Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Because, really, what else would you expect, Wednesday's overdue opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum is already fraught with rage, grief, trutherism and charges of "crass commercialism on a literally sacred site," or "the kitschification of experience." The $350 million museum features saved wreckage, tattered flags, handwritten pleas for help, soot-coated personal items, multimedia presentations of the towers collapsing, tape loops of survivors who got out and relentless roomfuls of artifacts "as banal and constant as laundry...tying grief inextricably, cannily to political ideology (in order) to show every last bit of carnage and visceral whomp - vulgarity with the noblest intentions." It also features $24 tickets, a gift shop stuffed with overpriced keychains, sweatshirts, bracelets, coffee mugs, search-and-rescue stuffed dogs, FDNY T-shirts and United We Stand blankets, and, in a private room, some 8,000 unidentified human remains from the attacks, thus rendering a burial ground into what some families of victims call "a P.T. Barnum production." For good measure, there are also out-of-state truthers dubbed Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth handing out mock brochures arguing it was all an insider job by the U.S. and Israel; their premise is kinda bonkers, but it's hard to dispute their analysis of “a first-rate ‘Madison Avenue’ account of September 11th that has served as the justification for two wars, demolished our national economy, and deprived us of our privacy and civil liberties.” For many, the question is not so much, why a gift shop, as why a museum in the first place? Numbed by the experience, a visitor who lost his sister compares it to class trips as a kid and "how someone else’s past horror was my vacant diversion."

"Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark...to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down...By the time I finally reach the gift shop, the indignation I’ve been counting on just isn’t there...The events of the day have already been exploited and sold in ways previously incomprehensible, why get mad at a commemorative T-shirt now? This tchotchke store - this building, this experience - is nothing more than the logical endpoint for our most reliably commodifiable national tragedy. If you want to bring a coffee table book full of photos of cadaver dogs sniffing through smoking rubble back home to wherever you’re from, hey, that’s great. This is America, you can buy what you want; they hate our freedom to buy what we want."