My 9/11 post: Why everyone should watch the Queen’s funeral live

People watching the moon landing on television at a cafe in Milan in 1969

My son told me they read a study about the unreliability of memory in his psychology class. He said people who were at the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers fell reported they learned about the towers falling from television.

I asked him what is unreliable about that? I told him even though the first tower literally fell on me, I thought a bomb had been dropped. I was completely covered in dust and no one thought I had mental capacity to know more about what had happened. I didn’t learn that the towers fell until the evening of September 11. I didn’t learn about it on TV only because I had gauze covering my eyes and someone had to tell me what happened.

“So,” I said, “Tell your teacher that’s dumb, and tell them that every person learned what happened from TV because because the event was so apocryphal — we totally couldn’t comprehend it without being told a number of times, by very trusted sources — that it actually happened.”

It’s hard for my son to imagine everyone around the world trusting a single source at the same time. When my kids heard about how the the OJ car chase happened on TV, they laughed.

My oldest said “How is this not the biggest meme event in history.”

Their sense of collective conscience is memes — which are a shared canvas, posted asynchronously — it’s a shared experience that does not pause for time zones.

My first memory is when I was two-and-a-half years old and we watched the moon landing. I remember me and my mom and dad and my baby brother sitting in our living room, three feet away from the television. Now I know everyone watched men landing on the moon in a similar way that everyone will watch the Queen’s funeral.

The Queen has been the Queen for so long that she embodies the 20th century the way a moon landing does. It’s not just that she was a mechanic in World War II or that she took the monarchy through the Information Age. Even her perceived shortcomings — like focusing on her work over raising children — seems pretty 20th century in hindsight.

It always felt odd to me that people said 9/11 marked the beginning of the 21st century. I wasn’t ready. I was still waiting for Gen X to wield the workplace power Baby Boomers had. And what about Gen X becoming cultural icons? I thought surely that had to happen before we entered a new era.

That did happen. For like five seconds. But now it’s clear that Gen X will have no more big moments, and the Queen’s death marks the end of the 20th century. It is fitting that the two things that bridge one century to the other are both mass media events.

Children today have no memory of a mass media event. They were too young. But Queen Elizabeth’s funeral is their chance to experience what it was like to live in the 20th century and do something at the exact same time as everybody else.

I was thinking that these days we have so few common experiences. The benefits of diversity are clear, and I don’t want to have white male hegemony (and a female figurehead to celebrate it). But I do want us to have a sense of shared space and community. And we don’t have that.

I don’t have that myself because everyone in my life has relocated for jobs so many times. And cities used to act as communities but they are losing their draw as companies become more and more remote.

The shared space online is also missing. The internet used to be full of quirky little communities that were treasures to find. And our inboxes used to be intimate places for people we knew. But now all content is optimized to convert and get our clicks.

I remember a quote from the quintessential 20th century novel The Great GatsbyAnd I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy. The internet is like a large party, but no one is going any more. Maybe I will stop putting the whole post in the email because I want you to come to the site.

It feels so personal to come to a singular little site. It’s a place that is not your inbox. And it’s not a separate app on your phone. It’s meeting up in a big, busy party. The Great Gatsby was a given on the 20th century high school reading list because never being satisfied was a given of what it meant to be an adult.

If there’s one theme that comes up every year on 9/11 it’s my urge to take joy in whatever it is I have, right here, right now, because I know how easily it could all be taken away. In this new century, where long-term communities with shared experience are so meaningful and yet so rare — we’re lucky to have each other.

38 replies
  1. Eddy
    Eddy says:

    Please don’t even consider stopping putting your whole post in the email because you want me to come to the site as large parties are so intimate.

    The opposite is true. Your email in my inbox establishes such a direct line connecting youme that I focus better on what you’re saying out of respect. Scott got that wrong, as no doubt you know.

    “The Great Gatsby was a given on the 20th century high school reading list because never being satisfied was a given of what it meant to be an adult.” – Gosh. How deep is that! It hadn’t occurred to me and, although I can see why you say that, I’m feeling shallow and uneducated now!

