Iphigen Sloe | February 2, 2004
Since the destruction of the Twin Towers, what were once symbols of strength have somehow continued to be symbols of strength, and furthermore have, paradoxically, become symbols of a greater strength than the old.
And I do not mean this in any Washington-rhetoric sort of way (for that is a given) but instead in the form of new cultural myths that have, so far, gone unnoticed by the criteria of what constitutes 'political news' or even '911 remembrance discourse'. I am referring to something so unnewsworthy, public, and lowly as small town sports, trivial high school basketball games - zones of culture traditionally ommitted from the always-too-narrow ambit of what could even be considered for possible "news" investigations.
Last year, when I was passing through Nebraska, I read in a small town paper of two girls on the local high school basketball team who had been nicknamed the Twin Towers. Whereever I was at the time - I cannot remember the name - the town was as far and different from New York as from Kabul; and was therefore caught in a quiet struggle to find a more intimate relationship with the two towers that fell, though perhaps only in order to avenge a conjured enemy that was just as alien as its alleged victim.
Indeed, two towers fell - well, two images of towers fell - in more living living rooms across the country than homes with running water, and every night for months. The manufactured devotion to these symbols, rather than to, say, the people in them, was not, I would soon learn, restricted to the site of my first discovery. All across the country high school and college sports teams had simultaneously and yet independently named two of their own the Twin Towers in what would be a spoken ritual of rememberance, a sort of linguistic robbing of the dead.
And yet it would be impossible to construct a causal relation between any given policy speech and the perhaps geometrically-uniform reaction of sports lexicons to current political events, two regions of cultural language one might think seperable or only incidentally related. But so powerful was 911 that everywhere something more powerful than mere politics has garnered public mythologies from the bottom-up with an unmentioned and unnoticed web of connections. The hand of Bush does not iconically float behind these scenes, however much such a centralized depiction of power would comfort those analysts in utter resistance to it.
The Baruch College Intercollegiate Athletics newsletter recently sloganned Sime Marnika's and Gary Etienne's unstoppable power on the court in terms of death, in an article titled "The Queens Twin Towers". It is important to note that while pre-911 occurrences of the Twin Towers as nicknames were somewhat innocent of contemporary American fascinations with (and drives for) death, this is no longer the case.
This last August, the Miami Herald ran in its Broward High Schools sports section an article (titled "Twin Towers") on the self-named Broward Twin Towers made not of steel and iron but of Octavius Darby and John Dunlap. When asked how they imagined so fitting a name for their duo of death, one half replied:
"One day we were sitting around watching film and we just came up with it," said Dunlap, who led the Lions with 355 yards receiving last season. "We're both big and physical, and we line up next to each other the whole game. When I see him make a play, I get real pumped up and jump into the play as well. We both do that. We read what we're doing and just play."
The examples are endless, and I therefore encourage the faithless to comb Google's endless list of 911's strange intersections with sports lexicons. Notre Dame's volleyball team has reincarnated the towers, and so have Cori Doubek and Shari Buxa of the Anamoose-Drake girls basketball team in Minot, North Dakota. What is clear is the photogenic form each pair of Towers is appropriated to. In a bizarre invokation of two objects quite thoroughly destroyed, low angles (for the illusion of looming-ness) and positions of paired equivalence overtly visually make the named into the two towers they verbally signify, thus conjuring up a strange visual dirge for a former and lost purity, this pattern being nothing short of a formal tendency for each allegedly-independent photographer who is always, remember, wholly uninformed and yet, miraculously, consistent across disparate cases they know nothing about.
If this were a murder, the detective would be astounded. Where is the central and common agent? And when it cannot be found: How subliminal is this power? What unconscious, but constant, emissions ripple across all of culture, producing like effects while yet always at the tip of some hidden, all-expansive wand? I would, here, sigh and attribute it all to something so vague as "mass media effect", or, as the wonderfully unaware John Dunlap would have it - it is in the common denominator of the TV beam. Whatever it is, no media institution is investigating it or anything else that happens to fall beyond the traditional parameters of newsworthy political effects on culture. And yet, it more than seems, it is always just beyond the curtains of the old media's eyes that transformations of the public sphere most obviously and effectively occur; and only now are there new media watching.