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Yaw s” A;:i BOOKS & THE CULTURE What Al Qaeda Did to the Movies BY STEVEN G. KELLMAN Film and Television After 9/11 Edited by Wheeler Winston Dixon Southern Illinois University 240 pages, $30 paper, $60 cloth. 1 t is a truth universally acknowledged that “September 11 changed everything.” Unlike any other numerical combination, even 24/7, 9/11 has entered into the general language as a syn onym for irreparable cataclysm. But triangles still contain three angles, Bismarck is still the capital of North Dakota, and cabbage still causes flatulence. If nothing else, the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon transformed discourse into bombast. In the neo-Manichaean partition of the planet into the armies of good and evil, absolute pronouncements have displaced equivocation. Vivid images of the obliteration of New York’s tallest towers provided a powerful lesson in the importance of being earnest. When the sky began falling on Manhattan, it marked “the end of the age of irony,” proclaimed editor Graydon Carter. “Things that were considered fringe and frivolous are going to disappears’ However, irony is ageless, and skepticismeven, or especially, about the death of skepticismis the grain of salt that guards us from collective goiter. To counter Carter’s claim, one need look no farther than his own glossy magazine, Vanity Fair, which continues to be a monthly celebration of the fringe and the frivolous. In 1873, the year of financial panic in New York and Vienna, Emily Dickinson, no prototype of Funny Girl, described “An Innuendo sear/ That makes the Heart put up its Fun/ And turn Philosopher.” The violent events of September 11, 2001, made many turn philosophicalfor about three weeks. Jay Leno and David Letterman stopped poking fun, and songs thought insensitive or irreverent, such as “Sure Shot” by the Beastie Boys and “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul, and Mary, were banned from broadcast. Professional baseball and football games were canceled. However, national solemnity lasted as long as it takes Donald Trump to fire an incompetent apprentice. Post-9/11 Americans are not single-minded enough to ignore Janet Jackson’s bosom or cease munching Krispy Kremes. Though an invasion of Iraq was being plotted as soon as the Bushites came to power nine months before 9/11, the day’s effect on geopolitics was immediate and dramatic. A muddling president whose initial response to the attacks was confusion and flight was reinvented as the decisive leader of a righteous crusade against barbarism. The whole world became a theater of perpetual war between Civilization and its Discontents, the general populace not actors but audience. Americans became citizen-spectators of upheaval, in New York, Washington, Afghanistan, and Iraq, that seemed remarkably like a movie, because events arrived as sensational images packaged with martial music and cinematic titles such as “America Under Attack” and “America’s New War.” Observing planes smashing into buildings through a TV screen in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein remarked, “When we watched what was happening in America for the first time, we thought it might be another American movie. Later we found that it was a real movie.” Robert Altman responded to 9/11 by observing, “Nobody would have thought to commit an atrocity like that unless they’d seen it in a movie:’ But Americans also came to feel like studio extras; defying the Constitutionally commissioned director was treasonous breach of contract. Wheeler Winston Dixon, a professor at the University of Nebraska, invited 11 other scholars to examine film and television in lightand darkof September 11. How have the terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq been covered and represented on small and large screens? And how has Osama bin Laden altered production for movies and TV? In his Introduction, Dixon discusses alterations in the zeitgeist and surveys works that have been released since 9/11. Without systematic analysis of content and reception, it is impossible to determine whether the titles he mentionsa motley list including Gods and Generals, PBS’s “Heroes of Ground Zero,” MSNBC’s “Target Manhattan$ Bowling for Columbine, 8 Mile, “The Anna Nicole Show,” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Barbershop, and Spy Kids 2demonstrate an impulse toward escapism or engagement. Books, particularlythose p resented by university presses, tend to have longer gestation 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 4/23/04