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Politics and Economy:
John Ridley on Selling 9/11

Post September 11 - there was a host of people willing and ready to drop science on how best to get back to a semblance of life as we know it.

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John Ridley
John Ridley
on Selling September 11

But for me, the finger pointing the way to normalcy came from a TV commercial that's copy read: "The American dream. We refuse to let anyone take it away. So GM announces interest-free financing on every new car and every new truck." And with that bit of righteous sloganeering, I knew big business had America back on the road to Wellville.

In lesser hands, the ad might have Hear the Audio from NPR come off as the work of a morally bankrupt big corporation trying to reduce the greatest single day of tragedy in the history of this country to a cheap sales pitch. But the genius is in the ad's subtle psychology. By trivializing the terror attacks, General Motors actually helps us realize how insignificant they were compared to the business of selling cars. By marrying the tragedies with low interest financing, they remind us that if we all don't go out and buy a new Pontiac Aztec we're just letting them win.

Following the GM ad, Miller Brewing ran a spot featuring actual hand written signs from across America expressing sympathy for the attack's victims. This deeply moving tribute ended with a big fat Miller logo as if to say: there's no better way to salute these heroes than by poppin' a cold one. Other companies and organizations -- Southwest Airlines, Anheuser-Busch, The United Auto Workers -- all made donations to various relief organizations, then promptly ran ads to make sure we all know what a bunch of Samaritans they are. Doing good might be it's own reward ... but why take the chance?

But it's the beleaguered travel industry that's turned out to be the stormtroopers in the battle for closure through commercialism. The U.S. Travel Industry Association is running ads interweaving speeches by President Bush with cruise ship employees and amusement park personnel telling us to quit crying, get off our collective duffs, get out there and have some fun. It might be demeaning for some to have the most powerful man shilling between ads for burger joints and adult diapers. But the same as it's the duty of reluctant generals to wage war regardless of the human toll, it's the unpleasant chore of corporate suits and Madison Ave flaks to have to persuade us that, in times of crisis, it's always darkest before the dawn. And beyond every tragedy, there's a reeeally good deal to be had.

Tell us what you think.

September 11 Then and Now

Steven Brill on his book AFTER

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