The 9/11 cheese plate goes, the 9/11 gift shop stays: Proof of social media's limited power

By Ted Rall , written on May 29, 2014

From The News Desk

People are always talking about the power of social media. Today's example:  In response to online outrage, the National September 11 Memorial Museum store has yanked a ceramic platter shaped like the contiguous United States (fuck you, Alaska, Hawaii, Marianas Islands and so on), with three tiny hearts indicating where the four planes crashed. Yay, Internet!

The 9/11 "cheese plate" episode illustrates a mostly unnoticed aspect of slacktivism: Media in general and social media in particular are good at sparking and amplifying anger, forcing entrenched institutions to give ground — but the concessions are often symbolic or incremental.

A skirmish is won; the point is lost. The plate didn't matter — for people who hated the gift shop, this article of grief kitsch served as a stand-in for their disgust at the way the 9/11 Memorial has been commercialized. They hate the $24 admission fee. They don't want a gift shop at all.

"Once the public starts coming in, you learn so much," memorial foundation president Joe Daniels told The Wall Street Journal. "We in no way presume to get everything right. We will accept that criticism, absolutely." He also said that "the shop is needed to help support the museum's operations, and many visitors want to take home a book or keepsake to remember their experience."

Daniels knows his stuff. Only 33% of Americans are against the gift shop and just 48% say they're against 9/11-branded swag. (If you're one of the 67%/52% who don't have a problem with this stuff, let's totally not hang out.)

Until Twitter rage delivers more real-world terror in the hearts of the suits at the 9/11 Memorial Foundation, the half of us who oppose the CafePress-ification of 9/11 at Ground Zero will have to settle for the demise of the cheese plate.

Which will no doubt become highly sought after on eBay.

[Photo credit: HN Hogan (Creative Commons)]