Sunday, 11 September 2011
Like many in the United States and around the world, 11 September 2001 was indelibly etched in my mind. It is a day that I can remember almost as vividly as if it had happened yesterday. And like many the pain I felt that day is still fresh, the wound is still open. I still feel the horror and sorrow at the deaths of so many, some of them children. And I still fail to comprehend how anyone could be so cowardly, so evil, as to hijack a plane with the intent of crashing it into buildings and murdering innocent, unarmed men, women, and children. I still cannot help shedding tears for the victims of those attacks, the heroes who died on that day in the line of duty, and their families. It is then on this day, the 10th anniversary of those attacks, that I am remembering them and thinking of them.
Of course, this blog is dedicated to pop culture and I would be lax in my duties as this blog's author if I did not discuss the impact that the 9/11 attacks had on Anglo-American pop culture. Like the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, the 9/11 attacks would not only alter American society, but make significant changes to American music, movies, and television series as well. The sheer enormity of the attacks were such that they could not help but have huge and far reaching effects on pop culture. In fact, many of those effects are still felt to this day.
Sadly, the 9/11 attacks would have an effect on one still popular television show even as United Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. Aboard that flight was television writer and producer David Angell and his wife Lynn Edwards Angell. Mr. Angell had written for such shows as Archie Bunker's Place and The Pursuit of Happiness. He was both a writer and a producer on Cheers and Wings. He was one of the creators of Frasier, as well as a producer and writer on the show. Both Lynn and David had founded The Angell Foundation to help those in need. The murders of David and Lynn Angell left Frasier without one of its creators for its last two years. It was in memory of David Angell that on the show Niles and Daphne Crane's son was named "David." In memory of David Angell and in tribute to his philanthropy, The American Screenwriters Association established the David Angell Humanitarian Award.
Other than the murders of the Angells, the most immediate impact that the 9/11 attacks had on Anglo-American pop culture was the pre-emption of television programming for news coverage of the 9/11 attacks. In fact, for the American television networks this meant the delay of the start of the 2001-2002 television season. The series Crossing Jordan had been set to debut on NBC the very night of the attacks. It would not debut until 24 September 2011. In the United Kingdom both BBC and ITV would suspend their usual programming for coverage of the attacks.
Another immediate effect was that the television, movie, and radio industries took steps to insure that they did nothing to cause further pain or grief as a result of the attacks. The Simpsons episode, "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" was withdrawn from the show's syndication package. A good part of the episode had featured the World Trade Centre. In the past few years the episode has been returned to syndication, although its content has been edited. The Cartoon Network postponed the airing of specific episodes of Dragon Ball Z, The Powerpuff Girls, Grim and Evil, and Cowboy Bebop. The Cartoon Network outright cancelled Mobile Suit Gundam as not being suitable at the time. Fox postponed the debut of 24, a series which dealt extensively with terrorism, from October to November. The series' pilot episode would also be edited. Even awards ceremonies would be postponed due to the 9/11 attacks, including 53rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards (due to air on 16 September, it was delayed until 4 November) and the 2nd Annual Latin Grammy Awards (scheduled for 11 September, the awards were not given out until a press conference on 30 October).
While the episodes of some shows were postponed or removed from circulation entirely, specific episodes of some shows were either re-written or re-edited. Episodes of Friends, Married..With Children, Neighbours, Spongebob Squarepants, and The Family Guy were either re-written or re-edited as it was felt that they had material which could be considered objectionable in the wake of the attacks. The openings of several shows were changed. The opening of Futurama had featured the Planet Express crashing into a television screen. This was edited out after the attacks. The openings of Sex and the City, Law and Order: Criminal Intent (just debuting that season--its original opening never aired), The Sopranos and Power Rangers Time Force were all edited to remove images of the Twin Towers.
One unexpected by-product of the 9/11 attacks is that older shows at the time, such as Friends, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond, performed better in the ratings than they had in years. In fact the 2001-2002 television season may have been the first in which the phenomenon of the "comfort show"--old favourites that people watch in times of stress for comfort--was recognised. Related to the phenomenon of the comfort show and the need for individuals to return to simpler times in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the networks debuted shows that were at least set partially in "simpler" times during the 2002-2003 season. The most successful of these shows may have been American Dreams, a drama set in Philadelphia in 1963. Fox debuted its own shows set in the "simpler" time of 1962. The sitcom Oliver Beene centred on an ll year old living at that time. Both Do Over and That Was Then dealt with men given the chance to relive their lives in the Eighties. Not all shows created in the wake of 9/11 were meant to provide escapism for Americans. The F/X series Rescue Me, centred on a group of New York City firefighters, grew out of the attacks. Among the issues it addressed was the trauma experienced by many firefighters following the attacks.
