Thursday, September 11, 2008

How 9/11 Sells

September 11 changed us. Remember how, in the weeks following, as the smoke cleared, New York felt more cohesive? The whole city seemed to bind together in a warm, shared sorrow. The baker clapped your shoulder as he handed you a loaf of bread, waitresses gave you sad little smiles of recognition, strangers on the street moved tenderly around each other. It was an unexpected good feeling that could not last--and didn’t.

This feeling of connectedness soon crumbled. War began. Our streets rumbled with the noise of demolitions like aftershocks in the wake of the fallen towers. Glass high-rises began rising everywhere, as if to make up for the loss of those 220 floors. And the new buildings were stuffed with banks and stores.

The personality of this city changed as "Consume!" became New York's anxious war cry.

It has been well documented that Americans changed their consumer habits drastically after 9/11. Now, in the paper "The Sweet Escape," researchers Naomi Mandel and Dirk Smeesters take a fascinating look at why.

The authors discovered that when many people think about their own death they tend to eat, drink, and shop more. They become super-consumers. You might think people do this out of a desire for hedonistic pleasure, "I'm going to die, so I might as well live it up." But this is not what the research showed.

Instead, the study revealed the critical role of self-esteem. People with "high levels of self-esteem were less impacted by thoughts of death--and therefore less likely to increase their levels of consumption when dealing with those thoughts--than those with low self-esteem."

People with low self-esteem become ravenous consumers, instead of moderate, thrifty consumers. Such people, says Mandel, "are trying to put all of these [death] thoughts out of their minds. They want to escape from self-awareness. They don't want to confront the fact that they don't live up to cultural standards, and one way to do that is through overeating or over-consumption.”

Marketers know all about this dynamic and they use it to sell products. Just as our politicians have used 9/11 to sell themselves and their policies, stoking the fears of an insecure populace.

waiting for the iPhone

Narcissists are particularly known for their low self-esteem, though they may appear confident. This article in Harvard Magazine lays out the difference between narcissism and self-esteem, explaining clearly how self-loathing underlies the narcissist's apparent grandiosity.

After 9/11, a confluence of factors converged on New York City. Which came first, our dominant culture of narcissism or super-gentrification? Maybe it happened like this: Those already here with low self-esteem became hyper-consumers. The city fed that hunger with more stores, restaurants, condos, bars, and banks. New York must have begun looking like an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord to the insecure and fearful across America. And they flocked to come feed themselves, too.

It amazed me that after 9/11, more people came to New York than left, as if terror exerted a strange attraction.

cupcake feeding frenzy

The toll of 9/11 continues to reverberate in many different ways. People still suffer flashbacks and anxiety, along with grief for lost loved ones. Perhaps we must also include in that day's rolling tally of losses the vanishing of our city's mom-and-pops, priced-out artists, evicted poor and middle classes, and the tens of thousands of fallen buildings that once made up the fabric of our city.

Maybe the terrorists are "winning" after all.


Anonymous said...

Osama bin Laden and his band of terrorists destroyed a piece of New York on that dreadful day seven years ago. A different breed of terrorists have been destroying the rest of it every day since.

Anonymous said...

The "gentrification" process has been happening in many citied (Chicago, Boston, etc.) that were not affected by 9/11. And it started long before 2001.

To when would you like to turn the clock back?

To Manhattan of the 1970s, when Union Square, the Upper West Side, Hells Kitchen, the Lower East Side, etc., etc., etc. were frightening no-go areas?

To the "urban renewal superblocks" of the 1960s?

To a crowded filthy city of roach-infested tenements of the 1930s?

Or to an agricultural period when the very dwelling you live in would have been seen as the same sort of intrusion that you ascribe to today's construction?

May I suggest, sir, that this is the golden era for New York City. And that history will repeat itself in fifty years when "preservationists" will attempt to "save" the very structures that you mock today.

Think it won't happen?

Think again:

ee said...

Agree with Bob (I was going to say the same comment). I guess the difference between the Islamic terrorists and this new breed of terrorists is that the former know and want to terrorize; the latter terrorizes without them being cognizant of it. So, who's worse?

Anonymous said...

9/11 removed the shackles of white american imperialism, within and outside of the national borders. imperialism is not only economic, but cultural too.

Anonymous said...

Had Anon@9:03 read much of your blog they may have been better informed as to where you stand regarding cosmic clock-turnings.

Apart from that, the notion that eradication of small businesses and an utter infestation of cupcake-munching, cellphone-yammering nitwits belies a golden era for the city is palpably absurd.

Go back to Ohio!

Ken Mac said...

This city's architectural landscape is changing like no other time in its history. Anonymous lives in a dreamland, not the real NYC. And trust me, just as they lamented the loss of Penn Station not long after it was razed, when the city is all glass and steel and corporate shite, we will mourn the loss of the city's former human scaled buildings and businesses.

Anonymous said...


So the "cupcake munching nitwits" should "go back to Ohio"?

Many years ago, when my family moved into a white neighborhood in Queens, I recall hearing similar insults and being told to "go back to Africa."

Last I checked, cupcake-enjoying youngsters from Ohio have every much a right to be here as you. And from a personal perspective, I would prefer their company to a bigoted, angry, and hateful nativist such as yourself.

Anonymous said...

"cupcake-enjoying youngsters from Ohio have every much a right to be here as you. And from a personal perspective, I would prefer their company..."

That's because you are one, in addition to being a humorless tight ass.

Anonymous said...

I love it when yunnies play the victim card and equate themselves with persecuted minorities. Their minds are so twisted and depraved and their view of the world is so perverse that not only do they remain uncaring and ambivalent about their actions destroying neighborhoods and forcing people from their homes, they take the extra step of turning it around to somehow make themselves the downtrodden and opressed end of this struggle. That's tantamount to an SS officer feeling victimized after a Frenchman flipped him off on the streets of occupied Paris.

Anonymous said...

Wow were yunnies compared to both terrorists and ss officers in a single comment section? I usually agree with JM, but the comment section always brings out the worst. I guess that's true of most blogs.

Jeremiah Moss said...

yeah, i wouldn't go quite so far as to make a one-to-one comparison. but i do think that people with narcissistic personality disorder often inflict a kind of emotional terrorism on others.

they also can be quite close to sociopathy on the spectrum of pathology. narcissists and sociopaths both lack the ability to empathize with others. this can, in the extreme, lead to acts of murder.

but, more often, narcissists commit what leonard shengold called "soul murder," which you can read about here: