Of course time as we know it is now cleaved in two, into big jarring halves we can barely hold in each hand, into pre-WTC and post-WTC, the attack date now the new and undeniable reference point for the world, everything before September 11 tinted with this sort of shallow linear rose-colored ease and ennui and uninhibited whip-stompin' anything-goes attitude, full of shrugging and everyday minutiae and general commonplace bickering over nothingmuch, really.
A time where we could do whatever and think whatever and not have to ponder the significance of anything too deeply, run through the garden naked and stay up late watching bad television and eating Phish Food straight from the carton, safe in the unspoken knowledge that the country was a relatively impenetrable superpower or at least far enough advanced and enlightened that we were sufficiently out of reach of the short gnarly arm of religious hate and calculated savagery.
With everything after the black September date, everything post-WTC now more somber and cool and decidedly postlapsarian, drained of certain importance and ego and superfluousness, sort of simplified and tentative and horribly purified, every step awkward and every artifice questioned, as they should be, as they must be, as in: What's really vital now? And who can contribute positively to the meaning of it all? And what's really necessary in my life anymore, considering?
Which is why it's always so strange to read about the "return to normalcy" in various industries and professions and entertainments, people flocking back to bad movies or tuning into 'Frasier' by the minions or buying new landfill merchandise again, publishing books and telling jokes and having fancy opening parties featuring people named Dakota doing unfortunate things with tequila.
About solipsistic TV execs breathing heavy sighs of relief that the prime-time junk food is still dumbly addictive, movie execs thrilled that people are still willing to dump nine bucks on weakly written predictable escapist fluff, patriotic automakers offering 0.0 percent financing on lumbering oil-belchin' flag-wavin' SUVs.
And isn't it good to know the Emmys will have an unprecedented level of security this year, no bleachers for screaming fans and no typical red-carpet treatment for the plunging Versace dresses, because as everyone knows TV celebrities are our most sacred national treasures and it is they who give us hope and purpose and give meaning to life itself, and can you imagine the paralyzing national havoc that would erupt if something were to happen to the supporting cast of, say, "Everybody Loves Raymond"?
But it's in this weird return to quasi-normalcy, this recovery of at least some of what we once thought we were, that we suddenly have an unprecedented opportunity to choose, to filter out and select what industries and enterprises, what values and attitudes we allow back into the social fold.
Manipulative politics? Violent movies? Bad drivers? Awful J-Lo videos? Kraft Lunchables? Do we really need these? Do we really have time for the shallow and the inauthentic and the soul-sucking anymore? Do we really want to waste our time on cultural detritus that doesn't generally add to the human experience and validate our existence and make us feel grateful and relatively happy and connected and not just like we're floating on a speck of infinitesimally tiny cosmic dust in some remote corner of the galaxy?
Of course we will. Because whether we like it or not, the return to normality we all so need and crave also means a return to the dark side of culture, the uglier machinations of capitalism, the deceptions and the strongarmings and the outright lies, Microsoft swiping yet another market and transparent Texas congressmen whoring for oil and entertainment mediums momentarily replacing the ultraviolence in favor of equally manipulative and hollow but somehow more faux-heartwarming proto-American fare, but only until they don't have to anymore.
People flipping each other off on the freeway and vendors cheating you out of a decent cup of coffee and lovers betraying lovers and of course we've got to take the good with the bad, the happy romping dogs of integrity and soul with the snarling curs of idiocy and rage because that's what this country is really about, despite all the flags.
But for a moment there, for a short flash of time it seemed like our perception might've permanently changed, like we'd not only be willing but also able to choose our new destiny, pick our real valuables, refill the culture with a more profound and genuine sense of whatever the heck it is we think makes our species so special in the first place. Alas. Oh well.
© 2001 SF Gate