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The Impact of 9/11 on Cinema, Music, and Literature: A Cultural Review

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On this day in 2001, the world witnessed the devastating terrorist attacks orchestrated by Al Qaeda. Four passenger planes were hijacked, with two crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, one into the Pentagon, and another brought down by brave passengers in a revolt. These attacks resulted in the deaths of 2,977 civilians and 19 terrorists.

Beyond the immediate loss of life, these attacks sparked a two-decade-long war on terror, which included the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that up to 4.6 million lives have been lost as a consequence of the war on terror.

However, the impact of 9/11 extended far beyond politics and warfare. Culturally, it reshaped the arts, particularly in the United States. Following a relatively peaceful decade in the 1990s, the events of 9/11 ushered in an era of anxiety and fear. Terrorism became a common concern, and Muslims in Western countries experienced a growing wave of Islamophobia.

The Immediate Effects on Art

The immediate aftermath of the attacks had a profound effect on the arts. Many projects featuring visual references to the destroyed towers or depicting terrorist acts on planes or in New York were postponed or altered.

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One noteworthy example is Disney’s animated film, Lilo & Stitch. Originally, the movie included a scene in which characters hijacked a Boeing 747 and flew it through the center of Honolulu. However, this scene was edited to substitute the plane with an alien spaceship.

Similarly, the 53rd Primetime Emmy Awards were initially postponed from September 16 to October 6, only to be further delayed until November 4 when the United States commenced its bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

Movie trailers and posters for upcoming films, such as Spiderman, removed images of the Twin Towers. Additionally, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was delayed for an entire year before finally premiering in December 2002.

The Musical Landscape

In the realm of music, the release of The Strokes’ debut album, Is This It, was delayed in the United States. The song “New York City Cops,” which contained critical lyrics about the city’s police force, was replaced with the B-side track “When It Started” for fear of negative reception from the American audience.

These are just a few examples of the numerous similar changes that occurred in response to 9/11. The impact of these events reverberated throughout the 2000s and beyond, with novelists addressing the shifting national mood in books like Don DeLillo’s postmodern champion Falling Man (2007) and Jonathan Safran Froer’s precocious debut Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2005).

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Cinema Reflects the Times

The film industry also grappled with the aftermath of 9/11. Oliver Stone’s disaster movie World Trade Center (2006), starring Nicolas Cage, was predictably somber and manipulative in its exploration of the events. A more compassionate attempt to find humanity within the tragedy came from Paul Greengrass’ United 93, which focused on the revolt of the passengers aboard the fourth hijacked plane and involved collaboration with the families of the victims.

The anxiety and fervent patriotism that followed the attacks in the United States were well-reflected—intentionally or not—in Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2014). This biographical film about Chris Kyle, the deadliest sniper in U.S. military history, includes depictions of faceless Muslims being killed on screen, serving as a trope that was satirized to some extent in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.

Perhaps the most fitting film to capture the shifting atmosphere following 9/11 is not American but British. Chris Morris’ Four Lions (2010) portrays a group of inept aspiring terrorists planning an attack during the London Marathon. This film, in which Riz Ahmed played a prominent role, perfectly captures both the madness of extremism and the Islamophobic environment in the United Kingdom.

The impact of 9/11 on cinema, music, and literature cannot be overstated. It altered the creative landscape, providing a backdrop of fear, anxiety, and political upheaval. Two decades later, the echoes of that fateful day can still be seen and heard, reminding us of the profound effect it had on our culture.

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