7 ways 9/11 and the Twin Towers attacks affected pop culture

The place I used to be on 9/11 is irrelevant, so I’ll spare you. The place I used to be at the precise second the United States declared struggle on Iraq, although, is maybe price sharing.

Like many spring breakers in late March of 2003, I used to be at a Daytona Seashore nightclub. Round 10:30 p.m. or so, the DJ pale out the music—in all probability Bone Crusher’s then-inescapable “By no means Scared”—and introduced to a dance flooring of sunburned, drunken youngsters that we have been now formally at struggle. (Or more so, anyway.) Instantly after sharing this info, simply as U.S. forces have been finishing up their first air strikes in Iraq, the DJ dropped the needle on Outkast’s “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad).” The gang misplaced its collective thoughts, dancing ecstatically to an antiwar song that current occasions had now rendered eerily literal.

That second was emblematic of the approach pop culture grew to become twisted and contorted in the carnage of 9/11 and its aftermath. Current materials was out of the blue imbued with new that means, and tasks in improvement needed to be recontextualized or reconsidered altogether. Jackie Chan appeared prescient, in a optimistic approach, for delaying the begin of his in the end scrapped movie Nosebleed, about a window washer working at the World Trade Center; rap duo The Coup appeared prescient, in a detrimental approach, for the in the end scrapped cowl artwork on its November 2001 album Social gathering Music, which depicted the Twin Towers mid detonation.


It will take a long time, nevertheless, for anybody to realize sufficient distance, info, and perspective to see the full cultural impression of 9/11. Many bear in mind issues like the Freedom Fries moment and the wave of looking out struggle motion pictures, from The Hurt Locker to American Sniper. However there are many lesser heralded cultural penalties of 9/11 that most individuals have both forgotten or by no means heard about in the first place.

The belief of fragility

In the instant aftermath of 9/11, the main TV networks aired four straight days of nonstop commercial-free news coverage, forfeiting about $200 million price of promoting in the course of. Some channels, like The Meals Community and HGTV, stopped airing programs altogether, with a title card onscreen as an alternative expressing sympathies for the deceased. Fairly quickly, although, much more was lacking than advertisements and some exhibits.

Clear Channel Communications, which has since rebranded as iHeartMedia, developed a list of 164 songs it deemed too upsetting for airplay in the wake of 9/11. The corporate despatched a memo to all of its 1,100+ radio stations, strongly urging them to keep away from these tracks. Whereas it’s simple to see why songs like “Bodies” by Drowning Pool and Soundgarden’s “Blow Up the Outside World” might need made the record, much less clear is the necessity of maintaining Rage In opposition to the Machine’s total discography off air—and the resolution to take away The Bangles’s “Stroll Like an Egyptian” feels borderline racist.

Over on TV, executives equally concluded that People have been too fragile to deal with violent content material at the moment. TBS shelved movies like Lethal Weapon, as an example, in favor of family-friendly comedies like Look Who’s Speaking. Extra broadly, the powers that be determined that People wanted to be sheltered from any reminder of the 9/11 attacks—regardless of the undeniable fact that most individuals may assume or speak about little else. Networks lower the phrase “terrorist” from TV variations of movies like E.T.: The Extraterrestrial and Again to the Future, NBC edited out a Friends joke about bombs at the airport, and the very idea of terrorism needed to be stripped from the hotly anticipated online game Grand Theft Auto 3. Cable networks altered motion pictures that includes destruction in New York Metropolis—together with each 1998 meteor motion pictures, Armageddon and Deep Impression—together with any imagery of the World Commerce Heart, which was additionally excised from upcoming movies like Spider-Man and Maid in Manhattan. (Curiously, director Sam Raimi then added a corny moment to Spider-Man, celebrating New Yorker solidarity.)

One among the adjustments that finest represents the nascent concern for shopper sensitivity, although, arrived in the 2002 thriller The Bourne Id. Director Doug Liman did reshoots on the Matt Damon automobile to ensure the CIA would not be seen as the film’s villains. Such an consequence may make the group behind The Bourne Id look like the worst factor anybody could possibly be perceived of at the second: anti-American.

Cancel culture, 9/11-style

A preferred rejoinder to conservative complaints about cancel culture throughout the newest Mr. Potato Head-induced panic is that conservatives as soon as canceled the Dixie Chicks. Now renamed merely The Chicks, the pop-country trio spoke out in opposition to George W. Bush in 2003, asserting at a present in London that they have been “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” and have been met again house with canceled present dates, radio boycotts, and CD-destroying parties. However this band was only one instance of the opposition to American dissent, post-9/11.


One among the first and most public examples was Invoice Maher, then host of ABC’s late-night debate present Politically Incorrect. On the present’s first episode after 9/11, Maher took exception to the widespread framing that the terrorists who attacked America had acted cowardly. “Staying in the airplane when it hits the constructing, say what you need about it, it’s not cowardly,” the host mentioned. He was immediately and broadly pilloried for his remark, and regardless that he apologized quickly after, ABC canceled Politically Incorrect. (Jimmy Kimmel Stay! was created to take the present’s place.) In a speech denouncing Maher, and precisely summarizing the nationwide temper, White Home press secretary Ari Fleischer noted that, in occasions like these, ”individuals have to observe what they are saying and watch what they do.”