    May be I’m an outsider cause I don’t relish the idea of watching Queen Elizabeth’s funeral as my chance to experience what it was like to live in the 20th century and do something at the exact same time as everybody else.. I had no intention of watching it, to be honest.

    Reply
  2. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    What a post! And I had no idea you were at 9/11…how does that not change your life forever more! Thank you for this and the link to the 9/11 post.

    Reply
  3. Laurel
    Laurel says:

    Whoa! Didn’t you forget the biggest “everyone was there” moment since Kennedy was shot? Diana’s sudden death was the worst moment for me. She was 5 years younger than me (and the Moon Walk was even on my b-day) but her death affected me more than anything I can think of. That wretched Charles… robbing the cradle with no love for Diana. Tormented, angry Diana’s personal problems out in l public as no “Royal” has ever done before. Those poor boys walking behind her coffin & good old QE 2 with that stuff upper lip as Diana passed by her for the last time. Some sick part of me liked what the Queen represented, but she was really a POS human. I wonder what that says about me?

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I actually did have JFK in the first draft. I had a sentence about how the phrase “where were you when JFK was shot?” means nothing to my Gen Z kids. But, proving that it means nothing to millennials either, Melissa cut the line when she was editing. Sometimes I think I just put trinkets in posts so we can have shared memories even if they are misplaced. Thank you for putting JFK in the comments.

      Penelope

      Reply
    • Dana
      Dana says:

      Laurel, I felt the same about Diana’s death because she was my same age. Any time I see anything related to Charles or her children I still think of her sadly.

      Reply
      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        I think of her all the time as well. And part of me wonders if the royal family is in for a big surprise when they find out that the Queen’s funeral is not as big an event as Diana’s.

        Penelope

        Reply
  4. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    I’m one of the few who still had a RSS feed, and it’s where I go to relax. I always click through to read on your and other sites for the reasons you stated: there’s an intimacy, stepping into someone’s web site without the constant draw of other emails, and a community within the comments without the ulterior motives of social media.

    Reply
  5. Angie
    Angie says:

    I think you’ve probably missed one of the most fundamental shortcomings of the Queen (and the monarchy) in your summation. She headed an institution that made racism, exploitation, theft and genocide its core business for hundreds of years. The fact that she didn’t actively do much in her reign to address it is probably more than a shortcoming, but it is one nonetheless. Those who have experienced the worst impacts of colonial rule would probably disagree entirely that her funeral is an occasion to be watched to ‘understand living in the 20th century”. It is going to no doubt be full of pomp and pageantry and cost a fortune while many of her ‘subjects’ are struggling to pay their power bills (and worse).

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Of course it’s true that the British Empire was evil. But if the Queen spoke up about anything political there would be no Queen, so it’s sort of a moot point.

      I had this exact conversation with my older son, and what I think is that if you’re holding the Queen to this standard then there are a lot of other people who did much much worse in that department than Queen Elizabeth herself. For example, universities in the US sitting on endowments that came stealing labor from enslaved people.

      Those university presidents have the same problem Elizabeth has. They are not using the power they have to compensate people who were wronged. Georgetown can actually identify the families who should receive money and they are not paying those families money.

      And that’s the tip of the iceberg. I mean, the US was built on cotton, and we are not redistributing all the wealth unfairly accumulated. So I don’t know why people are being so upset about the Queen and her wealth; we are distracting ourselves from our own ill-begotten advantages by focusing on the Queen and her stash of cash and jewels.

      We should worry about our own problems. Start with your local school district — every district in this whole country is gerrymandered to make sure people who started out with an unfair advantage after the Civil War can continue to protect it.

      I could go on but I have no idea where to stop. It’s a huge problem, but for all of us, it starts in our own home. It starts with us.

      Penelope

      Reply
      • Angie
        Angie says:

        Minimising the truth of the Queen’s (and colonisations) legacy because ‘there’s problems everywhere, we can’t solve them all and its not like we can go back in time and change anything’ has been the white coloniser modus operandi for centuries. I’m glad to read your response below, and proud of your son for telling you to google whataboutism.

