“She would have been a good woman,” the Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
The line occurs near the end of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” It refers to a self-absorbed grandmother who had just been murdered (along with her son and his family) by a religiously reflective killer. Sadly, the poignant observation seems to fit many Americans’ relationship to the events of 9/11/2001.
For some weeks following that infamous date, Americans focused intently on things that matter: courage, honor, integrity, especially patriotism. An inconceivable tragedy highlighted the tenuous nature of the blessings we take for granted--family, peace, freedom--and temporarily diverted attention from the superficial, vile, or self-serving activities which preoccupy so many of us.
During that time firemen and cops replaced movie stars and pop divas as society’s most admired individuals. Anonymous heroes without Malibu mansions or drug rap sheets were honored instead of their celluloid counterparts. People were jolted into
asking serious questions: “What is really important? What is worth dying for? Why am I here?”
As months wore on, however, it became obvious that many individuals-- especially the rich and famous camera cult--were eager to reinstitute the old regime. Where, after all, would MTV be if youngsters began to idolize Todd Beamer instead of Eminem or Madonna? Where would Hollywood’s hedonism rank in a world where integrity was defined by virtue and self-sacrifice instead of doing whatever the heck you please? And how could Leno and Letterman deliver nightly monologues for audiences that weren’t tawdry and cynical?
Where would the talk-show Lilliputians be in a world where national leaders aren’t caricatured as blithering idiots who deserve nothing but contempt? And what would happen to that cohort of intellectuals whose sense of moral superiority rests solely on acts of vicious criticism--folks physically revolted by exhibitions of patriotism and profoundly depressed at the prospect of restraining their venom another day?
A world where personal virtue is taken seriously isn’t to the liking of these groups. Like the children of Israel in the book of Exodus, they long to return to the “fleshpots of Egypt”--to revel in the thoughtless security of a society where matters of life and death are reduced to vulgar punch lines in yet another South Park episode.
They wish to “get on with their lives”--to forget the truths of death, heroism, and evil and to slide back into a world of cheap sex, cheap talk, and cheap rebellion. They crave a life of comfortable celebrity devoid of nobility and moral earnestness.
As the memory of 9/11 fades, “American Idol” replaces the World Trade Center on pop-culture’s jumbotron. Too many Americans, it seems, need to be shot every day to avoid reverting to lives of brutish pettiness.