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Popular Reactions to 9/11: The Value of "Portraits of Grief"
An interesting comparison made by visitor Stefan Schuster. From 9/12/2001 to 12/31/01, The New York Times put tremendous effort into compiling short profiles of all the known victims of the attacks for a project known as Portraits of Grief. Not necessarily obituaries, each piece tried to convey a sense of the deceased. It is a remarkable piece of journalism, if only for its size and thoughtfulness, but it is flawed.
Schuster notes the absence of the hijackers from this seminal memorial of the attack as a failure to confront 9/11 in its entirety. As a counterpoint, he spoke of Hans-Peter Feldmann's 1967-1993. Die Toten, a book of photographs of all the recorded dead from nearly three decades of terrorist violence in West Germany presented without comment. As Schuster points out, this structure allows the reader to see the dead as people first and then after come to terms with something as broad and politically sinuous as crime against the state and its civilian population.
*Further criticisms along these lines can be found in 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration by David Simpson. A great line picked out by Schuster and attributed to Žižek from the book: "The only appropriate stance is unconditional solidarity with all victims" (pg. 145).
Popular Reactions to 9/11: Grizzly Man & The Passion of the Christ
Good conversation with Golden Age intern Jasmine Lee about sentimentality after September 11th spanning contemporary internet artists, Obama's America, and A&E's Intervention. No conclusions, but it led to a thought about the sentimental vs. the pragmatic.
A few years after 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, two films were released that, in contrast, shed some light on the schism between Western Europe and the United States. Both were produced by émigrés, one Australian, one German; both were returns to a traditional genre of art, one is pastoral, one is religious; and both presented dazzling arguments for distinct political viewpoints, one of stoic European equivalency, one of American democratic adventurism. Together, Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ illuminated a divide between a pragmatic Europe and a sentimental United States.
Tracing the life of what he believes to be a quintessential American eccentric, Werner Herzog edited together video taken by Timothy Treadwell, a failed actor and amateur naturalist, as he spent 13 summers living mostly in isolation and with unprecedented proximity to the grizzly bears of the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. During an unexpectedly long stay his final summer, Treadwell and his girlfriend were mauled and eaten by the bears he had lived with in peace for over a decade. Herzog's presentation of the videos highlights the remarkably beautiful images Treadwell was able to capture and the director's narration is generally fair. That said, there is a bit of a cultural divide. In his 2005 review, David Denby sums it up best:
As Herzog frames it, the entire movie is a very dark joke. Yet there’s an element in the comedy which Herzog may not have intended: the contrast between the self-dramatizing American, with his naïve egotism and optimism, and the hyper-cultivated European, who brings his own burden of despair to nature. Whereas the tormented Treadwell longs for harmony and doesn’t seem to understand that death is at the center of any ecological balance, Herzog sees nothing but death. Looking into the eyes of a bear that comes close to Treadwell’s camera, he discerns cruelty and mercilessness rather than hunger. Neither man, it seems, is willing to admit that a bear is a bear is a bear.
Gibson's Passion is a very different film. We all know the story of Jesus of Nazareth, from birth to death and resurrection, so I won't detail it all. It's the standard (anti-Semitic) fare, except that Gibson makes great effort and takes great time to luxuriate in the brutal violence and creative torture put upon its central character. Rick Salutin, The Globe and Mail's arts columnist, captures the essence of this unique depiction:
[T]he film's stress is not on inflicting relentless pain; it is on passive, unresisting endurance of it. That is the sense in which I think the film is also a moment in the life of Mr. Bush's America... Then it happened -- 9/11 -- everything they anticipated and more. It swiftly became The Passion of America. It had meaning. It was not a disaster akin to other disasters that strike humans all the time, and always will. Rather, as the authorities constantly intoned: The world has changed forever. Not just the United States, the world. You could say exactly that about the passion a la Gibson. In his film, one of the few things Jesus says, in contrast to the endless abuse he suffers, is, "I make all things new."
The savior, after enduring trauma, is focused on making new (retribution) rather than making right (redemption) and the critic is so tied into understanding a thing in its thingness that he misses contextual uniqueness. To me, it seems like the chill in European/U.S. relations after September 11th played out pretty clearly in our (popular) independent cinema in 2004/2005.
