This picture from the front page of NYT has all the mild tension and anxious nonchalance that I associate with East Coast life since the September 11 attacks.
The web photo renders a little differently, but in print Orange Alert Guy, in the foreground, had the slightest of pleasant smiles on his face. Giving the passenger-plane false alarm in D.C. yesterday more of a feeling of a school fire drill, at least in the photo.
I can’t call the vibe I get from the picture festive, exactly. And I can hardly belittle a sense of anxiety I wasn’t there to feel or dismiss. But the media bustle and the tonal uncertainty around this nearly-notable mishap reminded me again how unable we are to even imagine real cataclysm, real chaos.
I pray it stays that way, I really do. We know how to leave burning buildings, or run for good seats at movie openings. Being a nation under siege remains an unreal self-image for us, and you can see it in the panicky matter-of-fact way we respond to little scares.
Security guru Bruce Schneier talks about the tradeoffs we each make every day when it comes to security and personal safety — like giving kids a way back inside by leaving back doors unlocked in the suburbs. This relative lightness may stem from that sort of tradeoff. We’d rather feel invulnerable and face a new surprise than re-orient our entire existence around a perceived imminent threat.