I'm not even talking about the fringe crazies here, either. There is certainly a growing sub-culture of people who believe almost obsessively in UFOs, aliens, Bigfoot, vampires, and those social security statements we keep getting in the mail. Average Americans still deride those folks even as mainstream American culture embraces much kookier ideas. Urban legends passed around via email are only one manifestation of this general, for lack of a better term, mysticism.
Now the September 11 attacks on America have bred a whole new family of kooky new ideas. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that makes the evidence for Bigfoot start to seem convincing and moderately sane.
Most of us have no doubt been talked through the numerology part of the September 11 attacks. Of course, September 11 is numerically equivalent to 9-11, which happens to be our code for an emergency. But there's a whole bunch of other stuff, too, about which day of the year September 11 is, but you have to do a lot of arithmetic to verify any of it, so I haven't. But it sounds lame anyway.
Here's my personal favorite example of this new mysticism: apparently if you go into a word processing program and use the font called "Wingdings" (named in loving honor of the doofus who thought pictographs were a font) and type in certain September 11 attack-related phrases, ominous imagery involving a plane, two buildings, the skull and crossbones symbol, and a star of David will appear. Be sure to do it right. Your first instinct will be to type in 9-11. If you do, ominous imagery will be produced in the form of a roll of tape chasing two file folders. It gives me a shiver. But what you actually have to type in to get the real "ominous imagery" is Q33NY, which actually, yeah, doesn't have much to do with the attacks, especially when you consider that the extraneous Q is what produces the crucial airplane. And those two "buildings" are actually document symbols. So typing in flight number 33NY really just produces two documents being attacked by a skull and crossbones and a Star of David. Or maybe by Jewish pirates.
I'll bet the boss of the guy who discovered the whole "Wingdings conspiracy" would be furious if he knew how long that guy had spent typing random words into the Wingdings font just to see if anything spooky came up. In fact, at this point untold hours of American worker productivity have been lost to people typing stupid things into Wingdings. This is valuable time they could have spent surfing the net, bidding for baseball cards on eBay and playing solitaire.
Naturally, the Wingdings phenomenon has caused Americans all over to wonder whether the guy who created the Wingdings font had foreknowledge of the attacks and either kept it under wraps (although not so much that he didn't include the hidden Wingdings message) or tried to forewarn us in a Nostradamus-like manner. And by Nostradamus-like, I mean ineffectively and open to interpretation.
Speaking of Nostradamus, the man has certainly pulled the sales job of the millenium. He managed to make people believe that he could prophesy the future to such an extent that people actually comb his words to find evidence of prophesy once the event he was supposed to have predicted has already happened. All I know is that it's a crying shame Amway wasn't around during Nostradamus' lifetime because he'd have made one excellent representative of that fine company.
While we're on the topic of over-analyzing things, I want to mention the issue of Satan's face appearing in the smoke of the World Trade Center's explosion. There are three photographs that I know of that show some semblance of a face in the smoke rising from the building; it doesn't necessarily have to be Satan's face, but people can't really think of anybody else who'd go in for that type of advertising, so they've mostly settled on the idea that it's Satan himself.
Although I don't find these photographs as eerie as I find them silly, I can almost understand why people want to see Satan's visage in the smoke. People want a face to go along with the atrocity, someone to blame. The Bush administration showed its awareness of this same need when the 22 most-wanted terrorists were named a couple of weeks ago. People want to see the perpetrator of this crime. That's also why Osama bin Laden's photograph has been plastered all over the news since the tragedy.
I think that to many people, Satan is a preferable villain to bin Laden. If Satan had something to do with the September 11 attacks, then they were inevitable and there was nothing that could be done. It's much scarier to have to face the fact that bin Laden and his relatively small group of fanatics could have brought this about. It forces us to face our weakness.
That's largely what all of these things are about anyway. We've been forced to confront our weakness as a nation and our mortality as individuals. We need diversions. We need Wingdings and addition and emails that take our minds off the much more serious issues at the core of the tragedy.
In another way, though, these mystical sidebars of the September 11 tragedy make a positive point about our response to the attacks. This tragedy hasn't changed who we essentially are as Americans: a whole nation of people with enough spare time to sit around typing phrases in Wingdings. And I don't mean this flippantly: against that kind of bull-headedness and dedication to a way of life, Osama bin Laden doesn't stand a chance. *