When it comes to commercialization, America does it as well as anyone.
The 9/11 Museum is now open, and its museum gift shop has triggered controversy. Many consider the 9/11 site to be sacred ground and say the selling of trinkets and other tacky merchandise cheapens the site, turning it into a roadside attraction.
There are plenty of items inside the gift shop to prove their point, including a black and white "Darkness Hoodie" printed with an image of the twin towers and bearing the words "In Darkness We Shine Brightest" for $39; silk scarves printed with a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline, and another depicting "lunchtime on the WTC Plaza" ($95); cop and firefighter charms ($65); and "Survivor Tree" bronze earrings, named after a pear tree that stood in the World Trade Center plaza and survived 9/11 for $64 a pair.
For the smaller budget, you can buy a plush German Shepherd Search and Rescue Dog for $20; FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority Police T-shirts ($22); caps ($19.95); and "United We Stand" blankets. Visitors can also find bracelets, bowls, buttons, mugs, mousepads, magnets, key chains, flags, pins, stuffed animals, toy firetrucks, cellphone cases, tote bags, books and DVDs.
The museum is hoping to support its $63 million operating budget – including the $378,000 salary for CEO Joe Daniels – through admission fees and donations. Admission is $24 for adults, $18 for seniors and students, and $15 for children 7 to 17. Foreign tourists, especially the Europeans eager to take the disaster trinkets home, are expected to be active shoppers.
Some relatives of 9/11 victims consider the ground zero site as a graveyard and are offended by the sale of cheesy gifts and trinkets. Diane Horning, who lost a son, calls the gift shop "the crassest, most insensitive thing to have a commercial enterprise at the place where my son died." Brooklyn state Sen. Martin Golden criticized the "selling of scarves to commercialize the deaths of 3,000 people," calling the souvenir shop a slap in the face to those affected by the terror attacks.
The school field trips of my youth included the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg and Valley Forge. Both of those battlefield tours ended at the gift shop where one could find anything from plastic swords to Johnny Reb caps and Yankee cap guns. We were too old for these childish toys but I still remember coming home with a small metal Liberty Bell from Valley Forge and a small die-cast cannon from Gettysburg.
The difference between the commercialization of 9/11 and my visit to Gettysburg as a youngster is that more than a century had passed from the time the pivotal Civil War battle was fought and 50,000 Americans had been wounded or had died at the site. The opening of the 9/11 Museum and gift shop comes less than 13 years from the deadliest terrorist attacks on America.
For many, the events of 9/11 are too fresh and still an open wound.
By Jim Zbick