The phenomenon of the comfort show may also explain the success of the police procedural CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the espionage series 24, and similar shows. These were series in which, for the most part, the good guys won and the bad guys lost. Indeed, it is notable that CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was the smash hit of the 2001/2002 season and that, along with the Law and Order franchise and Crossing Jordan, it started a cycle towards police procedurals that lasted much of the decade. While the 9/11 attacks may have created renewed success for some shows and created cycles towards certain shows, they also altered the storylines of shows already on the air. The West Wing, JAG, Law and Order and Third Watch would all have to deal with the events of 11 September 2001 during their runs. In fact, a planned crossover event between Law and Order, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent that dealt with terrorist attacks by the Taliban on New York City had been scheduled to start shooting in September 2011. After the 09/11 attacks, the crossover event was cancelled.
The related media of radio and music would also feel the effects of the 9/11 attacks. Not long after 11 September 2001, Clear Channel issued a memo to its 1200 stations containing a list of 165 songs which it considered questionable following the attacks. At the time Clear Channel denied the memo even existed, although it later came to light that it did. That having been said, these songs were not banned from Clear Channel stations, it was simply suggested by Clear Channel that its stations avoid playing these songs following 9/11/2001. Even at the time it seemed ludicrous to think some of the songs on the list could have caused anyone offence in the wake of the attacks. Among the songs Clear Channel suggested its stations avoid were "Imagine" by John Lennon, "The Worst That Could Happen" by Brooklyn Bridge, and "A World Without Love" by Peter and Gordon. While Clear Channel was suggesting to its stations that they not play certain songs, there was an upsurge in airplay of patriotic songs. The song "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood had been released years earlier, but in the days following the 9/11 attacks it was played more than it ever been.
Not only were older patriotic songs being played more than they had been in years, but new patriotic songs were written in the wake of the attacks. This was especially true of the very conservative genre of country music. The year following the attacks saw the release of such songs as "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" by Alan Jackson and the very controversial "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" by Toby Keith. Country music may have produced more patriotic songs in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but they were not alone in doing so. In 2001 Sir Paul McCartney wrote "Freedom" as a tribute to the United States. Lynyrd Skynyrd released "Red, White, and Blue" in 2003.
Bruce Springsteen would go a step further than many musical artists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. His album The Rising, released 30 July 2002, dealt with Springsteen's reflections on the attacks. The title track dealt with the New York Fire Department's rescue operation at the World Trade Centre. "Lonesome Day" dealt with an individual who lost his beloved on 9/11/2001.
While patriotic songs were performed increasingly after the 9/11, various music artists saw to it that nothing they released added to the pain caused by the 9/11 attacks. Jimmy Eat World changed the title of its upcoming album Bleed American to Jimmy Eat World and the title of the song "Bleed American" to "Salt Sweat Sugar" so the titles would not be misinterpreted. Arrogant Worms would never perform the song "Worst Seat on the Plane" live as the album that it was on, Idiot Road, was released only a week after the attacks.
Like television and music, movies also felt the effects of the 9/11 attacks. Several movies that could possibly be considered disturbing following the attacks had their releases delayed. The comedy Big Trouble (2002) dealt with a nuclear device being smuggled aboard an aeroplane. Set for release on 21 September 2001, it was not released until 4 April 2002. When it was released it was promoted very little and disappeared from theatres swiftly. The Arnold Schwarzenegger film Collateral Damage (2002) had been scheduled for release 5 October 2001. Dealing as it did with terrorism, it was not released until 4 February 2002. Even movies that did not deal with terrorism in any way, shape, or form, were delayed because of the 9/11 attacks. The comedy View From the Top dealt with a flight attendant. Due to the attacks its release was moved from the holiday season of 2001 to April 2002. In the end it was not released until summer 2003. The Jackie Chan movie Nosebleed, which dealt with a window washer at the World Trade Centre who stops a terrorist plot, never even entered production.
Promotional material, such as movie trailers and posters, were also affected by the 9/11 attacks. The teaser trailer for Spider-Man (2002) had featured the World Trade Centre prominently. It was withdrawn after the attacks. A poster for Spider-Man, which featured the World Trade Centre reflected in Spider-Man's goggles, was also withdrawn. The original poster for Sidewalks of New York (2001) had also featured the Towers. It was altered before the film's release.
Even movies themselves would be edited following the 9/11 attacks. The World Trade Centre was removed from the films Serendipity (2001), Zoolander (2001), and People I Know (2002). Some films were either rewritten or re-edited so as not to be reminiscent of the attacks. In Lilo and Stitch (2002) a scene in which Stitch took a 747 for a joy ride was re-edited so that he was seen zooming around mountains rather than skyscrapers. A scene in The Incredibles (2004) in which Mr. Incredible took his stress out on an abandoned building was changed entirely. The climax of Men in Black II (2002) was reworked so that it involved the Statute of Liberty instead of the World Trade Centre.
