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Jewish World Review Jan. 15, 2002 / 2 Shevat, 5762

Bob Greene

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Well, America has gotten its voice back


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- FREE SPEECH in this country extends all the way to the president, so he had every right to say what he said. Although you would hope no speechwriter was involved, or that speechwriter might be looking for work.

The only person with the temerity to criticize the president for what he said would seem to be his mother -- and there is no indication of whether Barbara Bush did, in fact, advise her older son to think twice next time when choosing his words.

The words, delivered in California, were these:

"Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes!"

President Bush was referring to the Democrats in Congress. By his next stop, he had dropped the "not over my dead body" reference -- he still was defiant toward the Democrats, but his verbiage was not so morbid.

A case can be made -- and probably should be made -- that we are still way too close to Sept. 11 for anyone to be talking lightly about a president's dead body, even if it's the president himself. It just rings sort of . . .

Well, you know. There are alternate ways to make a point. Dead-body talk, in the political arena, ought to be retired, or at least put on a very long vacation.

On the other hand, jarring discourse in the U.S. seems to have made a remarkably robust bounce-back in the four months since the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. You would think people would have watched their mouths for a good, long time out of basic respect, or at least the pretense of it. But . . .

Soon after Sept. 11, I started making a list of some of the phrases that were being uttered publicly. Either the utterers were completely oblivious to what the nation had just been through . . . or they thought that what they were saying was just fine. I won't judge. I'll leave it up to you.

- A basketball announcer, referring during a televised game to a center and a forward on a team, admiringly called them "the Twin Towers." I assumed he would catch himself as soon as the words left his mouth, or a producer would send a warning into his ear. But several minutes later, there it was again, in gee-whiz tones -- he praised "the Twin Towers" of the squad.

- Also during a broadcast of a sporting event, a play-by-play man enthusiastically described the rough play between the participants as "a knife fight."

- A commercial for a telephone company, affecting a patriotic tone, described the United States as "a country with freedom of everything but phone service." (No, this was not the language of violence -- it was just weird, in our current times.)

- A sportswriter, covering a football game, described a loss as being "cataclysmic."

- Another account of a college sports event praised one of the teams for "coming back from the dead."

Now . . . none of this is the end of civilization. It's the way people expressed themselves before the planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing those thousands of innocent people, and it will be the way people talk after the slaughter. It's just worth noting that it didn't take long for the world to revert to its old ways.

This probably does not bode well for those predictions about how the culture of death and destruction will soon be gone in the entertainment industry -- how in our new, gentle society, killings and bloodshed will no longer be sold as cheap entertainment. Just a guess here -- but I would venture that we are only weeks, if not days, away from machine guns and pyrotechnics reclaiming the nation's movie screens.

Do you recall the town of Littleport, Iowa? The tiny town that had fallen on hard economic times, and that, in the weeks just before Sept. 11, was offering to sell itself to Hollywood so it could be blown up?

Right after Sept. 11, the citizens of Littleport were worrying that they had missed their moment -- that in the quiet and placid new America, Hollywood would no longer even think of blasting a town to smithereens for mindless amusement.

Maybe they ought to put their "for sale" sign back up. Moods tend to shift. Four months have passed. Littleport -- genuinely sorry to say this -- may make a lovely fire after all.



JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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