The tail end of our Advertising & Promoting to Kids Conference in New York came to an abrupt and grim halt last Tuesday when the now-infamous terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers took upwards of 5,000 lives and struck a powerful blow at life as we know it. Thankfully, our 11-strong contingent of KidScreeners were safely tucked away in the Grand Hyatt hotel, but we all watched in stunned silence as the horrific events played out on a giant screen that had been set up for our Golden Marbles award ceremony later that afternoon, and our hearts ached as we saw our New York-based attendees pacing the conference foyer like zombies, desperately trying to get a cell phone line out to reach their loved ones.
Even though a week has passed, I still find it impossible to fully comprehend the reality of the attacks. I’ve watched the scenes play out on CNN over and over again, but it seems so surreal that I can’t absorb it all. So a kind of weary and heartsick numbness has set in, and I find myself seeking out mindless entertainment to take me away from the gut-wrenching interviews with victims’ relatives and the political hypotheses about ‘likely retaliation scenarios’ and ‘military eventualities’ that seem to be in heavy rotation right now.
Kids, who are even less equipped to come to grips with the enormity of this kind of tragedy than I am, are going to need heavy doses of distraction in the coming days. We may try to prevent them from watching the devastating news coverage, but the plain fact is that they can’t avoid seeing it and hearing about it because they’re surrounded by it right now. It’s everywhere, and they’re going to be really confused.
They don’t understand much beyond the basics covered off in the initial family sit-down–a lot of people were hurt when some bad men crashed planes into the buildings, and it’s a terrible thing–and their responses highlight that lack of comprehension. A friend of mine was talking to her 10-year-old son about the attacks, and he asked, ‘When will the other news come back?’ He was anxious to hear the latest about Michael Jordan’s comeback. A colleague’s five-year-old niece asked, ‘But they’re going to be OK, right?’ after being told that many people had died as a result of the terrorist assault. Obviously, they don’t really get it, but at the same time, as empathetic beings, they’ve got to be picking up some really scary vibes from the adults around them right now.
Beyond answering their questions and making sure that they’re not harboring any mixed-up ideas about what’s going on, the most important thing that we in the kids entertainment industry can do right now is provide kids with an outlet for escape.
‘Normalcy’ seems like an impossible goal for many of us in the wake of September 11, but providing it for kids is something that we can do that will actually help, alleviating distress for families–if only on a small scale.