As usual, I’m up late websurfing and watching cable news. Tucked neatly between the This vs. That-isms of the presidential political campaign are (of course) commercials. This one caught my eye:
For the first time ever, a legally authorized government issue silver dollar has been struck to commemorate the World Trade Center and the new Freedom Tower being erected in its place. It’s the U.S. territorial minting of the 2004 “Freedom Tower” Silver Dollar from CNMI. Most importantly, each coin has been created using .999 Pure Silver recovered from Ground Zero!
No, this is not a misprint. The silver used in each gleaming dollar coin is from Ground Zero! You see, when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001, a bank vault full of .999 Pure Silver bars was buried under hundreds of tons of debris. After months of salvage work, many of the bars were found. Now, the same silver that was reclaimed from the destruction has been used to create the magnificent 2004 “Freedom Tower” Silver Dollar.
I understand our impulses to build the Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan; in many ways, it’s the same sort of nervous creative energy that has fueled many a project borne from pain and suffering. However, to commission a coin forged from debris found at the wreckage site strikes me as an obtuse cross-pollination between ancient fetishism and the most crass capitalist enterprise. Collection by nature is compulsive behavior, and no doubt we humans collect all sorts of strange and wonderful things in our consumerist roles.
This is certainly a strange object, but it doesn’t seem particularly wonderful. I understand why people collect comic books, dolls, farm toys, stamps, first editions, blue bottles and six packs of Billy Beer; I can’t say I understand this, though, unless I try to put it in the context of “In Defense of of Talk Shows,” an essay by Barbara Ehrenreich I remember reading a few years ago.
Ehrenreich, one of this country’s most astute, best known and openly brazen socialists, argues in her 1995 Time essay that what we see playing out on Ricki Lake, Jerry Springer, et al is a daily affirmation of class warfare, where the poor, afflicted and undereducated in our society are routinely trotted out and used as negative reinforcements to middle class moralisms of reason, responsibility and self-control. In closing her essay she postulates the logical extremes of this kind of exploitation, in writing (and I’m paraphrasing here): what’s next? People picking and eating their scabs on live television?
Upon seeing the “Freedom Tower Dollar” rotating and flickering on my screen a few moments ago, I couldn’t help but think of the metaphorical scabs associated with Nine-Eleven(tm), and how our immediate (and, clearly, sustained) response to this tragedy is almost exclusively a consumptive one. In a few days we’ll again be awash in the images and sounds already seared into our minds. And once again, we’ll be reminded that the proper response is to purchase a symbol of some kind to keep those images and sounds well-implanted. Is 9/11 truly something that happened to the United States three years ago? Or is it now something relegated to simulation, replication, and constant refreshment/redeployment? If we can coin and mint horror into .999 grade pure silver, well, what does that say then about horror?