Capitalizing on September 11

BY HAROLD ROGERS

I love the Super Bowl, especially when the home team is playing and the game isn’t a blowout. Mix that with the fact that U2 is my favorite band, and I could have had, perhaps, the greatest day of my life on Sunday. But it was partially spoiled when U2 performed at halftime while listing all the names of those who died on 9/11. Although I attended their show in Providence, where they used the same scrolling screen while performing, and commented in the RECORD on the power of the Dublin boys in singing about terrorism, the combination of the biggest commercial money-maker of the year and the highest grossing band this century left a bad taste in my mouth. It was much like John Lennon’s interview during the Super Bowl, so many years ago, where he espoused his social ideals from capitalism’s annual capital.

In the five months that have passed since arguably the single greatest tragedy in American history, I have become gradually more cynical because of the cold cash the event raised for America’s big business. An article in The New York Times on February 2 listed several ways big business was capitalizing on 9/11 to make millions. Such capitalization seems to happen under two auspices: Business executives reason that: 1) these campaigns raise money for victims or 2) the best way to respond to this tragedy is to restart the economy.

In the first case, money raised from commercial sales rarely reaches the victims. This is exemplified by Steve Madden’s campaign to sell American flag sneakers for $49.95, where profits were supposed to go to a New York charity. Still, nothing has gone to any organization, and the company only pledged ten percent of profits after being pressured to do so (as reported in The New York Times). Or how about the book Brotherhood, which states on its cover that all profits were to go to charity, when in fact only about one-eighth of the profits will go to any fund? Then there’s Sony’s CD “God Bless America,” which pledges profits to charity but has yet to cut a check and has no written contract or even oral agreement with any organization. Here, the reference to charity was done without notifying the specific fund named and with a deceptive decree as to how much money they would receive. Already, non-charitable profits off 9/11 have reached over $100 million, The New York Times stated.

Considering the second rationale, I am reminded of a sign I saw in New York over the holidays. As we drove down Seventh Avenue, we saw signs that read: “Support America, go to a show;” “Fight back, go shopping;” and finally, “Help America, spend money.” The pleas became less and less subtle – the way to fix America is to spend. Although I agree that a way to combat the terrorist attacks is to get the economy going, I still have to wonder at the audacity of those who use unity in to turn the best profits of their lives.

Perhaps it is not the specific rationale used for such profiteering that is so distasteful, but the manipulation of our country’s new found patriotism and fallen citizens to make a profit. The Super Bowl was a reminder of how low business will stoop to fill its wallet. The patriotic overtones were not done with a pretense to any charity or economic rebuilding; they were simply used because they sell. Those with a financial stake in Sunday’s contest knew that patriotism sells right now. Much as they sell us sex and violence, Sunday they sold us America. From Paul McCartney’s maudlin new song, “Freedom,” to the over emotional quoting of Abraham Lincoln by ex-presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton, and Nancy Reagan in the pre-game show: Everyone made a buck off a quick tearjerker.

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