While the World Trade Centre was edited out of some films, it would remain in others. Troma producer Lloyd Kaufman reasoned that audiences would be able to see the World Trade Centre without being traumatised and left it in the opening narration of Citizen Toxie: Toxic Avenger IV. It was released 2 November 2001. Reportedly, the audience cheered at the sight of the Twin Towers. The World Trade Centre also remained in the films Spider-Man, Gangs of New York (2002), and Vanilla Sky (2002).
Of course, the fact that the World Trade Centre could no longer be seen in the New York skyline created problems for movies set any time between 1973 and 2001. While some films immediately following the attacks removed the Twin Towers, there would be other films in which they had to be added. Miracle (2004), which dealt with the United States hockey team in the 1980 Olympics, had the World Trade Centre digitally restored to the New York skyline. The World Trade Centre was also restored to the New York skyline for Watchmen (2009), which was set in the Eighties, albeit in an alternate history. The 2005 movie Munich, set in 1973, also included the Twin Towers.
The 9/11 attacks would also provide the basis for feature films. Stairwell: Trapped in the World Trade Centre (2002) may have been the first feature film to deal with the attacks. It centred on a group of people trapped in one of the sub-basements of the World Trade Centre after the North Tower collapsed. United 93 (2006), released on 28 April 2006, was a dramatisation of the hijacking of United Flight 93 and the passengers' resistance against the hijackers. Oliver Stone's World Trade Centre was released a few months later on 9 August 2006. The film dealt with two Port Authority officers trapped under the rubble of the Twin Towers following the attacks. Reign Over Me (2007) dealt with a character who had literally lost everything in the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 attacks would also play a role in the film Remember Me (2010).
While very few motion pictures would deal directly with the 9/11 attacks or even acknowledge the events of that day, the attacks on 11 September 2001 would have an impact on the sort of movies one would see in the next ten years. While X-Men had met with success in 2000 and other superhero films (in particular, Spider-Man) were already planned before 11 September 2001, it seems quite possible that the cycle towards superhero movies that dominated much of the Naughts was a direct reaction to the attacks. Indeed, it seems significant that Spider-Man would be the third biggest box office film of 2002 and the most successful superhero film up until that time. Just as in the comic books, the city of New York played a central role in the film. The city would play an even larger role in the film's sequel, Spider-Man 2 (2004), particularly in a scene in which average New Yorkers are willing to fight Doctor Octopus to protect an injured Spider-Man. Following Spider-Man would be other superhero movies, including X2 (2003), Daredevil (2003), Hellboy (2004), Batman Begins (2005), and others. While Spider-Man was phenomenally successful, it seems likely that much of the reason for the cycle towards superhero movies was the need for escapist entertainment following 11 September 2011. In superhero movies, the good guys always win.
Superhero movies would not only dominate the Naughts, but escapist films in general. For the most part the highest grossing films of the decade would be escapist fare. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the Shrek movies, the Harry Potter franchise, and Avatar all transported audiences to a different time or a different world. Much of the reason for these films' success could well be the need to escape the reality of a post 9/11 world. To a degree many of these films, particularly those dealing with established characters such as Batman and Harry Potter, operated on the same level as the comfort shows of television. They served to comfort individuals by reminding them of simper times in the days before the 9/11 attacks. The need for "comfort movies" could also be the reason why the Naughts would see so many remakes. Over the decade Alfie, 3:10 to Yuma, Death Race 2000, Freaky Friday, Halloween, The Longest Yard, and many others would be remade. Beyond Hollywood's persistent idea that a familiar title means money, there could have been the same principle at work as comfort shows on television. Hollywood sought to provide audiences with reassurance and comfort by giving them familiar titles and familiar plots in an updated form.
In the end the attacks of 11 September 2001 would have a lasting impact on pop culture. Many of these effects would last throughout the decade of the Naughts. Perhaps because of the 9/11 attacks, television would see a cycle towards police procedurals and other similar TV shows in which the good guys generally won. The storylines of several television shows would be forever altered, while new shows (NCIS, for one) would be forced to deal with the realities of the war on terrorism. Movies would see cycles towards superhero movies and escapist films that took audiences away from reality. Movies based on familiar properties and remakes of older films would become common. While many of these events may have happened had the 9/11 attacks never occurred, it seems likely that most of them would not have.
The simple fact is that pop culture does not exist in a vacuum. Pop culture does respond to the major events in society. The Great Depression would have an impact on movies from King Kong (1933) to My Man Godfrey (1936). World War II would result in comic book heroes battling the Nazis as patriotic movies filled the screens of cinemas everywhere. Pop culture would then respond to the 9/11 attacks, the enormity of which could not be ignored. That pop culture is still affected to some degree by the events of 11 September 2001 can be seen not simply in the sheer media coverage of the 10th anniversary of that day, but in the raw emotion still felt by many of us on remembering the atrocities committed on that day. There are some events so terrible, so incomprehensible, so evil, that they should never be forgotten. It would seem, then, that the events of 9/11 will affect American pop culture for a long time to come.