What's next? Trading cards of terrorism victims

I thought I knew a thing or two about trading cards, having gone through a few hundred thousand baseball cards, several thousand football cards and a few basketball cards in my day.

In fact, I think somewhere in a closet I have some Desert Storm trading cards from the Gulf War.

Nevertheless, I was still taken aback when I read this week there is a new series of cards in the works called "Heroes of the World Trade Center" with pictures and biographies of some of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A former stockbroker from Florida, Kingsley Barnham, is creating the cards with the permission, so far, of 20 or so families of World Trade Center victims.

"It shows what we lost as a nation and the world," Barnham told a reporter. "People don't have an idea what they lost. Collectively the cards can tell the story of what we lost."

My initial reaction was that trading cards of Sept. 11 victims was the crassest thing I had heard in quite awhile.

It's just one more example, I thought, of capitalism rearing its head with little regard to the feelings of those most affected.

Then I read a few comments from some victims' families, and they didn't seem that bothered. "The more I thought about it," said one husband, "the more I felt good about trying to provide one more way for the world to appreciate what I though were some remarkable qualities about my wife."

What really got me, though, was when I read a comment from Barnham saying what he was doing was no different from the personality sketches that have appeared in the New York Times.

The Times has undertaken a massive project to profile briefly each of the victims of the terrorist attacks. The newspaper has been widely praised for personalizing the disaster in this way, and the profiles can be fascinating to read. Ordinary people with unique lives.

So was this, in fact, journalism in its crassest form, rearing its head with little regard to the feelings of the families?

I can't see the comparison, but I'm biased toward newspapers.

True, there are all kinds of newspapers. Good ones, bad ones. Scary ones, dull ones. Truthful ones, lying ones.

What kinds of trading cards are there? Well, if you were like me and thought they were limited to sports or entertainment -- Pokemon, Monsters Inc. and Britney Spears -- think again.

-- True Crime Trading Cards has a series on serial killers and mass murderers.

-- Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union trading cards.

-- Savings & Loan Scandal trading cards.

-- Topps, the company that brought us Desert Storm cards, now has a 90-card set called "Enduring Freedom" to commemorate the war on terrorism.

"Kids need to understand that the president (and his team) will keep them

safe and that evil-doers will be punished," says Topps.

One of the cards shows President Bush comforting Mayor Rudy Guliani and Gov. George Pataki.

In addition to Desert Storm, Topps' has a record of putting historically significant events on trading cards. The company had a Man on the Moon series, and even a Korean conflict set of cards called "Freedom's War."

-- Another company, called U.S. Trading Cards, covers the darker side of the war on terrorism. Its set includes the terrorists themselves, such as Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Yassir Arafat.

-- Perhaps the oddest set I came across was PeopleCards, which features ordinary people. Not ordinary people caught up in disaster or crime or history. Just ordinary people.

"Meet Richard Rovine," says one. "Big Rich is a lazy guy who enjoys lurking in the cellar. His motto: 'Do not do it today.'"

The card shows a picture of Big Rich, who does indeed appear to be doing very little in his basement.

The company promises each pack of cards will contain seven real people, one real artist and zero celebrities. "If you find any celebrities," says the company, "contact our Quality Assurance Department immediately."

Their pitch to the card-buying public: "Collect all six billion."

So maybe there is a place in the world for "Heroes of the World Trade Center" trading cards. Perhaps somebody wants to swap a firefighter for four secretaries.

To me, though, there's no way to elevate trading cards to the level of "honoring" a tragic event. All they do is trivialize it.

Despite the comments of Mr. Barham (who has also done trading cards for hemp and medical marijuana), they do not compare to the journalism of the New York Times.

If "Heroes of the World Trade Center" cards ever reach the candy counter where I shop, next to the bubblegum and packs of Pokemon characters, I'll honor the victims of Sept. 11 by not buying any.

Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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