I think that it’s difficult for anyone who wasn’t of age in 2001 to fully appreciate just how fucking bonkers American culture went in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I don’t even mean the wave of hate crimes and military invasions; I mean things like, overnight, American TV shows went from depicting torture as a great evil to depicting it as a Good and Necessary Thing to Defend the Homeland; cafeterias in government buildings in Washington DC started listing french fries as “freedom fries” after Jacques Chirac opposed the invasion of Iraq; there was an NHL hockey game in 2002 where the guy who was to sing the Canadian anthem had his car set on fire by a frenzied mob chanting “USA! USA! USA!”; Evanescence had to add aggressive male rapping as a backup vocal to “Wake Me Up Inside” because her label was concerned that the culture had become too feminised; there was a government “terror alert” system that, every few days, would issue vague threats and warnings about formerly innocuous behaviours; Donald Rumsfeld briefly became a sex symbol; they postponed the release of Spider-Man for reshoots to incorporate more patriotic imagery; and all of this is barely scratching the surface.
(This, incidentally, is why I will never have a high opinion of Star Trek: Enterprise in spite of the fact that audiences have rehabilitated it to some extent in recent years; because I will never be able to separate it–and especially its Xindi arc–from its original context as a jingoistic analogue for the War on Terror)
Everyone forgets that this is where the grim dark “gritty realism” trend in television shows and movies came from. Before 2001 there was a lot on TV and in movies that was just dumb campy fun (anyone remember Charmed? Xena? X-Files?) And it was completely okay and it was acceptable and in that dumb campy fun we had good story arcs and we had good character growth and everything. But then after 2001 everything had to have an edge to it regardless of if it made sense to the story arc overall the particular plot or even a single or set of characters. Literally everything became all edge with no point other than to look “realistic” and justify some fake hashtag deep kind of dark philosophy about the world how you had to be hard and tough and realistic in order to survive.
Seriously, America lost its collective MIND during this time. It was fuckin awful and we’ve never recovered from it.
And I hate it because, yes, 9/11 was a tragedy. But compared to other countries and incidents? Terrible things happen the world over, all the time. But this one, because it happened here and (despite the school shootings and everything else) there’s this collective “things like that don’t happen here” mentality the nation went batshit.
The media started whipping shit up, the 24-hour news cycle really amped up, and patriotism became The Thing. Like everything was just coated in a veneer of the stuff. And if you objected? You were the antichrist.
Also, certain songs like TNT got taken off the radio, everyone suddenly had an American flag somewhere, my peers were rabidly signing up for the military (with very, very racist commentary the whole way), etc.
Everyone fell for it and they fell hard.
I remember them talking about going to Iraq after Afghanistan and everyone just acted like that was always the plan. And me, being a teenager still in English classes, just had a flashback to reading 1984:
“On the sixth day of Hate Week, after the processions, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns—after six days of this, when the great orgasm was quivering to its climax and the general hatred of Eurasia had boiled up into such delirium that if the crowd could have got their hands on the 2,000 Eurasian war-criminals who were to be publicly hanged on the last day of the proceedings, they would unquestionably have torn them to pieces—at just this moment it had been announced that Oceania was not after all at war with Eurasia. Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Eurasia was an ally.”
Then this happens:
“The speech had been proceeding for perhaps twenty minutes when a messenger hurried on to the platform and a scrap of paper was slipped into the speaker’s hand. He unrolled and read it without pausing in his speech. Nothing altered in his voice or manner, or in the content of what he was saying, but suddenly the names were different. Without words said, a wave of understanding rippled through the crowd. Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work! There was a riotous interlude while posters were ripped from the walls, banners torn to shreds and trampled underfoot. The Spies performed prodigies of activity in clambering over the rooftops and cutting the streamers that fluttered from the chimneys. But within two or three minutes it was all over. The orator, still gripping the neck of the microphone, his shoulders hunched forward, his free hand clawing at the air, had gone straight on with his speech. One minute more, and the feral roars of rage were again bursting from the crowd. The Hate continued exactly as before, except that the target had been changed.”
I will never forget this scene in the book because watching as the war shifted in real life and the way my country reacted to it was like seeing it play out in real-time.
And when I pointed it out to people?
I was the bad guy.
as someone who got caught up in the furore- yes. all this.
Let’s not forget these totally-not-propaganda Disney commercials that talked about how great and amazing the US is. Please remember these commercials played on a children’s network.
Also, rampant censorship of music, like seriously take a look at this fucking list. Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews Band was banned. So was Walk Like An Egyptian by the Bangles. And Rocket Man by Elton John. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. In addition to any music that could be perceived as even slightly critical of the US, as you’ll notice reading the list, with Rage Against the Machine’s entire catalog being banned.
Which is also why Green Day’s American Idiot was so revolutionary. Like yeah, it is a BOMB-ass all killer no filler album. But it also was just the right amount of time after 9/11 and it put words to the bullshit people had started to see through. It said the unpopular thing both out loud and catchy, which permanently infused its anti-establishment themes and rebellious undertones into the culture and gave an entire cynical, rebellious, unpatriotic and free-thinking minority the soundtrack and microphone they needed to grow and spread.
I mean, people did NOT just openly criticize america and american culture and americans back then, especially not americans. But to open the album with “don’t wanna be an American idiot” in the middle of the bush administration? It was radical. It was a shift in what you could and couldn’t do. Especially after the Dixie Chicks were blacklisted for doing the same thing.
I say this not as an ageist thing, but as a pretty clear marker of a generational divide in young Americans: I’m still caught off guard when I’m talking to someone who’s in their early 20s and say something that reminds me they have no idea what American culture was like before 9/11.
I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about how the vibe changed (I was sick the week of Sep 10. 2001 and did not have the visceral reaction everyone else did)
I honestly believe that the 1990s ended September 11, 2001.
The dot com bubble popping in March of the previous year had chilled everyone out about The Internet, but September 11 absolutely KILLED any sort of optimism about anything, and very much set the stage for this sort of faux patriotic nationalism that has become especially bad in the last 10 years.