        Reply
  6. Candice R Reed
    Candice R Reed says:

    I don’t know, I’m older than you and the queen was kind of cool for me for a long time, until Diana died. The moon landing was seriously special to me. I think I was in fifth grade. My parents yelled at me to come in from the swimming pool and watch this. They said this is going to be special. And it was. I don’t have a lot of connection with the queen. The royals were something in my life. My late husband and I were camping when Diana and Charles were married and we got a hotel room just to watch it. When the prince got married we dressed up for fun… it was kind of camp, kind of cool. At this point I’m just not sure if the queen was that cool or somebody that I’m going to take more than a few moments to remember. My husband died four years ago. And that’s what I will remember.

    Reply
  7. Kashif S. Malik
    Kashif S. Malik says:

    I have been your reader for.. i don’t know.. 16 years, and this is my first-ever comment. Please don’t stop sending your full posts in email. As you mentioned in your post, it is one of those rare intimate messages that we still receive over email. Thank you for every single post you have ever written.

    — Ahoy from Pakistan, as we are undergoing a national tragedy of our own: unprecedented floods that have covered a third of the country under water.

    Reply
  8. Katie
    Katie says:

    I have such a love hate with the Queen, and therefore thoughts around funeral reverence on her behalf. She protected a paedophile son, fought to have him reinstated in public life, and gave countless knighthoods to his band of paedo mates and family acquaintances. Jimmy Saville. Rolf Harris. Jeffrey Epstein (no knighthood but he spent holidays in her private cabin!) Its impossible to believe they ‘just didn’t know’. I want to love the Queen and be part of the history of it all, but she could have made a stand and never did. More like the opposite. All I can conclude is that she has no problem with child predators.

    Reply
  9. MLB
    MLB says:

    Thank you for this post, Penelope. I often miss the mono-culture. It has its flaws, don’t get me wrong, but it seems like there is nothing we can all agree on anymore. Not even facts! I wasn’t planning to watch the funeral, either, but you’re right about its significance and I will be tuning in now.

    Reply
  10. Diane E Ott
    Diane E Ott says:

    What is the address of your site? I’ve been reading your emails for so many years mostly the posts about homeschooling when you had your original platform and I was homeschooling too.

    Diane

    Reply
  11. harris497
    harris497 says:

    Penny,
    Well put, but I differ with you on one thing. Today, people create their own communities, and it includes people they have never and will never meet. The isolation of the social media environment, has changed our perception of humanity and friendship and love and honor and … you name it, and it has changed.
    Seminal events only matter to some in a particular population. Even elections do not matter to us all – at least not in the same way.
    We create virtual communities and we see others not as flesh and blood, but as ethereal constructs that are either with us or against us.
    Some still fight the good fight, but the rise of the “Buddy” move or sitcom, benefits from the fact of what we have lost, and that we are becoming increasingly lonely and insular creatures.
    Mytwocentsworth.
    Peace,
    D

    Reply
    • Susan
      Susan says:

      That was my thought too reading this post, what about Covid as a shared experience?? I wonder all the time what my elementary aged daughter will remember about this time.

      Reply
  12. Rick Hahn
    Rick Hahn says:

    Hi PT, I have been an avid fan of yours for many years now. Your insights are so spot-on, you find great analogies, and you are a skilled storyteller. These are rare enough singly; the combination all the more so.

    So why did I choose now to blow a rainbow up your skirt? Perhaps because you displayed all of the skills wonderfully in this piece. Also, because, as you pointed out, 9/11 impacted us all. Those times are exceedingly rare. In my lifetime I can count them on one hand: the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, the Challenger explosion, 9/11, and perhaps the beginning of the Iraq war when we were all glued to CNN. A short list indeed.

    Thanks for showing up in my inbox all these years. I’m sure I’m one of many who view you as family.

