Flight 93: Finding the pony in the rubble of 911

I must have read 20 reviews of Flight 93 over the past three or four days. Absolutely none jumped out at me like this splendid article by Ron Rosenbaum, explaining how United flight 93 gave us all the “redemptive uplift” for which we thirst whenever confronted with inexplicable evil.

Redemptive uplift: It’s the official religion of the media, anyway. There must be a silver lining; it’s always darkest before the dawn; the human spirit will triumph over evil; there must be a pony.

That’s always been the subtextual spiritual narrative of media catastrophe coverage: terrible human tragedy, but something good always can be found in it to affirm faith and hope and make us feel better. Plucky, ordinary human beings find a way to rise above the disaster. Man must prevail. The human spirit is resilient, unconquerable. Did I mention there must be a pony?

9/11 is no different. Flight 93 has become 9/11’s pony. The conjectural response to the hijacking has become (even more than the courage of the rescuers in the rubble) the redemptive fable we cling to, the fragment we shore against our ruin. Or so it is as envisioned in The Flight That Fought Back and Flight 93 and now United 93. A film in which, we are told by its production notes, we see “the courage that was born from … the crucible” of 9/11. A story of “something much larger than the event itself,” Greengrass tells us, a story in which “we … find wisdom.” One almost hears the subtext: This is “the feel-good film about 9/11.”

Read it all. His strongest point, I think, is that we’ve intoxicated ourslves with the flight 93 fable in a manner that is self-deceptive: there is no pony. A few sick thugs with box cutters brought America to its knees that day, and five years later we are still reeling. The sickening act led us into a messy global war we cannot win, wrecked our economy and sent us into the deepest and longest-lasting funk since the Carter days. There were no victories, no happy endings, no pony. Celebrate the act of heroism and remember it; it really was Americans at their best. But, as Rosenbaum says, there was no cause for optimism: “No one wants to admit it, but no Flight 93 fable of heroism can mask the fact that we now live in a world we are utterly unprepared for, a world out of control.” Again, read the whole article. Even if you don’t agree, it’ll set you thinking.

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