrived to take refuge with us, and we had to put on the news to see whether her apartment building had collapsed. Then I got to see it too: planes hit towers, boom; towers fall down, crash.

    We’ve all seen those same bits of footage so many times that we can’t really see them. What the Ryans’ stuffies do for me is get around that implacable knot of memory and remember what it was like to see the footage for the first time. The one on the right is the simple dismay: “Oh, no! A plane has flown into the World Trade Center! What a terrible accident!”

    The unwell-looking stuffy on the left is that first sick apprehensive feeling when you start to get a gut sense that this is going to be bad, but you don’t yet know what form it will take. I hadn’t remembered either of those details in a long time. The stuffies brought them back for me.


    J. Fields @73 is about to be unfairly made to stand in for a number of people who’ve commented in this thread:

    As somebody who witnessed the events of that day first hand I can say I’m truly disgusted by these.

    As someone who witnessed some of the events of the day first-hand, I am bloody tired of being told by out-of-towners that this or that 9/11-related thing is insufficiently respectful.

    Who are any of you to dictate how others deal with the events of 9/11? For that matter, who are any of you to tell others that their reactions aren’t heartfelt, or respectful, or morally serious?

    So far, my least favorite instance was a jaw-droppingly self-important woman who was terribly offended that people referred to the events by saying “9/11” or “on the day.” Short, easy-to-say terms are disrespectful! It must always be referred to as “The Attack on America.”

    (That’s one way to spot an out-of-towner: they only talk about 9/11 in terms of the televised events. When you and a friend are trying to sort out all the temporary changes in subway routes while stuff is being repaired, having to constantly refer to the point at which things changed as “The Attack on America” would get real old.)

    What’s been bringing that woman to mind has been StevieQ, with her New York Post-style cliches, her insistance that Some Things Are Just Too Awful to Think About, and her dismissal of everyone else’s take on this art. They’re just wrong! The art is what she says, and means what she says, and that’s that.

    Mark’s point about Maus should have given her pause, because Maus is an unquestionably serious work of art which turns the Holocaust into a story of anthropomorphic cartoon animals; but it didn’t slow Stevie down for a second. She’s not much of a listener.

    I was actually astonished for a moment when she dragged in both Hiroshima, and My Friend’s Parents Were In Dachau, with an air of “There, that proves it.” Proves what — that Some Things Are Just Too Awful To Think About? I don’t think so.

    I don’t live in Stevie’s symbol. I live in New York City. The 9/11 attacks on NYC were a real disaster that happened to real people in a real place. The towers weren’t an Unforgettable Symbol of American Liberty; they were the World Trade Center, a highrise office complex that looked like the boxes the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building came in. My daily commute passed directly under it. Friends of mine lived and worked around there. The WTC Concourse was one of our standard shortcuts.

    There were tragic events on 9/11, but that doesn’t make all of 9/11 a dramatic tragedy with a single narrative, unless you’re talking about the version you get from television and upscale commemorative tchotchkes. Let’s just say I reject that view.

    In my world, 9/11 was an eventful day full of human beings doing things they had to, things they wanted to, and things they could. My friend Xopher was late for work. A plane flew into the North Tower. The door to the fire escape was jammed in Michael Weholt’s office. Another plane hit the South Tower. I stood on my roof in shock and watched them burning. A shoe store owner in the Financial District handed out free running shoes to all the women who’d evacuated their offices in their high-heeled office shoes. Over in Queens, Bill Shunn cobbled together a web page where people could report that they’d gotten out, and add a line of text. He imagined the New York SF community would find it useful. The South Tower collapsed into its own footprint like a card-trick waterfall, coming down at close to terminal velocity with such violence that its contents were largely reduced to dust. Ellie Lang’s neighbor grabbed her and pulled her into a roofed passageway so none of the big stuff fell on her. In the remaining tower, the FDNY’s personal radios couldn’t pick up the message to get out. Ellie, caked with dust, having nothing but her jogging outfit and house key, caught a ferry to Staten Island. The North Tower fell. It was just short of 10:30 a.m., and there was a lot of day left to go.

    Don’t tell me how I’m supposed to feel about 9/11. Don’t tell me what art is and isn’t an acceptable way to express it. That’s my call.

    Here’s another view of 9/11 I reject: that it was, as one complaining reader said to me in e-mail, “one of the greatest tragedies of our times.”

    The world would be a nicer place if all the tragedies of our time were to that scale. They aren’t. Many of them are quite a bit larger, nastier, and more devastating. The two main things that distinguish 9/11 were: (1.) it happened in a famous location; and (2.) it happened in a country where many of the citizens had come to believe that such things couldn’t happen to them.

    Instead of absorbing this useful new piece of information, many of them have remained furiously resentful and in major denial about the events that proved them wrong. What you have to understand about their view is that what makes 9/11 so uniquely tragic and important is that it scared the bejesus out of them.

    (I love my country dearly, but as nations go, it’s a chronic drama queen.)

    This may help explain some of the otherwise bizarre reactions some post-9/11 art has attracted. There’s a lot of post-9/11 art, most of it heartfelt, some of it seriously weird: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19. Very little of it, including the seriously weird stuff, has provoked the kind of reaction we’ve seen to these stuffies. The stuff that does get a strongly negative response tends to do one of the following:

    1. Discusses 9/11 in terms of the political context in which it happened, or its political aftermath and the uses to which it was put.

    2. Points out that we’re still susceptible to terrorism.

    3. “Fails to acknowledge the yearning to return to pre-9/11 conditions,” as one critic explicitly put it.

    4. Suggests that 9/11 was not OMG teh most important event of our times evah. Or, as StevieQ. put it, “This was the death of thousands.”

    As I’m putting it, let’s limit this comparison to plain old disasters, and only look at ones that have happened in the 21st Century:

    3,000: 9/11/2004: deaths in all related incidents.
    3,000+: Hurricane Jeanne, Haiti, 2004.
    26,000: Earthquake: Bam, Iran, 2003.
    30,000: Heatwave: est. deaths in Europe, 2003.
    74,500: Kashmir earthquake, est. deaths in India and Pakistan, 2005.
    69,227 dead, 17,923 missing, 374,643 injured: Sichuan earthquake, 2008.
    134,000 dead or missing, 250,000,000 homeless: Cyclone Nargis, Myanmar, 2008.
    230,000 Sumatra/Indian Ocean tsunami, est. deaths, 2004.

    (Note: deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina were probably in the 2,000 range, so we’ll have to score those on quality rather than quantity.)

    If I honestly love my country, I should love what it is, not some Barbie’s Dreamhouse version of it. And if I respect the seriousness of the events of 9/11/2001, I should do the same.

    “And though the newspapers called the shooting the Crime of the Century, Emma Goldman knew it was only 1906, and there were ninety-four years to go.”

    — E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime

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