With Patriot's Day approaching, everyone knows what to expect. The day will be filled with somber reminds of September 11, 2001, including veterans marching in remote cities and towns, video footage and clips on CNN and every other news channel, quiet acknowledgements on AM news radio stations, and a variety of evening/prime-time news specials dedicated to the memory of the people who died on that day.
And as much as I understand the significance of that day in our history and participate in mourning the people lost on that day, as well as feeling a sense of loss and sadness regarding the attacks and their aftermath, what routinely gets to me is not that a good friend has his birthday on 9/11, but the amount of Internet douchebags who continue to populate and regenerate stories of 9/11 conspiracies, suggestions that it was Israel or the US government that perpetrated these attacks, and that Osama bin Laden is a figment of someone's imagination.
I'm not sure when it occurred to me; perhaps it was when Princess Diana's death became a worldwide phenomenon that seemingly captured an entire planet and held us rapt with the details of the tragedy (and the senselessness) of her death. Or perhaps it was the immense outpouring of grief which drew throngs of people to lay flowers, candles, photos, cards and notes at the gates to Buckingham Palace in her honor. Upon hearing of her death, I was saddened, I acknowledged her death was tragic -- and I moved on. Conversely, there were people -- not her relatives, friends or family -- who wept and felt the loss over days, weeks, and even months later. As the aftermath unfolded -- trials of the paparazzi who apparently contributed to the traffic accident that claimed her life -- people rallied against the overzealous pursuit by photographers eager to get pictures of celebrities. And there are more than just a handful of people who, if asked, would swear -- to this day -- that the paparazzi murdered Princess Diana.
The point is -- in this country, and in much of the world, apparently -- we humans have this unique need to celebrate and acknowledge things, even if same are deaths or unhappy things. Of course Princess Diana's death was awful; 9/11 was also an incredibly dark day in our nation's history. Even Steve Irwin's recent death, which too was tragic, inspired so much web traffic in his native Australia that half of the sites featuring tributes to him shut down or experienced critical overloads. People, whether on the north or south side of the globe, apparently have the same need to be a part of something, whether it's a celebration -- like the wedding of Charles and Diana, or the ceremonial burial of Princess Diana. From Zimbabwe to New York to Newark, NJ, to Beerwah, Australia, people want to give a shit and have their sympathies be a part of something, apparently, bigger than them.
Which is fine. I understand how some schlub from North Dakota feels the need to fly to London to get a glimpse of Diana's coffin as it morbidly makes its way from a Church to a cemetary. I understand how Australians flocked in droves -- some of which undertaking hours of travel -- to the zoo Mr. Irwin and his family operated simply in order to place memorial items -- the aforementioned cards, letters, photos, candles and other forms of memorabilia -- at the zoo's entry gate.
Personally, I snicker in the direction of anyone who feels it is his or her responsbility to mourn a celebrity. Many of us jumped on the bandwagon after Mel Gibson made the fast-track to Whackoville, but well before that, we all knew he was shit, it was just a matter of him demonstrating it so perfectly and in such a public manner. However, the point is -- Mel Gibson, were he to simply disappear from public life with his family, never to be publicly seen nor heard from again, would be fine. He has enough money and enough residual income to never have to work another day in his life. And just because he's made himself look like a complete asshole in only an hour-long episode worthy of "Cops" in Malibu, he'll never regret saying what he said, only that he said it to the wrong people at the wrong time. He'll never change and he'll never "see the light," so why should I, or anyone else, give a shit about some asshole who, ostensibly, feels the same way about me that I do him?
What interests me more, however, is the group of people who follow these events with the same scrutiny as the above-described "professional mourners" with a decidedly different intent. Instead of mourning any and all causes, this second group dissects all aspects of these events to uncover conspiracies.
Conspiracy theorists have been in full bloom most likely since Watergate. Between the Nixon Administration cover-up of a failed burlgary and the slew of science fiction movies that was released thereafter, people began wondering what else might be happening behind the scenes. Whether it's ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or even Fletch, there's always someone quick to suggest the possibility of institutional wrongdoing, police brutality or military inappropriateness. How did President Bush defeat Al Gore? He didn't, the government switched the numbers. Why are there crop circles in Witchita? Aliens sending us coded messages. If OJ didn't do it, who did? Bruno Maglia? Perhaps some conspiracy theories are more plausible than others.
The motherlode of all conspiracy theories is that of September 11, 2001. There have been more web sites dedicated to alternate theories of who really was responsible for the attacks on 9/11 than there have been to women's boobs; well, okay, that might not be the case, but any site dedicated to 9/11 conspiracy theories would be that much better if instead it was dedicated to women's boobs.
Since that day, I've encountered a number of theories as to who was ultimately responsible for those attacks. I've heard it was the Israelis, who wanted to reinforce America's fear and distrust of militant muslims in the Middle East; I've heard it was Larry Silverstein, the developer of the World Trade Center, who wanted to collect $200 billion in insurance money; I've heard it was the North Koreans who managed to remotely control four planes with new technology and take down the towers so this technology would not be discovered; and I've heard it was the US government who wanted to invent an excuse to attack nations of Islamic descent. One of the few names who hasn't been suggested as the culprit for 9/11 was, of course, OJ Simpson. Apparently there were photos of him on the golf course around the time the attacks occurred looking for the real killers of Ron Goldman and his ex-wife, Nicole.
Why do we, as Americans and as citizens of the world, care so much about being a part of these events? Does it make us feel safer to mourn a celebrity's death or take part in the trial or public celebration -- or downfall -- of a celebrity? What is the weird fascination with people like Michael Jackson, OJ, Mel Gibson, or even Paris Hilton?
If nothing else, we have these questions to ponder this coming 9/11.
And, hopefully, answer.