This past Saturday, while I was browsing around the Atlantic Highlands Flea Market, I noticed a vendor selling a very unique type of artwork. As I went closer, I realized they were pieces of driftwood with pictures painted on them. “Okay, that’s pretty cool,” I thought to myself, until I saw the sign, which read, “Hurricane Sandy Driftwood”. I was dumbfounded at what I actually read. There was then a little description below it, which said something along the lines of, “Pictures painted on driftwood washed up by the waters of Hurricane Sandy”. This angered me so much, that I just walked away immediately, because if I stood there any longer, and the person selling them came over to me wanting to start up conversation and push his work, I might have hit him. It was just this past November that I found myself about two miles from that very location, riding in the back of a friend’s SUV into the restricted zone of Highlands, to distribute food and supplies to storm victims in need of help. I watched people rummaging through the rubble that used to be their house, in a war zone-like setting that could have been the backdrop set of a movie about a nuclear holocaust. While my house was unharmed in Hazlet, there were many friends and families at the school I work at who were affected—deeply affected. I think the storm hit us all one way or another, physically or mentally. Day after day I joined volunteer groups from that school and a nearby church as we helped people try to get their lives back together, in the simplest, most basic ways possible. It was very hard to fight back tears on some occasions because these people lost everything. And now here was a man trying to profit off the devastation? This is nothing new, really, but it just rubbed me the wrong way, especially since he was doing this in a community that was in the center of it all.
How can one have the audacity to take a piece of naturally formed wood, which could have come from anywhere, and label it “Hurricane Sandy Driftwood”? How can someone attempt to make money in this way, as if he is offering you a cool souvenir or a piece of history? And where did he get this wood, off the beach like anyone else, or did he go searching through leveled houses and pull a few pieces out so he could have a real relic? There was no indication anywhere that any money made would be going to charity. If it was, then I would not have a problem with it, but this money is going right into his own pocket. The fact that he decided to paint it does not hide the fact that this is yet another exploitation of a devastating catastrophe. As bad as this is, though, nothing will ever eclipse the money we make off of the September 11th attacks.
As we near yet another anniversary, it seems the buzz is a little bit lower this year. There have not been as many advertisements for television specials, nor have I seen any of those hideously offensive “9/11 coin” commercials, where you can own your very own coin struck from other coins found buried in the ashes next to the remains of hundreds of bodies. Such an exciting little trinket, no? My favorite means of exploitation was from two years ago, when a company marketed their own brand of 9/11 memorial wine, which sold for $19.11, and of which 10% of the proceeds (wow, big help!) went to charity. This was the one that crossed the line, because I find it incredible that someone decided to market this tragedy on a food or beverage product. It was only to make money, no doubt, and exploit the situation further. At least if they priced each bottle at $9.11, which actually makes sense, then maybe we would have believed them. The thought of sitting down to a nice dinner and cracking open a bottle of something with this brand is sickening, but is it really surprising given the way this country thrives off of human suffering? I feel there are people out there who look forward to such anniversaries, saying to themselves, “Gee, I wonder how we can make a buck this year?”
But rest assured, the ultimate money-maker is on its way shortly: the 9/11 museum, located at the memorial near Ground Zero. This museum, which will open next year, could have been one of those “Free Admission, but Donations are Welcome” places (and they still would have raked it in, believe me), but instead, just like everything else in overpriced New York City, they are going to charge a hefty $20-25 a person (the exact price has not yet been decided). This means that a family of four who wants to learn more about this tragedy, and maybe pay tribute, will be doing so quite literally, with this nice afternoon of family fun coming in at $100. Does it bother anyone else that such exorbitant amounts of money are going to be made at a place that could qualify as a cemetery? A place where buildings full of innocent civilians were brought down, with thousands of lives torn apart forever, is going to be the site of this grand money-making scheme? What bothers me is that this will be a success, because people will not say no. They will go through the turnstiles like sheep, thinking they are being patriotic by forking over a large chunk of money to see things they could have seen for free before the tragedy.
And while I am on this subject, shall I give my thoughts on the Freedom Tower as well? An insulting, nationalistic middle finger that sticks out of the New York City skyline as an announcement to the rest of the world that America is better than you. A tower named after the so-called “freedom”, which is growing smaller by the day, constructed on hallowed ground. A tower that serves absolutely no purpose except a fulfillment of ego. The ground on which the tower sits, as I said before, should be treated like a cemetery. It should be a place of peace and tranquility; a chance for those who want to remember to do exactly that, and yes, to be able to do it for free. No one exploits a tragedy like we do here in America. We are the pros at it. With human misery and inhumanity, man-made and otherwise, comes a chance to turn a profit. It will never change, and it is only going to get worse. I hope you’re proud, America. I hope you’re proud.