Anybody who didn’t watch what they mentioned could possibly be assured that others could be paying consideration. A pair of school professors who have been crucial of President Bush’s actions on 9/11 have been summarily dismissed for his or her remarks. The Baseball Corridor of Fame canceled a Fifteenth-anniversary celebration of the film Bull Durham in 2003 after its stars, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, voiced opposition to interventionist struggle. (The president of the Baseball Corridor of Fame later expressed regret for the resolution.) Lastly, additionally in 2003, veteran TV host Phil Donahue was fired from his MSNBC present as a result of, as an internal memo steered, his present was “a house for the liberal antiwar agenda at the identical time that our opponents are waving the flag at each alternative.”

MSNBC executives again then had no concept of the community’s Rachel Maddow future. However they certain understood which approach the wind was blowing at the time.

The patriotism Olympics

Whereas dissent had basically develop into verboten in post-9/11 America, jingoistic exhibitions have been broadly inspired. Nowhere was this extra obvious than in the world of sports activities.

The primary mass public meeting after the towers got here down was the WWE’s Smackdown, which aired on September 13, stay from an American flag-festooned arena. In the meantime, Main League Baseball would stay shut down for 4 extra days, making it the longest pause in the league’s historical past since World War I. Baseball got here roaring again on September 17, with a Mets vs. Pirates matchup and some notable adjustments. Each groups wore the Stars and Stripes on their uniforms, with the Mets donning caps inscribed with NYPD and NYFD quite than its personal insignia. Extra consequentially, although, an assistant media relations director with the San Diego Padres suggested changing the commonplace seventh-inning stretch music, “Take Me Out to the Ball Recreation,” with the extra solemn “God Bless America.” The commissioner of the MLB preferred this concept a lot, he stipulated it for all groups going ahead. That custom stays a special-occasions commonplace to this present day, and each the Yankees and Dodgers nonetheless play the music at each recreation.

Regardless of no direct correlation between patriotism and sports activities, comparable shows sprang up nationwide, far past baseball. Throughout a soccer recreation the second Sunday after 9/11, between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings, sailors from the Nice Lakes Naval Academy unfurled an enormous American flag throughout Soldier Area, upping the patriotic ante. After successful a NASCAR race that very same day, Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried a large American flag around the track, a gesture most race winners repeated for the remainder of the 2001 season. Flag fever had certainly taken maintain. In actual fact, as the New York Instances later reported, a cottage industry of enormous flag makers quickly emerged to accommodate demand from sporting occasions, which culminated in a 2008 All-Star Recreation look of a 15-story building-size flag. All sporting occasions had seemingly advanced into the Olympics of Patriotism.

Propaganda for the entire household

In October of 2001, acting on behalf of the FBI and the White House, Fox’s long-running hit America’s Most Needed aired a Friday night time particular episode on the “Most Needed Terrorists.” Fairly quickly, messages supporting the struggle effort, warning of future terrorism, and recruiting for the military started to appear all over the place. A current viral twitter thread, as an example, confirmed off the Disney Channel’s post-9/11 efforts at incepting some rah-rah spirit in its tween viewers. The station’s Categorical Your self shorts, that includes a steady of younger stars like Hilary Duff, began airing in January 2001, earlier than taking up an explicitly patriotic bent after 9/11.

It was an odd match for an viewers too younger to have significant consent manufactured for them, however no more unusual than a few of the period’s different efforts at televisual messaging. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, the U.S. State Division ordered a $15 million public relations marketing campaign referred to as the Shared Values Initiative. It was designed to indicate the remainder of the world that America was a welcoming and pleasant place for Muslims—whilst bias and hate crimes in opposition to Muslim People ran rampant. Madison Avenue promoting legend Charlotte Beers was recruited to direct a sequence of quick movies selling particular person success tales in what grew to become often known as the “Completely happy Muslim” marketing campaign. The mission was an utter failure, abruptly discontinued not lengthy after it started.

Then there was Enduring Freedom: The Opening Chapter, an optimistically titled quick movie that adopted U.S. Armed Forces combating the Struggle on Terror. The $1.2 million quick performed earlier than the characteristic presentation in 4,000 theaters throughout the nation for about one month in the fall of 2002, earlier than cinema chains pulled the plug. Though the theater homeowners claimed that the quick had merely run its course, and was taking away beneficial promoting actual property from trailers for upcoming releases, some viewers discovered it to be tacky propaganda for a struggle effort they didn’t but know would ramp up additional in the spring.

Lest navy officers have anxious about sufficient younger individuals being moved to enlist, nevertheless, the Military had additionally simply launched America’s Army: Operations, a free PC recreation it spent tens of millions creating, with the categorical objective of recruitment.

A number of different makes an attempt to foment help for the struggle effort have been extra subtly packaged, although.


