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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tracing 9/11 Through Culture

M.I.A. performs at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards in 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP)

M.I.A. performs at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards in 2009, in Los Angeles. (AP)

We all know the big films that came from Sept. 11, from “United 93″ to “World Trade Center.” There were also major Sept.11 books by John Updike, Don DeLillo, Jonathan Safran Foer and Sue Miller.

But culture critic Jeffrey Melnick says the multiple traumas of Sept. 11 are also woven in more subtle ways through American culture, even 10 years on.

Melnick says shows like “Lost” and films like “Chicken Little,” neither of which mention Sept.11, were about the terrorist attacks.

Melnick says there’s also art focused on the aftermath, what he calls “September 12 Art.”

September 12 art includes films like Steven Speilberg’s “Munich” and music by Hip Hop artists like Eric Sermon and M.I.A and Jay Z’s collaboration the British DJ, Punjabi MC.


  • Jeffrey Melnick, professor of American Studies, College of Liberal Arts at the University of Massachusetts Boston

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  • Richard Pendleton

    Skyscrapers collapsed in the film FIGHT CLUB (1999)

  • Victoria Jones

    You asked if 9/11 hadn’t happened, “What culture would be missing?” The biggest thing would be an open dialogue between non-Muslim Americans and Muslims as well as the Middle East as a whole. While the segment touched on music and  a little bit of film, I think film has had the most impact. Munich is a great example of giving a glimpse in to the Palestinian side, but there have been so many other films that have taken on the need to have discussion and the importance of learning about each other.

    Films like Babel, The Kingdom, Body of Lies, Rendition, and others have not only shown the difficulties that arose out of 9/11, but it has shed light on the importance that the acts of a few must not be blamed on the many. Also important to consider is that many Arab-American and Middle East based filmmakers saw an opportunity to tell their story. Look at Amreeka, Lemon Tree, The Yacoubian Building, Kite Runner and the very daring Paradise Now which addresses the topic of Palestinian suicide bombers, but focuses not on the act, but the circumstances that lead them to believe it is the only option they have left. They are for once humanized. What’s more, is these films have not only been made, but they have been recognized in American (and other) film festival, won awards and have been distributed by American film companies.

    Dialogue and understanding are the keys to peace. While 9/11 was horribly tragic, and we will never forget that day or the days that followed, we were at least able to cultivated a willingness to have open dialogue. (I speak passionately about this, because this is what my Masters thesis is about and I am currently writing it. Also in light of the Arab Spring, it will be amazing I believe to see what film will do next.)

  • Keren S.

    I found this to be such a refreshing way to approach the topic of 9/11.  Jeffrey Melnick’s commentary and insight were very illuminating!

  • Hayyim Feldman

    I missed a lot of this segment, but in case you didn’t touch on it:  Leonard Cohen, “On That Day,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20q1QSibaXk

    Some people say
    It’s what we deserve
    For sins against g-d
    For crimes in the world
    I wouldn’t know
    I’m just holding the fort
    Since that day
    They wounded New York
    Some people say
    They hate us of old
    Our women unveiled
    Our slaves and our gold
    I wouldn’t know
    I’m just holding the fort
    But answer me this
    I won’t take you to court
    Did you go crazy
    Or did you report
    On that day
    On that day
    They wounded New York

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Alexander Siddig played Saladin’s aide in “Kingdom of Heaven” and Doctor Bashir on “Deep Space Nine.”  His characters are interesting and never cardboard.

  • Anonymous

    Alan Jackson, who famously sang “I’m not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran” is lucky that the US government can tell the idfference between Alan Jackson and Osama Bin Laden, isn’t he?  What luck to be born with those Aryan blue eyes and blonde hair.  MIA, like Alan Jackson, is a phony and an opportunist. A very depressing segment.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I saw “Vanilla Sky” shortly after 9/11.  Tom Cruise was wretched as usual, but the scene of him jumping off one of the Twin Towers was disturbing in a way that the director didn’t intend.

  • Jeanopdx

    I am still as moved by Bruce Springsteen’s album The Rising as I was the first time I listened to it. Every song.

  • Todd

    David Bowie’s New Killer Stars:

    See the great white scar
    Over Battery Park
    And a flare flies over
    But I won’t look at that star

    Oh, my nuclear baby
    (One who spotted the star)
    Oh, my idiot trance
    All my idiot questions
    Let’s face the music and dance

    Don’t ever say I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready
    I never said I’m better, I’m better, I’m better
    Don’t ever say I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready
    I never said I’m better, I’m better, I’m better
    I’m better than you

    All the corners of the buildings
    Who but we remember these
    The sidewalks and trees
    I’m thinking now

  • Jodiemarlowe

    I believe that intellectual, peace and justice loving people are of course going to pursue and perceive that all people of various religions and belief systems involving religion want the same thing that they want;  peace and justice.    Let us not be fooled.   Education in life and in the streets has taught me that if folks are being truly honest, they will let you know that the koran has many passages of murder and rape that are not only tolerated but encouraged, and peace loving muslims if they are at all on the internet or in connection with news in the “middle east” (by the way not a dirty word), they will at some point be challenged in their commitment to their faith by extremists claiming that if they do not join the “true” faith they are not of the faith at all.   To put any one faith based group of people of any kind in any box or category is ignorant and I certainly do not suggest this at all, let us be educated fully and not just idealistic.    Further, if any group of any faith, such as the catholics were to have a faction that murdered people and destroyed two buildings;   I would not even want to consider building any sort of prayer center from any catholic group as to remind anyone everytime of the devastation that occurred there.  I cannot imagine that any person of any peace loving thought towards any people could ever consider such a thing!   Peace to All!!!!!

  • James Welch

    Left out was the 2003 Oscar winning Best Foreign Langage film “The Barbarian Invasions.” Actually including the footage of the tower collapsing, the “invasion” metaphor is a magnification of a cancer invasion into the life of the central character. Inflected and stunning, as Wallace Stevens wrote,”I do not know which to prefer, the beauty of inflections or the beauty of innuendoes, the blackbird whistling, or just after.” The power of reality subsumed by the insight of art, inflection and innuendo.

    James Welch
    Eagle River, Alaska

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