"Mom.. this is Welles. I... I want you to know I'm OK."
September 6, 2011 6:14 AM   Subscribe

The Man in The Red Bandana, a short video from ESPN about one of the 911 heroes.
posted by lobstah (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I saw this on Sunday; it was a fine bit in the "heroes of 9/11" genre, which I'm still a little sick of, but I guess not everyone is, so whatever. That was, it was fine until the very last line which was something like:

"How would you spend the last hour of your life? Maybe it wouldn't look like losing at all. Maybe it would be the thread of bravery, in the color of heroism"

Prose so purple it makes your head hurt.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:44 AM on September 6, 2011

This is nicely done. It is OK to cry for the losses his family suffered. And it is OK to be inspired. And there really are heroes.

"He said, 'Everyone who can stand, stand now. If you can help someone, do so.' Those were his exact words . . . ."
posted by swlabr at 7:04 AM on September 6, 2011

When the towers came down, I was stunned and I wept. I spent sleepless nights anxiously watching the TV. And on visiting Ground Zero a few months later, the taste in the air--and the feeling--was indescribable.

Sadly, my feelings have hardened since those days... and not because I feel any less grief or anger over what occurred. The endless 9/11 exploitation, to serve any and every marketing/political purpose, has given me a jaundiced eye, so much so that it's tough to absorb any more tales of horror or heroism. Which is awful, since without question there were, for some, pure motives at work on that day, and many altruistic actions.

Accounts of law enforcement officers filling their pockets with jewelry from a wrecked underground store etc. are an example of things witnessed but suppressed on that terrible day. I don't want to become even more cynical--so I'm avoiding the escalating drumbeat of media coverage that this year's anniversary has engendered.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:15 AM on September 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

What Kinnakeet said. That is all I have to say.
posted by lampshade at 7:31 AM on September 6, 2011

Bulgaroktonos, The "purple prose" exact quote is "The thread of legacy and the color of honor" and it refers to the red bandana.

I'm a cynical bastard too; I'll dry my eyes and you go take a tylenol and maybe we'll both feel better after a while.
posted by longsleeves at 7:44 AM on September 6, 2011

He's one of the many people that day who had no real obligation to help others, and did so under terrifying conditions at the expense of his own life.

I'm a career firefighter. I'll be working on the 11th, and I'm sure people will come by the station, some with kids and cookies, and wish us well. It's appreciated, but I always feel quietly uncomfortable with the attention. I can't help but feel proud of what I do, and I honor those who've lost their lives, but it feels dangerous to buy into our own mythology too much. Maybe America as a nation faces this peril as well; when we congratulate ourselves so profusely for what others before us achieved, we're like kids dressing in our parents' clothes and forgetting to grow up. I am, I know with absolute certainty and a rigorous purging of false modesty, not a hero. I'm doing what I love and what I swore to do, with full awareness of the risks - like anyone will, given the opportunity. But it's hard to think that way when a school group is treating you like a demi-god because you have a uniform and a truck with a siren.

I understand, it's natural to want heroes. We set our lights by them and hope we'll someday live up to what they represent. I admire people like the man in the red bandana because he could have saved himself, and chose (no oath, no obligation, no blame for preserving his life instead) to risk everything to help others. Many people will go their entire lives without the opportunity to face such a test.

I apologize if this sounds like self-indulgent 9/11 rumination. It's been on my mind.
posted by itstheclamsname at 7:45 AM on September 6, 2011 [21 favorites]

Bulgaroktonos, The "purple prose" exact quote is "The thread of legacy and the color of honor" and it refers to the red bandana.

Yeah, I knew I'd gotten it a little wrong. I'm also, let's be clear, not cynical at all about what this guy did. I'm cynical about media depictions of heroism. I'm also cynical about the editing that let a sentence like the one I (incorrectly) quoted get through without anyone saying "wait, does this actually MEAN anything?"
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:52 AM on September 6, 2011

The endless 9/11 exploitation, to serve any and every marketing/political purpose, has given me a jaundiced eye

And now, we'd like to tune in to our special report, "Remembering the heroes who endured the endless media remembrances of the heroes of 9/11 in the wake of its tenth anniversary." But first, a word from our sponsor.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:53 AM on September 6, 2011

Good to the last (financial) drop.
posted by stormpooper at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2011

in b4 sidebarring of itstheclamsname 's excellent comment.

I'm going to see this tomorrow: Rebirth. I was talking to one of the film's organizers who mentioned that one of the main interviewees (a woman who was in the second tower) was rescued by the Man in the Red Bandana and appears in this film as well.

Thanks for the post!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:51 AM on September 6, 2011

I'm not sure how they do it, but I'm fairly certain I've never seen a bad ESPN documentary. This one is no different. What a guy.
posted by schyler523 at 12:38 PM on September 6, 2011

Ah, maybe I've been inured to most of the exploitation for a while ("is this something you'd have to have a TV to know?"), but this made me tear up something fierce. It did so by focusing more on this young man's quiet heroism without jingoism. The accounts from his parent and from the people he helped were underplayed and effective. If the prose was a little purple, well, I can forgive that.

It was an awful day. Many people rose to it. We in the U.S. would have been better served, as a nation, if we'd followed their example and faced the last decade with competence, courage and compassion than with all-pervading fear.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:18 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the documentary is strongest when it's not doing what it's trying to do. But then, I'm not sure I understand what it's trying to do.

The bookend question "what would you do?" makes it seem like the main focus is the decision to help others instead of saving yourself. But it doesn't really explore that, doesn't help us make sense of it. We just know that this guy did it.

The biographical details make him seem... very all-American, like the documentary is making a symbol or a legend of him. The shots of the red bandanna also seem like symbol-making. (I think that kind of slow tracking shot on a still scene is supposed to make the subject feel significant.) I see that people and groups shown in the documentary have taken the red bandanna as a symbol, but... I dunno. Maybe I just have no soul, but it seems pretty superficial.

The strongest points were a few moments when I really thought they were showing us something: the father's recall of the moment he knew his son was dead; the mother speaking of "finding him" when she read the New York Times article mentioning the bandanna; the survivor quietly noting that Welles's mother "had to lose him to save me". These are brief windows into the emotional aftermath of his death, and of his decision to save others, and to me, they really complicate, even undermine, the "all-American boy saves lives, dies heroically" story that the documentarians explicitly give us.
posted by stebulus at 10:45 PM on September 7, 2011

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