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The Last Page:
What I Was Watching
By Diana J. Wynne
November 1983 The Day After
The Day After, a miniseries about nuclear holocaust, was broadcast on my friend Milla's birthday. Our college had therapists available for emergency consultation. We'd gotten an ice cream cake for a surprise party and tried to persuade Milla that she should just come upstairs in her bathrobe before it melted.
There were no American wars when I was in college, except the cold war and covert actions in Nicaragua and the "liberation" of Granada. I compensated by majoring in film and burying myself in Wordsworth.
January 1991 East
The first time we bombed Iraq,
I went to the Magic Theatre with my estranged boyfriend. Steven Berkoff's play transported us to London's East End; his young men raged against society with raw fury and Shakespearean eloquence.
Afterward, we stayed to listen to the actors, who'd debated canceling the performance but concluded the show must go on.
June 1993 Silence of the Lambs
My cousin turned on the TV to pop in the videotape. A news flash announced that Clinton had ordered bombing the "no fly" zone in Iraq. Were we at war again? It was Saturday night. We went back to watching the FBI track down cannibals and serial killers.
November 2000 The Vagina Monologues
The night of the presidential election. Florida had been called for Gore, then the networks took it back. At 7:45 p.m., before the polls closed in California, I sat in an audience filled with stylish women checking their Palm Pilots and cell phones for updates.
Playwright Eve Ensler squirmed uncomfortably on her barstool and periodically broke away from the stories on her index cards. When she finished reciting horrors against women, I rushed out of the theater, grabbed a cab home, and stayed glued to the drama unfolding on TV.
September 2001 Zoolander
I was sleeping when planes flew into the World Trade Center. The clock radio woke me at 7:30 after both towers had already fallen on the East Coast. "Walk north," a dust-covered Rudy Giuliani advised. I was grateful when TV stations began to broadcast sitcom reruns again.
Two weeks later, I went to see Zoolander, a movie notable only for having hastily erased the twin towers from a shot of Lower Manhattan. Everyone sat in the theater, wishing we could remember how to laugh, wondering when we'd go to war, who we'd attack, where the towers had been.
March 2003 Nightline
The night "Shock and Awe" descended on Baghdad, protesters were at City Hall, across from the new Asian Art Museum. My friends went to the free opening festivities at the museum, but I stayed home and watched TV.
Two weeks before, I'd been at an enormous protest rally on a glorious winter afternoon. There were moms with strollers, grandparents, veterans, retired schoolteachers--everyday people all. We went for coffee after the rally and came back in time to witness a standoff between the "black bloc" anarchists and police on horseback. I felt sorry for the SFPD.
For weeks, Ted Koppel, embedded with the Marines on the road to Baghdad, was my hero. I watched him each night before I went to bed, as if good ratings would protect him from stray bullets.
May 2003 Buffy and 24
That spring, victory was officially declared in Iraq.
I spent Tuesday nights watching a double feature of apocalypse TV from the comfort of my velvet loveseat. First, Buffy the Vampire Slayer faced the end of the world (and the series) battling the First Evil, which can never be vanquished. Then on 24, federal agents tried to stop Islamic terrorists from setting off a nuclear weapon they'd bought from North Korea.
April 2004 The Time of Your Life
I ushered for William Saroyan's play The Time of Your Life, set in San Francisco in October 1939. He wrote it in six days after Hitler invaded Poland. The patrons in Nick's bar know war is coming but try to find a way to live for today, despite their own despair. Meanwhile, burned bodies of American civilians hung from a bridge in Fallujah, while children held up boots like trophies.
May 2004 Survivor All-Stars and 60 Minutes II
A girl with a naked man on a leash mugs for the camera. A hooded Iraqi stands on a box, fearing electrocution. A prisoner cowers before snarling attack dogs. Our leaders, warning we haven't seen the worst yet, can barely bring themselves to apologize. I've never been so ashamed.
What will we be watching next time?
About the Author
Diana J. Wynne appeared on Jeopardy! in April and lost, heartbreakingly, by a single answer. When not watching hummingbirds on her fire escape or studying baseball trivia at Martha's Coffee, she produces interactive content for online and print media. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Ms. Magazine, Exquisite Corpse, and the San Jose Mercury News. Joyce to the World, a documentary she wrote and produced about James Joyce's Ulysses, premieres at the Mechanics' Institute Library on June 16, which also happens to be Bloomsday. (For more information about the film, see www.joycetotheworld.com.) Wynne has called a sunny, rent-controlled corner of Noe Valley home for 15 years.
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