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Rather than a dark age of depression, as some shriek, 2001 could be a renaissance of spirit and culture.

Distinctly Post-9/11

After decades of relativity's ambiguous hash, absolutes are reasserting themselves. The context that frames our values and aesthetics is moving.

As far as the popular culture is concerned, the images and sounds that will have sizzle from now on are going to be those that express sentiments that are distinctly Post-9/11. The rest will be nostalgia.

It appears the concept of truth is even making a comeback. Likewise, the fog of the 20th century's situational ethics is being burned off by the heat rising from blood on the ground.

Seductive ease and amusing artifice, two important pillars of the consumer culture, seem to be losing some of their luster. Suddenly the well-to-do American middle class is seeing that its expensive ring of protection — air bags, medical plans, stock portfolios, gated communities, etc. — aren't really going to allow them to sleep any better, or live forever, after all.

The fragility of life has rarely, if ever, been so spectacularly underlined for the world's only superpower to see. After absorbing such a shockingly brutal sucker-punch, reality in the U.S. sure ain't what she used to be.

Culturewise, that has to be bad news for the backers of Reality TV shows in production. Who wants to watch a program about bogus hardships and wannabe celebrities groveling for cash prizes?

As well, you can probably say adios to the in-your-face pop music genres that have been at the forefront for what seems to be eons. Nihilistic snarlers and whiners of every dissonant stripe are only bringing news as stale as last week's bread.

Perhaps best of all, the tired cynicism at the heart of postmodernism for far too long now speaks for an age that is no more.

For the first time in 50 years, many in the Third World are feeling sorry for Americans. Thus, America ought to be doing more than just watching for enemies at its back, it should be scanning the horizon for new friends.

Our most eloquent statesmen should seize the moment and state for all who have ears to hear it: During the wind-down of the European colonial system, American businessmen profited mightily from the exploitation of the Arab people. Yes, to some extent, the Western shop-'til-you-drop lifestyle has been propped up on the back of a subjugated Third World.

There might be a billion people on the planet who have been raised to hate Americans. In the past, some of them have been willing to help or do business with terrorists. We will not lessen that number by continuing to trivialize grievances that are legitimate.

The cleanup and rebuilding in New York City and Arlington, Va., will cost billions. In contrast, it won't cost a nickel for Colin Powell to admit that our sad eyes are open to the fact that many things contributed to this stunning tragedy.

At the same time, it must be recognized by one and all that the attacks of 9/11 were made by people who hate in a way that goes beyond reason. Therefore, hope of changing the beliefs of those who planned the explosions is wasted.

We can only hope to change the people close to them; their supporters. Those people are seeing CNN's pictures of bone-numbing tragedy and uplifting heroism in New York City just as the rest of the world is. The children who might be tomorrow's terrorists are being molded today by what they see and hear.

The message those children should get is this: Regardless of the fidelity to the mission demonstrated by the terrorists of 9/11, they weren't so much patriots as they were fanatics devoted to wreaking havoc. At the end of the day, they died not as martyrs but as barbaric sociopaths; detached from all of humanity.

Painting Osama bin Laden as the ultimate terrorist has magnified his reputation in a way that doesn't help civilization's cause. Mastermind or not, this man is not a Lenin, Mussolini or Castro. A measure of debunking would help: Osama is a caper-oriented cult leader. Rather than a revolutionary, seeking to liberate the masses, bin Laden more closely resembles a squirrelly Charles Manson babbling in tongues about Bible scriptures and Beatles' songs.

Although some observers saw the 9/11 disaster as a second Pearl Harbor, at this desk it looked more like a fiendish enlargement of the blueprint for panic Manson called "Helter Skelter." The biggest difference is that bin Laden is filthy rich in a land of abject poverty, so his army of lost souls is much more lethal.

It would be interesting to see America's pundits and comedians work on deflating Osama's prestige and dignity as adroitly as they do homegrown politicians. This isn't to say bin Laden doesn't have the potential to unravel the confidence Americans have in their institutions and free society.

Fear could stampede us toward ruin. Or we could come back stronger than ever. Rather than a dark age of depression, as some shriek, 2001 could be the dawn of a renaissance of spirit and culture.

People could turn away from their bad habits to do with trivial differences. The useless Cold War distinctions between liberals and conservatives might even get less play. Perhaps racism might finally loosen its mean grip on some of our communities. We could even take Johnny Mercer's advice and "Accentuate the Positive."

Here's the truth: Refusing to be changed by events is neither patriotic nor useful. Defiant inflexibility and bluster aren't strengths. If America becomes a better nation because its people decide to make positive change their friends, those who vanished in the disaster of 9/11, will not have died in vain.

F.T. Rea is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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