Saturday, September 10, 2011

NIGHTMARES for the American Dream Factory/Remembering 9-11

Originally published in The Kansas City Kansan, Sept. 28, 2001

By Steve Crum

The horrific events of Sept. 11 continue to affect every American. What was funny on Sept. 10 is not so funny now. Humor, particularly political satire, instantly fell out of fashion as politicians fast became heroes or, at the very least, harbingers of hope and justice.

The mass media, reflecting an awkward stock market, began playing bear with its entertainment news industries. The mood of a country influences its citizens’ viewing, listening and reading habits, of course.

During the last 17 days, initial shock has given to patriotism and a somber uncertainty. Movie studios, networks and publishers sensed that mood immediately, and acted upon it. No upcoming motion picture was going to be even hinted at as distasteful, unpatriotic or insensitive.

The so-called “dream factory,” always catering to its ticket-buying public (after all, we are talking about a multibillion dollar industry), rushed to edit or re-shoot scenes in a number of films. Soon to be released movie openings were changed--some to next year, some to an undetermined date.

TV shows were likewise handled. A handful of programs slated for a September premiere are on hold until the barometer of viewers’ feelings changes. Add print media to the affected mass. The New Yorker magazine, the long time, slick paper voice of Big Apple culture, appropriately featured a Sept. 24 cover of chilling impact. What appears at first to be a solid black cover (with the title, date and price in bold white across the top), a closer look reveals the silhouette of the twin WTC towers in solid black, set against an ultra dark, purple sky.

Inside, film critic Anthony Lane, in his essay, “This Is Not a Movie,” speaks of mass media’s link with reality. After repeated doses of explosions and catastrophes via motion picture special effects, we were force fed the real thing.

“It was hard to make the switch,” he writes. “The fireball of impact was so precisely as it should be, and the breaking waves of dust that barreled down the avenues were so absurdly recognizable--we have tasted them so frequently in other forms, such as water, flame, and Godzilla’s foot.” Except these were no stunt men. No computer graphics here. “Here,” Lane observes, “as emergency services groped through the black-and-white fallout of the vanished towers, and as color drained from the scene, the horror was new. We could bear to look, and all we did was look.”

The entertainment industry responds: Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man whose career was built on gun blasts and explosions, needs a comeback. Maybe later. The Oct. 5 release of his new flick, Collateral Damage, is now delayed, very likely until 2002. Warners decided the violent plot is ill-timed.

Schwarzenegger plays a fireman whose wife and young son are killed when a Colombian terrorist blows up an American consulate building. He seeks revenge. No question why this was shelved.

Both David Letterman and Jay Leno have stopped political jibes. Bill Maher, host of TV’s Politically Incorrect, was criticized for the very thing about which he is noted: being politically incorrect. After making comments about our government’s past military actions, and saying terrorists who crash into buildings “are anything but cowards,” several sponsors canceled. A you’re-either-with-or-against-the-USA attitude prevails. Maher apologized on air.

The enjoyable preview for the upcoming movie, Spider-Man, was yanked. In it, which I saw a couple of times, a helicopter full of robbers speeds around a building in Manhattan. Suddenly, a force drags them backwards. The camera pulls back, showing the helicopter caught in a giant spider web that is suspended between the World Trade Center towers. Word is that this scene was shot only for the trailer, so no editing will be necessary in the actual movie.

Tim Allen’s yet unreleased feature film, Big Trouble, which ends with a nuclear bomb being smuggled into an airport, is on hiatus until next year...or later.

KCPT-19, Kansas City’s public television station, is in the process of re-editing showings of the sketch comedy program, Right Between the Ears. The locally produced show, heard nationally on National Public Radio stations, taped three heralded TV shows this summer. Having not missed a taping of their radio show (from Lawrence’s Liberty Hall) during the last three years, I know that at least half of the funny group’s skits focus on politicians.

Cynthia Smith, former Channel 4 anchor and now a KCPT executive, told me this week that all political jokes are being cut or at least reconsidered. “They are editing the tapes as we speak,” she said.

“And that is not all,” she said. “Channel 19 canceled an episode of its popular kids’ show, Jay Jay, the Jet Plane, because it showed a plane crash." It would have run at 11 a.m. on September 11.