    All the best,

    Rick

    Reply
  13. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    As a proud Canadian, I will support my queen against some above comments by using a US reference: Andrew Vachss, with a child services background: He wrote a really good series about an ex-con, Burke, who goes after child molesters. The first book in the series reads a little dated, because it is! The establishment wouldn’t publish Andrew’s first book, for years, because they didn’t believe him that men and women could be in child pornography rings.

    In Britain the BBC has documented how folks didn’t know, how folks reporting a famous child molester were not believed—maybe being not believed by people who secretly knew, I forget.

    In May this year I was in the queen’s London, where I documented in my blog essays that—unlike rumours about “official” parts of the US (Parts I have never seen for myself; I realize some of the biggest lies start with “they say”)—the art museums and the Bank of England (I entered on business) are “officially” and visibly anti-racist. Here is a link to one such essay, you can follow arrows at the bottom if you care to read any others: https://seanessay.com/race-in-london-repair-and-remorse/ (Yes, I take time during vacation and on the plane to write essays—more fun than reading Danial Steele on the beach)

    Reply
  14. Lalsank
    Lalsank says:

    I think about the institution the Queen represents and the utter cruelty, large scale looting and robbery they subjected India to. News media needs to get past the darn Kohinoor diamond and focus on the trillions of dollars amassed while the British were in India, the lives lost, the systematic dismantling of language, education and schooling. Colonialism is brutal and the pomp and circumstance hides a cruel racist history. And Penelope, true we have issues right here in our own backyard with gerrymandering and our own history of enslaved labor… your earlier response appears to be an example of what aboutism.

    Reply
    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      You’re right. And my son said the same thing to me and he told me to google what aboutism. I have spent the day writing a coherent reply to this discussion. It’s hard for me to shift my thinking, but clearly I need to shift. And my son has literally called me five times to ask me why I’m not writing another post about the topic. I always say that the reason I write this blog is so I keep learning…

      Penelope

      Reply
  15. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    In just the last few years I have been reading the word diversity a lot. The queen was ahead of us. Back in 1974, in her Christmas broadcast, was the paragraph:
    “Discrimination still exists. Some people feel that their own beliefs are being threatened. Some are unhappy about unfamiliar cultures. They all need to be reassured that there is so much to be gained by reaching out to others; that diversity is indeed a strength and not a threat.”

    Besides economics, there are moral reasons why Britain switched from an empire to a volunteers-only Commonwealth.

    Reply
  16. Dave
    Dave says:

    Back to the title of your post and the general idea of these generational shared moments…I don’t really think the death of Queen Elizabeth qualifies to be anywhere near in the same league as other memorable “where were you when” moments. When I talk to my kids, they are aware of it, of course, but it’s not very significant to them. For me, I am impressed at her longevity and the idea that she represents a significant percentage of the millenium-plus history of the crown, but the funeral is not something I will go out of my way to watch. Queen Elizabeth has died. God save the King.
    Partly, I think this is due to the changing nature of our media habits…It has been a few years since I had live television. It has been decades since we sat, glued to our TVs while 9-11 unfolded–watching in real time as the second plane hit removing all doubt that this was an accident as many thought initially. It’s been decades since anyone called me and said, “turn on your TV right now!” Now obviosly, with a planned event, there is time to plan, so that is different, but still, I can reflect on this event’s significance and don’t feel any need to watch what I am sure will be a terribly long, boring event. I don’t want that to sound disrespectful, but I think our society has quickly changed into an on-demand, asynchronous experience. What’s done is done…I mean you can TRY to put yourself in front of the TV and watch, but the world has moved on to a different sort of shared experience…

    Reply
  17. Sean Crawford
    Sean Crawford says:

    The coin of “what about-ism” has an obverse side: Everybody’s “human nature-ism.” For example, a fellow from Latin America told me that everybody down there is angry at Americans for putting their noses in everywhere. In other words, imperializing. As I listened to him I thought, “Ya, but average American on the street doesn’t know they imperialize. Like their president, they believe in “plausible deniability.”

    Today, surely, the average Briton in the street, and their royalty, is just like the average American. Human nature is very prevalent.

    Reply

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