Popular Reactions to 9/11: Video Contributions from Resden Bonheur
From Los Angeles, Ca., contributor Resden Bonheur, writer and videomaker, shares these two images of popular culture after September 11th. First, combining photography of Fritz Koenig's nearly destroyed sculpture from the World Trade Center complex (previously referenced in the Tom Friedman blog post) and commentary from television's Glenn Beck, Bonheur models multiple visions of weathered victimhood. His second video is a pitch-perfect tribute to the 9/11 memorials scattered across youtube.
Popular Reactions to 9/11: Exploitation
There is a renewed conversation happening out there in the blog-o-sphere about exploitation, so it seems zeitgeist-y enough to talk about some examples in 9/11 culture.
The most obvious examples can be found in political propaganda. The above trailer for DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, a bizarrely hyper-real made for tv movie, launched George W. Bush's re-election campaign. On the left, Fahrenheit 9/11 was pretty egregious with its panning shot of missing persons flyers and more. Director David Zucker tried to tip election '08 by resurrecting 9/11 twice in An American Carol, once in the linked scene as "crazy christians" take over a plane cockpit and another time as George Washington leads its Moore-esque main character from the National Cathedral to the ruins of WTC 1 & 2. Again and again, those towers just keep popping up in campaign advertising.
Both commercial and non-commercial advertising regularly mine the death imagery and patriotic fervor associated with Semptember 11th. During Super Bowl '02, Budweiser had its then-spokes-animals bow towards Manhattan. This 2006 ad for Chevy uses a catchy John Cougar Mellencamp song and a photo of the lights erected at "Ground Zero" to firmly place the brand within the bounds of authentic Americana (pay attention for the gratuitous Katrina shots as well). Copyranter has a wonderful collection of exploitative print ads, many produced by non-profit organizations comparing deaths associated with their causes—such as smoking cigarettes or lacking access to clean water—to deaths on 9/11.
My personal favorite exploitations are those in pursuit of cheap emotional pull. I already linked to the incredible ending scene of Remember Me (which may be one of the best examples), but equally exemplary is the entirety of Jonathan Safran Foer novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Retelling the story of 9/11 through the eyes of a nine-year-old who has lost his father in the attack, Foer's story is cloying, manipulative, and shallow (truly it is "heavy boots.") In Julie and Julia (available on Netflix Instant), the audience is expected to feel something for Julie Powell, a WTC Helpline operator charged with commiserating with the families of 9/11 victims, but nothing can overcome this character's essentially preening personality. Sadly, Reign over Me, some Adam Sandler Oscar-bait is just boring. And finally, from the left and the right, Bruce Springsteen's The Rising and Toby Keith's Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue intend to stoke a similar sort of patriotic jingoism.
Front Forty Profiles Series Release Party with Mark McGinnis
Mark McGinnis - Front Forty Profile Series 01
Book Release Party
Thursday, August 5, 5 - 9pm
Please join us for some summer drinks to celebrate this inaugural issue of a continuing series on important contemporary artists! !
Popular Reactions to 9/11: A follow-up on conspiracy
As the last word (/image) on 9/11 conspiracy, the above. From an attendee last night, Karly Wildenhaus, some research about lack of control and the willingness to buy into conspiracy theories. She makes the connection to the blurry aesthetics of Taboo 9/11. Those black blobs trailing behind United Airlines Flight 175 can act as a sort of Rorschach fostering undue fears and suspicions.
Popular Reactions to 9/11: 2001/2002 Edits
Besides the confrontation of Spike Lee's 25th Hour, late 2001 and 2002 were mainly times to excise the Twin Towers and the attacks from our daily media. The epic 1997 episode of The Simpsons, "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson," which features the titular character's frustrated attempts to pee at the World Trade Center (after drinking an immense amount of "crab juice"), was initially taken out of syndication. It soon returned missing the line uttered during a fight between two WTC office workers: "They stick all the jerks in Tower One!"
Famously, Men in Black II's final scene involving the WTC turning into hundreds of flying saucers was rewritten and the towers were digitally removed from Zoolander. Supposedly, Clear Channel asked its affiliates to shy away from some incendiary music (i.e. Rage Against the Machine), but this is more of a sketchy rumor. Rockstar Games removed a terrorist character from Grand Theft Auto III. This is a good, if a touch suspect, collection of these excised moments (with a particularly thorough knowledge of 9/11's effect on anime.)
One of the most interesting 9/11 edits is the original Spiderman trailer taken out of cinemas soon after the attacks. Watching it again and again, I'm struck by how weirdly unnerving it is. Ultimately, I think the problem is not the showing of the towers in this action setting, but rather the assumed viewpoint of the bank robbers caught in the web. Not to go back to that Žižek stuff from before, but I cannot help identifying with the vantage point of those suspended in the web (it helps that you get this weird shot looking down a few moments earlier, even if it's from a lower point) which perhaps evokes "The Falling Man".
