Everything became a kind of everything else in 2001.
New York City turned into Pearl Harbor. Bob Dylan turned into Vincent Price. By year’s end, Dan Rather looked and even sounded exactly like Jerry Falwell. It was incredible. Even the hair. Perhaps it was the three days Rather spent “covering” the war in Afghanistan that aged him so.
Then Geraldo Rivera turned Tora Bora into Al Capone’s tomb. There was nothing worth finding or filming in either one of them. Too bad, because “Tora Bora” would have made a great movie title.
While Geraldo and his team of hairdressers searched bravely for Kabul, Osama bin Laden escaped or died or something. Either way, his “escape” could conceivably translate into a perception of victory (among those disposed to follow him) almost as dramatic as the original TV shots of the twin towers falling.
Then the war itself disappeared from TV faster than bin Laden disappeared from Tora Bora. One minute he was on the radio, next minute he was gone. It was the same thing with the war on CNN and Fox. One minute it was all-war-all-the-time, next minute it was nowhere to be found. Ok, not quite literally true, but neither was much of anything you heard on TV.
Take, for example, the extreme glorification of the Administration’s team of “leaders” for the way in which they “united a nation.” Was it really Condoleeza Rice who united the nation? Or was it more likely Osama bin Laden who united it by attacking it?
Most surprisingly, “Dubya” turned into “The President” by addressing a joint session of Congress and declaring war on al Qaeda, an organization whose name he had obviously learned to pronounce earlier that same day. At least he didn’t call them “al Gore.” (Ever wonder what Dubya’s nickname for bin Laden is?)
Speaking of Gore, imagine that Saturday Night Live had been around when Lincoln was president. That’s what Gore turned into. His ever-shifting caricature of himself (college professor, financier, Great Emancipator) put anyone else’s to shame.
2001 was full of self-caricatures. Paul McCartney smoked a lot of dope, dressed his band in matching tee-shirts (after a quick phone call to find out what the kids are wearing these days?) and turned all of New York City into back-up singers for his toss-off song, “Freedom,” which he performed not once but twice on a TV special (enough pot does that sort of thing to you).
Mick Jagger released a new album and a documentary about himself, probably turning Keith Richard into a howling, coughing bowl of shaking jellied aspic, assuming he even heard about these projects (hardly anyone did until the news story about how the album had sold 19 or so copies in its first week of release).
Puff Daddy explained everything by turning into P. Diddy. Gary Condit turned into that car salesman from Fargo.
Perhaps the most appalling transformation was suffered by Mariah Carey, whose record contract made some of baseball’s free-agent signings look modest. Then she scat-sang at the nation while it was trying to hear Willie Nelson play his guitar, enabling everyone to finally tell the difference between her and Celine Dion.
Barry Bonds turned from baseball’s enfant terrible to an icon. “How can you not love him now?” instructed the announcers as he rounded third base with his record-breaking homer.
Elsewhere, stories about cops gunning down unarmed people, broom-raping immigrants and lying about it turned into daily profiles of courage in the papers.
Enron turned into pixel dust. Enron employees suddenly looked like refugees from Nasdaqistan. Enron executives turned from “good corporate citizens” into people unwelcome in any neighborhood.
Other transformations were less attention-getting. Ralph Stanley turned into a mainstream star without appearing to notice it. And Ralph Nader turned from presidential candidate into the Invisible Man, disappearing soon at a small independent bookstore near you.
David Vest is a regular writer for CounterPunch, a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs. Visit his website at http://www.mindspring.com/~dcqv