How to Mourn a Tragedy and Make Money

Article excerpt

Lawrence Rudden is director of research for the Graham Williams Group, a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. His article on airline passenger rage appeared in the July 2001 issue of The World & I.

It's now about eight months since four airliners were forcibly smashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Pennsylvania countryside. It has become clear that the tragic events of September 11 are not only cause for anger, fear, or mourning; they're also big business. Online, you can "wipe out terrorism" with bin Laden toilet paper or "bring healing for all hearts everywhere in the world" by purchasing a commemorative CD, A Healing of Hearts. (The truly loyal citizen should note that the commemorative CD comes with an independent distributor option that allows you to collect a commission every time you close a sale.) Bye-bye bin Laden golf balls, bin Laden toilet screens, and Pin Laden voodoo dolls are also being marketed as crowd pleasers.

Whereas most people see pain in the September 11 attacks, the grim opportunists behind 9/11 memorabilia see sales potential. Because Americans are willing to pay to display their hatred of Osama bin Laden, there is no shortage of cheap products commemorating the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. Particularly popular are products that cater to base emotions like fear, hatred, or revenge. At, an online retailer, you can find the "lowest price" for Cipro on a page featuring a horrifying picture of a boy riddled with smallpox. And nearly everyone agrees it has been a banner year for T-shirt manufacturers, with the tragic events of September 11 spawning whole new categories in the genre, including, "I got yer' fatwa right here buddy," and "Bomb bin Laden." For the more civilized American who eschews straightforward revenge fantasies but nonetheless is overcome with the urge to savage the enemy just a bit, offers a cuddly stuffed animal that curses bin Laden's name when you squeeze it.

"I'm tapping into the 'American Spirit,' " effuses Gary Wiley, a Texas entrepreneur who now spends his days mass-producing gun targets bearing the likeness of bin Laden ( Wiley says his product provides the American people with a socially acceptable way of venting their hatred and hurt. "I think most bin Laden target owners feel they've at least symbolically defended our freedoms and avenged the cold-blooded crimes of those who envy us," proclaims Wiley. He "hopes to get T-shirts soon."

Of course, hideous taste alone should not prevent Americans from dealing with their feelings of rage and remorse. But the notion that purchasing overpriced novelty items will actually help clean the emotional mess of 9/11 is something that only the most hardened capitalist could dream of. Yet, that's what the tragic events of September 11 have spawned: a swell of profiteers who are toting hate, pride, and cheap catharsis in the form of 9/11 memorabilia.


The publishing industry also has an eye for terrorist tie-ins. Just twenty days after the attacks, released the first book on the events of September 11, 09/11 8:48 a.m.: Documenting America's Greatest Tragedy. Utilizing electronic communications, it was able to quickly cobble together 320 pages of firsthand accounts describing the aftermath of the attacks. Random House (including its various subsidiaries) has since completed no fewer than thirteen books thematically related to the attacks, including The Deeper Wound by Deepak Chopra. Two weeks after the attacks, Chopra famously emailed 22,000 of his fans, informing them that he had just completed a book that "contains reassurance" about the events of September 11. Following a link, recipients were prompted to purchase his book--and presumably healing--for $23.95. Chopra later apologized for his insensitivity. …