The Happiness Police
By Brian W. Fairbanks
In 1981’s Superman II, Clark Kent, having revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane, gives her a magic kiss that wipes away all memories of her romance with his altar ego, Superman. It is meant to spare Lois the heartbreak of working side by side with the Man of Steel whose love no mortal can ever fully claim.
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the movie industry is attempting to spread a similar amnesia to audiences. Several films set in New York have been edited to remove any glimpse of the World Trade Center.
The advance posters for the upcoming Spiderman, which feature the twin towers, were recalled and destroyed, and video store clerks are alerting customers to titles in which this monument to commerce is featured (1976’s remake of King Kong, for instance). These actions are meant to spare audiences the heartbreak of remembering that more than 1000 people were murdered and a famous New York landmark destroyed on September 11, 2001.
But why would we want to forget?
Author Gore Vidal has called America “the United States of Amnesia,” and with good reason. Whenever unpleasantness occurs, we deliberately wipe the slate clean rather than face it head on. The co-worker who had to be “let go” disappears without a trace let alone a goodbye. The beloved pet that passes on is immediately replaced with a substitute. It's as if sadness must be conquered as immediately as possible. It’s an optimistic approach to life, but also a shallow one that emphasizes happiness at any cost.
We all experience depression from time to time, as well we should. Whether it is a tragedy on the scale of 9-11 or a more personal loss, life is a mix of joy and sorrow. But the expression of sadness is the last unbroken taboo. No matter how heavy our heart, we cover our grief with a smile and restrain our tears. We put on a “happy face.” It is the Clark Kent syndrome in reverse. Instead of pretending to be meek and mild to hide our strength, we pretend to be strong to conceal our weakness. This is especially true in America, particularly for men whose role models remain the strong silent types personified by Gary Cooper and Clint Eastwood. Should we let our masks fall for even a second, the “happy, smiley people” will be on our case, admonishing us to “cheer up” or “snap out of it.”
One of the inalienable rights given to Americans by the Declaration of Independence is the “pursuit of happiness,” but these days it seems that happiness is a requirement, as essential to patriotism as waving the flag.
It is all a part of the success at any cost mentality that has permeated the United States for most of the past decade. With an economy described as “overheated” less than a year ago, the “land of the free and the home of the brave” became the home of smugness and greed. Acquiring wealth was only the beginning. The fun part was flaunting it.
In a society like that, it is best to just forget that the World Trade Center ever existed. If it never existed, it was never destroyed, and thousands of people were never murdered. If we think otherwise, we might be depressed, and depressed people do not have the energy and the killer instinct that capitalism requires. And like it or not, the green has always mattered more in America than the red, white, and blue.
So now Hollywood is tinkering with history to wipe away our tears. Unfortunately, it is having the opposite effect. We know the WTC was a prominent part of the New York City skyline. Having it suddenly disappear from films made before the tragedy only brings the infamous day of its destruction back into focus. Sometimes the editing being done is so sloppy that it makes the filmmakers look insensitive. In Zoolander, the WTC is briefly glimpsed one second, and then magically gone the next.
Hollywood may have our best interests at heart, but its current activities in the editing room are an act of denial. The World Trade Center exists now only on film. Let it remain there. To eliminate it is to demolish it twice.
© 2001 Brian W. Fairbanks
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