The news release spoke boldly: "In view of the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, this is the time for Corporate America and all government agencies to enhance the safety and security of the nation's high profile buildings." Not exactly a revelation. It didn't take another sentence to underline the company's intent. "Windows and doors are normally the weakest static construction elements in a building," continued the release, "and are therefore the first to fail during violent activities and brute forces of nature. . . . Your property needs protection!"
The next few hundred words explained how my readers could choose a security level—and color—of windows to provide that security—"from burglarproof to hurricane resistant and ultimately bullet and blast resistant."
Thousands of businesses, like the window company, obtrusively used the tragedy to sell their product.
One investment company told me that if I followed world events, "you probably know that the prices of commodities and stocks reflect international politics and tensions!" It explained that as the "U.S. prepares its response, tensions could escalate even further in the Middle East. This could have a DRAMATIC IMPACT on the supply of oil and gas therefore increasing worldwide prices. If this happens, oil and gas companies and THEIR SHAREHOLDERS could be poised to MAKE MONEY from any price increases." To make money from the tragedy, I just had to contact this company to learn which "undervalued" stocks I should buy.
A writer offered newspaper editors about 400 words detailing Osama bin Laden's aura, hoping to lure them into buying her weekly column, "Ask Your Aura," identified as "the personal pull of an advice column, the celebrity appeal of a gossip column, the mystery of astrology." Not surprisingly, she determined that not only is "love, compassion, and spiritual joy [in bin Laden's] heart chakra ... about as big as a donut hole," but that this spirituality is "connected to a preference for evil."
Most corporate America had pulled all advertising from the TV networks and national news magazines for up to a week following the tragedy while they re-evaluated their campaigns. When they returned, they had draped themselves into red-white-and-blue bunting, and told us it's patriotic to spend money in a lagging economy.
A fairly large publicity firm, targeting book authors, ran a small American flag next to its logo, and told us the company "continues to offer our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to those touched by the events," that it salutes "the heroism of those who continue to work tirelessly in rescue and relief efforts," and will continue to work with the media "to provide our clients with the optimum level of exposure." In case we didn't understand the last sentence, it told us the time to pull back on advertising and promotion isn't now because "our experience has shown us that events like this, although very saddening, create unique opportunities that might not have presented themselves before." To take advantage of this "unique" opportunity, the company even developed a program that for only $750–$3,000 would target the media with our message.
One-shot magazines, full of color pictures, began coming off rotary presses within hours after the towers collapsed. Books about the tragedy are being rushed to press; almost any book that has even the remotest tie-in is being hawked. Fueled by internet rumor that 16th century French physician-clairvoyant Nostradamus predicted such a tragedy, thousands of Americans have flocked to bookstores and on-line companies to buy copies of his books, edited by others. One book, with a Sept. 27 publication date, is well within the top 100 titles on Amazon.com.
On thousands of fiberglass and plastic highway signs, words of hope trumpet words of advertising. Below "God Bless America," we see "Chili Fries, $1.49." Below "United We Stand," we're told "special prices on carpets."
During the 1960s, war protestors who wore clothes with the American flag design were beaten by "patriots"; now the fabric of America is patriots wearing just-manufactured high-priced T-shirts, pants, and bandannas, all with images of American flags and slogans.
A flyer I received at home combined the flag, a patriotic call, a message of sympathy—and my inviolate right to buy sofas on sale. General Motors, trying to sell cars, declared "in this time of terrible adversity, let's stand together. And let's keep America rolling."
A laser eye surgical conglomerate tried to convince us getting clearer vision was somehow patriotic. Its newspaper images were of an exhausted firefighter, and of someone it claimed to be an FBI agent who praised the company's health plan for federal employees.
A Cleveland mayoral candidate ran TV ads, declaring "If tragedy strikes, who could lead?" On the screen were still photos of the towers and a woman holding a flag.
Perhaps these patriotic businesses all mean well. Perhaps they are saddened by the tragedy, and want to let us know they care about the victims and our country. Perhaps, we can hope they have been tortured by the magnitude of evil and the shards of the American fragment that will haunt us for a generation that they will realize the best way to celebrate the American spirit is to treat their own workers better, and to absorb a smaller profit this year rather than to lay off workers. But as long as businesses try to mix sentiment and hard sell, there's no question our traditional red-and-green Christmas season will be lathered in a red-white-and-blue jingoism of fourth quarter crocodile tears pouring over a cash register patriotism.
As a young reporter in Iowa, Walter Brasch covered everything from fairs to politics to rock concerts. His current book is Before the First Snow, a powerful look at how the collusion of Big Government and Big Business can destroy civil liberties and lead to environmental destruction and health issues.