Rise of the victim-hero
spiked editor Mick Hume’s Notebook in The Times (London).
- What makes a hero today?
Why should it be considered any more heroic to die in a terrorist attack than, say, to be knocked down by a drunk driver? These questions, which have bothered me for some time, arose again this week when we visited Ground Zero in New York, where the 3,000 people who died in the attack on the twin towers are officially commemorated as ‘Heroes of 11 September 2001′. Why? They were hapless victims of terrorism, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When did dying in tragic circumstances become enough to qualify for all-American hero worship? One consequence of the rise of the victim-hero is that the families of those who died on 9/11 were treated with reverence, as heroes by proxy, in the controversy over Washington’s new Intelligence Bill. In Britain, we are used to seeing victims’ families deployed as human shields by campaigns searching for moral authority. Multiply that by about 3,000, and you have an idea of how the families of 9/11 victims are deferred to. Because the relatives backed the Intelligence Bill, anybody criticising it could be accused of insulting dead heroes. But Americans ought to be able to question the dubious notion that a law could have prevented 9/11, and oppose illiberal measures of state control, without being accused of dancing on the muddy mass grave at Ground Zero.
- ‘Terror: Why haven’t we been hit again?’ cries the rather pathetic front cover of New York magazine.
It is terrible that this of all cities should now be seen as a fearful victim, best known for 9/11. It has more energy, creativity and fighting spirit than anywhere else on earth.
New York is currently packed with Brits taking advantage of the pound’s high exchange rate. Like the dollar, however, America appears to be out of fashion in the world. Many bitter New Yorkers seem to blame the re-election of a Texan hick as President. But it is worse than that. To me, most anti-Americanism is really anti-modernism. And since the New York skyline is the symbol of the modern age, everybody from al-Qaeda to US environmentalists and disaster movie directors now seems to want to bring the city down to earth.
Revealingly, New York’s bid for the 2012 Olympics (competing with London and Paris) has just been scaled down. A proposed ‘dazzling’ network of ferries has been scrapped in favour of buses, and six distinctive high-rise buildings have disappeared from the Olympic village. A New York official explained: ‘The International Olympic Committee is very risk averse.’ When it comes to anything big and bold these days, they are not the only ones.
I love New York for the very qualities of bigness, boldness, and brashness that some seem to despise. My one complaint about ‘the city that never sleeps’ is that the refurbished Museum of Modern Art closes at 5.30pm most weekdays, and all day on Tuesday. New York encapsulates what my old friend Karl Marx praised, in The Communist Manifesto, as the ‘wonders’ of modern capitalism. He wanted to see progress by building on capitalism’ s achievements – a far cry from the likes of Ralph Nader and Michael Moore with their smaller-is-better backwardness.
- The smoke-free atmosphere of New York’s bars and restaurants is a sign of things to come over here, as no doubt are the scenes of cool Manhattanites shivering like hobos on street corners outside trendy nightspots.
My wife’s sister reports that a hospital staff Christmas party was nearly empty because most of the health workers were outside having a smoke. Americans surely know better than anybody that Prohibition does not work.
- Browsing in Heathrow airport bookshops, I was struck by the number of British media faces smiling hopefully at me from the autobiography section.
When did top journalists and broadcasters decide that they were a more interesting subject for analysis than the outside world? Judging by sales figures reported last week, the public does not seem to share their opinion. Despite huge advance payments the self-important autobiography of Jon Snow, presenter of Channel 4 News, has sold about 9,000 copies, while the me-me-me moan of Greg Dyke, former BBC Director-General, has shifted fewer than 6,000. And these people have the nerve to complain about American narcissism.
Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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