The federal government feeds Hollywood

The 2002 quick movie Operation Enduring Freedom: The Opening Chapter, detailed above, was the direct results of a hush-hush assembly the earlier fall between government officials and Hollywood executives. Led by President Bush’s most trusted adviser, the Republican strategist Karl Rove, and attended by the likes of HBO’s Chris Albrecht and CBS head Les Moonves, the assembly was overtly in service of making an “arts and entertainment task force” to help the Struggle on Terror.

It’s unclear the full extent to which the message of that assembly was acquired, however a few of the impression is completely traceable. CBS’s CIA-set sequence The Company was created in 2001, however by fall 2002, the present featured plot traces comparable to this one: “When Gage discovers {that a} potential Iraqi defector has been held prisoner in the U.S. for the final six years, he authorizes a mission to take the man again to his homeland to establish a weapons web site.” Throughout its highly rated seventh season in the spring of 2002, CBS’s naval-based hit JAG out of the blue discovered its heroes fighting Al-Qaeda. The next 12 months, CBS unveiled NCIS (Naval Felony Investigative Service), a scores juggernaut with a terrorism subplot in its first season, and unveiled The Unit in 2006, a present from reactionary playwright David Mamet that centered on counterterrorism.

Though, as Variety reported at the time of the assembly in 2001, “The White Home emissaries have been cautious to keep away from strategies that any type of propaganda movies could be fostered by the new activity drive,” what else does one name a joint effort between the authorities and the leisure business to create pointed wartime messaging?

Hollywood feeds the authorities

Earlier than the assembly to debate promoting the struggle on terror in November 2001, another meeting befell between authorities officers and key figures in the leisure business. Somewhat than give marching orders, nevertheless, the level of this assembly was to solicit concepts from Hollywood creatives on what kind of future terrorist situations the U.S. may count on, together with potential options. Die Arduous screenwriter Steven E. De Souza, Battle Membership director David Fincher, and even Being John Malkovich creator Spike Jonze have been among those assembled for the surreal hypothesis session at the U.S. Military-funded Institute for Artistic Applied sciences in California. Intelligence providers might need surmised that Bin Laden was determined to strike in the U.S., nevertheless it was an Iron Man comedian ebook, in any case, that predicted in 1994 an assault on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Conferences weren’t the solely factor the U.S. authorities bought out of Hollywood. In the years after 9/11, the two entities gave the impression to be locked in a recursive suggestions loop round the ethics of counterterrorism. Probably the most outstanding instance of this phenomenon is Fox’s hit thriller 24, which increasingly mirrored real-life events, and which can have in flip influenced authorities officers and navy workers—notably on the issue of torture.

Though 24‘s gimmick was that every episode corresponded with one hour in a season-length single day, the present’s true focus was on whether or not the ends of saving the day are justified by the technique of torture. (Its reply? An emphatic affirmative.) The present adopted counterterrorism skilled Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) as he sought to defuse the newest in a sequence of fixed threats to the U.S., ceaselessly by means of “enhanced interrogation.” The present was reportedly a favourite of President Bush, and according to Diane Beaver, a lawyer who had been a workers decide advocate at Guantanamo Bay in fall 2002, lots of people working at the navy jail have been followers. As Beaver informed The Guardian in 2008, “Some described to me how the sequence contributed on to an surroundings encouraging these in the interrogation facility to see themselves as being on the entrance line, and to go additional than they in any other case might need. 24 additionally made it tougher for many who objected to the abuse to cease it.”

The present’s ongoing portrayal of torture as a dependable, justified tactic ultimately prompted the dean of West Point to fly to California in the fall of 2006, with three skilled interrogators in tow, to persuade the present’s artistic group to as an alternative “do a present the place torture backfires.”

Maybe such a present would assist accomplish what the blowback from Abu Ghraib apparently had not.

The shaping of the MCU

Lastly, 9/11 helped steer the course of what’s at present the world’s hottest leisure drive throughout movie and tv: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The aforementioned Iron Man—the alter-ego of metal-clad zillionaire genius Tony Stark—was initially conceived as a fighter in opposition to the “Communist menace,” dealing with off in opposition to villains, comparable to the Crimson Barbarian, the Crimson Dynamo, and the Mandarin. In actual fact, at one level in the comedian books, Nikita Khrushchev personally tried to take him out. Not lengthy after 9/11, although, author Warren Ellis retconned the character’s origin story, tracing it to the first Gulf Struggle as an alternative. By the time the MCU launched with 2008’s Iron Man, the title character is given new origins: Tony Stark is captured and tortured by a few of the Afghan terrorists who’ve been buying the weapons Stark manufactures, unbeknownst to him.

The attacks on 9/11 don’t simply linger in the MCU in Tony Stark’s origins, although. Future movies in the franchise embrace oddly real looking acts of terrorism obviously inspired by these perpetrated that day. The implication appears to be that if superheroes had existed in actual life in 2001, 9/11 by no means might need occurred. However they don’t, and it did. And pop culture won’t ever allow us to neglect it.