Popular Reactions to 9/11: 25th Hour
One of last night's attendees, curator Camilla Pietrabissa, is currently conceptualizing her own exhibition about September 11th. We had a brief conversation about Spike Lee's 25th Hour, really the first film to deal with the attacks in a substantive, if allegorical way and one for which we share a mutual affection. The above scene is a favorite of mine because, through the potentialities of its characters, best friends and cultural archetypes (an unscrupulous day trader, an ineffectual and naive teacher, and its soon to be imprisoned main character, a fallen drug trafficker) it bravely confronted its audience with three visions of a post-9/11 world at a moment when confrontations about political reality were essentially forbidden in (*shudders*) the "mainstream media." Hovering above "Ground Zero," the day trader outlines three options for their doomed friend. Like The U.S. at the point reacting to September 11th, the options "running," "death," and "redemption" all required an abandonment of everything they understood to be stable before the trauma. All and all, it is a surprisingly prescient depiction of America after 9/11.
Popular Reactions to 9/11: Conspiracy Culture
Launching Popular Reactions with scenes from Loose Change: An American Coup (better version available on Netflix Instant) and the lesser known 9/11 Taboo seemed like an obvious choice as the world of 9/11 conspiracy theories is one of the more exciting off-shoots of post-9/11 popular culture. The nature of September 11th's "cinematics" is a regularly highlighted narrative of the events and key to understanding the perspective of 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
We opened conversation last night by discussing, perhaps inauspiciously, Slavoj Žižek’s The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. In showing clips from a few videos representative and critical of conspiracy culture, I was interested in exploring Žižek’s theory of cinema being an ultimate gateway to understanding our subjectivity; that through film's fantasies and our fantasizing with it by filling in its cuts, edits, missing scenes and context with ourselves, we explore and unlock our own psychological self. Elaborating on this, I think that in confusing the cinematics of the real (9/11), the conspiracy theorist is endlessly playing out this kind of film fantasy as he or she reads the trauma of the attacks as a passage to understanding an excised collective narrative. This conspiracy worldview is at once spirituality universalist (with its sense that the theorist will complete a false narrative to balance a damaged society) and narcisiticially cinematic (with an egocentric belief that this truth will unshackle a populace and correct a linear good guy/bad guy event.) It seems particularly fitting that Dylan Avery, writer and director of Loose Change came about his discovery of a massive conspiracy while writing a screenplay about a writer who discovers that 9/11 was an inside job.
The slickness of Loose Change betrays its fantasies. Tied up in the language and culture of film, Avery's vision of truth requires this vocabulary to make sense of its expression. The opening segment of 9/11 Taboo is slightly more exhilarating, in that its aesthetics borrow more from Soviet Factography in its pure exploration of "seeing," yet its logic is similarly cinematic.
To cap off the evening, we watched Charles Irvin's Membrane Lane (trailer above, but the whole video can be found here.) Borrowing both abysmally amateur youtube aesthetics and a hyper-verbal didactic structure from the previous videos, Membrane Lane explores the False Memory Syndrome Foundation. Perfectly summing up the way Žižek’s argument applies to the world of 9/11 conspiracy, Irvin's main chracter, endlessly playing the role of (ambiguous) soldier/protector, visionary, and seer perfectly encapsulates the 9/11 conspiracy theorist. It's an amazing video, at once hilarious, incisive, and absurd.
P.S.: One of the attendees last night pointed out that all of these conspiracy videos attempt to overwhelm the viewer with information. In that way, this visitor remarked, they advertise their desperation, looking for so many "facts" to quash any alternate reasoning (i.e. reality). A pitch perfect example here.
Popular Reactions to 9/11: Delfin Quishpe, Torres Gemelas
After talking a little bit about conspiracy theory music (come by Golden Age tonight for your free CD), inaugural visitor Nick Lucking passed along the above video. Beguiled by its absurdity and its 5,000,000+ views, Nick translated some of the words to figure out that the man singing is serenading his wife lost in the attacks on 9/11. In our brief conversation we could not come to a conclusion as to whether this was exploitation or something more earnest. In any event, it is shocking how regularly the actual footage of the attacks is used in this type of material (in this case, at the end, as punctuation to the music).
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