Eleven years after Al-Qaeda terrorists took four planes on a suicide mission across the east coast of America, it could be said that little in our everyday lives has changed, apart from flying becoming a lot more difficult and infinitely less pleasurable.
The events of September 11, 2001, were used as a pretext to begin a war in Afghanistan, which is ongoing; there have been a high number of military casualties as well as countless civilian deaths. Almost 3,000 people died in 9/11 itself; more than 2,600 in New York, as well as 125 in the Pentagon and 426 on the four planes. If one counts the war in Iraq as consequence of 9/11, as well as terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Bali and other areas, the death toll is staggering.
Culturally too, things have changed since 9/11. Perhaps one of the most surprising things to arise from 9/11 was the sheer willingness of Hollywood and other artists to produce work about the attacks.
Immediately after 9/11, the response of American pop culture was to completely ignore it. Radio stations produced lists of songs that were best avoided: though why Pat Benatar’s ‘Love is a Battlefield’ and the Beatles ‘O-Bla-Di O-Bla-Da’ would remind anyone of terrorism I’m not quite sure. Films which referenced terrorism were pulled or their release date postponed; the ending of Men in Black II was completely changed as it had originally climaxed on the World Trade Center. A now famous Spiderman trailer was scrapped: it showed Spidey tying up an enemy in a web between the two towers.
Friends, a show as New York as yellow taxi, simply pretended the largest ever terror attack on US soil had never happened. Apart from an American flag in Joey’s apartment where there once was a whiteboard, and the sudden absence of the WTC, 9/11 was never mentioned.
However, time heals almost all wounds, and a slew of art inspired by the events of 9/11 soon emerged. Interestingly, the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the last time that America had come under direct attack, was not nearly as fertile for American imaginations. Apart from a couple of US-Army sanctioned propaganda films, it was not mentioned in the cinema again until 1953’s From Here to Eternity, more than a decade after the attacks. It has never really captured the imagination the same way as other events in WWII have; and nowhere near as much as 9/11. Perhaps it’s because Pearl Harbor was a military target; perhaps it simply got lost amid the horrors in the world’s worst war.
Documentaries were made in the almost immediate aftermath; it helped that many of the events were captured on camera. Spike Lee’s 25th Hour came out in 2002. Just five years after the attacks, there were two highly successful 9/11 movies released: Oliver Stone’s straight retelling of the disaster, World Trade Center, as well as the chilling and claustrophobic United 93, which told the story of Flight 93, which the terrorists intended to fly into Washington’s Capitol but crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after a revolt by the hijacked passengers.
Literature, including Don DeLillo’s Falling Man and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, has dealt with the subject, as well as TV shows like Rescue Me. Ever politically incorrect, programmes such as Family Guy and South Park have made light of the event. Here’s one for your next pub quiz: Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane was supposed to be on one of the planes that crashed into the WTC but he slept it out due to a hangover and missed his flight.
Why was there such a short moratorium on 9/11? Well, it has never has been the entertainment industry’s style to let the grass grow. Just 29 days after the Titanic sank in 1912, real-life survivor Dorothy Gibson starred in Saved from the Titanic, wearing the same clothes she wore aboard the ship. Films about World War Two were released during World War Two.
And 9/11, as was Al-Qaeda’s intention, was an event made for television. The terrorists wanted it to be; they wanted it seared on the consciousness of every Westerner. They achieved their aim. 9/11, with its falling buildings, jumping people, dust-covered streets, fire, smoke and twisted metal is the stuff of nightmares. Some feel the nightmarish prickle every time they board a plane. Like the aforementioned Titanic, a nightmare for a far more genteel age, it reminds us how perilously close we are to death. It shows us how horribly wrong our ordinary lives- travelling, going to work- can go.
Darkness often feeds art. The events of eleven years ago were among the darkest of our age, and it seems we have not seen the end of the consequences yet.
The Daily Shift‘s Roisin Peddle takes a look at the cultural impact of 9/11, eleven years on…
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