I've been thinking a bit about order. The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation was taken over a couple weeks ago by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who almost immediately had to surrender one of his ideas because it was so unpopular with, well, everyone. That idea was about randomness over order.
...Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg backed away yesterday from his insistence that the names of the dead be displayed in random order, a position that had pitted him against many relatives of the victims and representatives of those who died in the 9/11 rescue effort... Other officials have suggested displaying the victims’ names around the footprint of the tower in which they died and grouping them by affiliation, like the company or emergency service unit where they worked.
Why is having the names in random order so unappealing? What is the power of a memorial like the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, with every name listed in chronological order of death? Would it be as powerful if the names were listed at random?
I began to think that a memorial is not only a way to remember lives, but an attempt to restore order to the chaos and uncertainty that accompanies death. Think of the Oklahoma City Memorial, that took the site of a murderous explosion and restored it to rows of orthogonal metal and stone chairs, one for each victim, arranged to represent the floors of the building and with each victim's name on the floor where that person was. Everything neat and in its place. Think of the order of a graveyard. And then think about what we all have been doing, as a culture, since September 11.
Wikipedia began at the start of 2001. By the end of that year it had 20,000 articles but in the years since it has grown to 5 million, worked on by tens of thousands of users each month. Elsewhere in pop culture, YouTube has given us home videos subject to organization and tag-based indexing while blogs have become an exercise in cross-referencing and categorizing thought. On television, CSI and its spin-offs take up 3 of the top 10 rated shows and it seems like there are at least two flavors of Law & Order running somewhere on cable at any hour of the day -- detective shows, of course, offering the old fantasy in which a universe that is disrupted by a crime at the top of the hour gets restored to order by its end. The other American order-over-disorder fantasy, the comic book superhero, has been in resurgence at the movies. In short, it seems to me that after the World Trade Center attacks, more than ever, we are hungering for ways to put our world back in order.