This is one of those things that should go without saying, but, apparently, nothing can go without saying, so, here I am, saying it.
Seventeen years have passed since Sept. 11, 2001. The remembrance continues. But the time before, and the day itself, both become more and more obviously the past. The styles look more and more foreign. The land-line phones; the print newspapers; the songs that were on the radio belong to a music different from the songs of today, though you are not quite sure when they began to sound different, when you crossed the line between then and now. Time is making off with the date and it is vanishing, a little more each year, into the story that is told about it.
And with this distance comes something else: the opportunity for Brands to make Statement A on Social Media. Historically, this has not gone well. (One might go so far as to suggest that it is NEVER a welcome thing for a Brand on Social Media to make a commemorative statement. If your Commemorative Statement goes well, no one notices and you gain nothing. But if it goes badly, no one will be able to forget that someone thought it was a good idea to have your anthropomorphic noodle mascot urge SpaghettiO's consumers to "remember #PearlHarbor." It is never a good look for the noodle.)
People are not sitting there in their living rooms across America, thinking, "GOSH, if Hagar the Horrible is not appropriately somber in his print comic strip, on this day of mourning and remembrance, I am going to send several STRONGLY WORDED LETTERS!"
I understand that the impulse to weigh in on trending topics can be almost overwhelming. But, sometimes, you have light to shed on trending topics and, sometimes, you do not. Ask yourself, "On the anniversary of 9/11, are people aching to hear from Applebee's?" Frankly, they are not. Ask yourself, "What is the best-case scenario, here?" Picture someone saying, "Karen, come here! You have got to see the thing the Applebee's brand account tweeted about 9/11!" Does it sound like Karen will be happy when she sees what the Applebee's brand account tweeted? I do not think she will be.
This has the potential to be a disaster because, even if you do it with some degree of respect, you can be criticized for Trying To Use Tragedy To Sell Noodles and, if you do it particularly wrong, you can add the insult of an ill-placed exclamation point to the injury of Turning A Sad Day Into #Branded #Content. The accusation is that it is tasteless to make everything about yourself.
But unlike brands, there are some sources from whom you do expect a somber observance of a day such as this day. One of these sources is the president of the United States. Unfortunately for Americans today, we did not elect a president. We elected the Twitter brand account of an anthropomorphic noodle, and we got about what we have been entitled to expect.
He tweeted "17 years since September 11th!" after his morning Fox News content; ("Karen, come here! You have got to see what the president tweeted about 9/11" has its usual ominous sound) and then he had a nice time pumping his fists and greeting supporters in Pennsylvania on his way to commemorate the victims of Flight 93. Because what is today if not another day to Build the Trump Brand? (On Sept. 11, 2001, he told an interviewer that a building he owned was now the tallest in lower Manhattan.) What is today if not another occasion for Branded Content and self-promotion? What is any day?
Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter, @petridishes.