Remember to Laugh
Breaking the Silnece, Facing the Tragedy

I’m not usually the silent type.

Ordinarily, as anyone who knows me can attest, I have an opinion about virtually everything, and am willing to make said opinion known. Ask me about the time I spouted off my generally negative feelings on rugby and violent sports in general at my friend’s father’s wake. His best friend, you see, just happened to be the captain of his school rugby team, and also happened to be listening intently to my tirade, perhaps waiting for the right moment to ask me outside and smack the shit out of me.

On second thought, don’t ask me about that.

But the point is clear: I’m a loudmouth with a million opinions. Give me a forum, like a weekly column that goes out to all and sundry, and I’m a happy boy. Since the tragic events of September 11, though, I’ve been strangely silent about my feelings on the matter. Unlike just about every web writer I admire, I’ve kept my thoughts on the issue to myself.

There are a number of reasons for this.

The first is that nothing I could say would do any good. Trying to make rational sense of something this absurd is like trying to extinguish a bonfire with a squirt gun. The second is that my words, useful as they are to me, pale in comparison to the words of the survivors, or the family members, or the rescue workers. In the face of those testimonies, nothing I can say would hold a candle. I can’t change the world. I’ve been privately concentrating on my corner of it, away from this column.

Luckily for me, I’m not expected to have anything to say. No one’s been clamoring for the insights of the obnoxious music critic from Indiana. However, it’s been quite interesting to observe the reactions of those entertainers who couldn’t ignore the tragedy. Leno and Letterman, for example, have gone solemn, and rightfully so. Their first shows after the attacks were models of professionalism and respect. Saturday Night Live even shied away from the ongoing national crisis, marking the first time to my knowledge that they’ve ever done so.

For some, though, ignoring the tragedy was impossible. To wit: two of my favorite weekly entertainments have taken the issue head-on, and both have proven in their own small ways that it’s okay to laugh, to tackle the issue with humor and intelligence and respect and still produce works of the same quality to which their audiences are accustomed. In fact, I would argue that the quality has risen greatly, in no small part because of the courage these pieces took.

If The Onion isn’t part of your weekly routine, well, it should be. It’s the finest satirical publication on the planet, making short work of the issues of our time with biting wit and stinging pathos. Their misfires are greatly outnumbered by their direct hits, and they excel at putting a fresh spin on controversial news issues. No issue of The Onion has been as daring or as spot-on as last week’s, devoted entirely to the attack on America.

The writers took stock of the national mood and captured it perfectly. Most moving was their piece on a local woman who, desperate for some way to help, baked a cake in the shape of an American flag. You can complain all you want to about the recent outpouring of patriotism (and in fact I have heard several such complaints), but this piece deftly defuses those compliments with emotional directness.

Most effective, however, is the piece entitled “God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule.” Describing a press conference given by God in front of the Twin Towers wreckage, this stunningly worded article gives the last word on killing in His name, and how He really feels about it. It, and the rest of last week’s issue, may be this little site’s finest hour.

One week before his season actually premieres, my hero Aaron Sorkin checked in this week with perhaps the best episode of The West Wing I’ve ever experienced. Titled “Isaac and Ishmael,” it details a few hours under security alert in the White House. While Leo McGarry interrogates an Arab member of the White House staff, the rest of the cast speaks to a group of students touring the nation’s capital. They answer tough questions about terrorism and our national security with the honesty and wit for which this show is known.

The best part about this episode is that it was hilarious. It made its points extremely well, and even showed all sides of the issue fairly, but never at the expense of characters and moments. You believe the sentiments expressed because you believe in the people expressing them. Even when the characters are espousing beliefs that Sorkin clearly doesn’t share, the script never slights their convictions. To be fair, this show has never done anything less. It’s the best-written program on TV, bar none.

If Sorkin’s sympathies lie anywhere in this episode, though, they’re with Josh Lyman, the character played by the wonderful Bradley Whitford. Near the end, he says something that encapsulates the America we all wish, hope and pray for. “If you really want to kill the terrorists where they live,” he advises, “keep accepting more than one idea. It drives them nuts.”

That’s the America I want to live in, especially post-tragedy: one that continues to accept a multitude of ideas and thoughts. At another point in the show, Rob Lowe’s Sam Seborn muses that the most striking thing about terrorism is its 100% failure rate. Terrorists never succeed in destroying what they set out to destroy, and in fact, they only make it stronger. As long as we as a nation continue to accept all points of view as valid and necessary, well, the terrorists’ losing streak will continue.

Next week, the new Garbage album. Be well, and remember to laugh.

See you in line Tuesday morning.