By ELYSE TORIBIO
Ten years have passed since Sept. 11, 2001, and with it so have all the special memorials, speeches, exclusive interviews and television specials— for now. But the elephant in the room when it comes to talking about the aftermath of the attacks still lingers, in no rush to make an exit: Have we had just about enough of 9/11?
It’s a taboo question many people keep to themselves, for fear of seeming callous and inhuman to the general public. But ever since the first anniversary of the attacks, the idea of “9/11 fatigue” has been an issue quietly discussed in the media, among close friends, or not at all.
In the weeks leading up to the 10th anniversary, cable networks prepared a 9/11-heavy lineup, covering any and all angles possible: the History Channel aired two new specials on the aftermath of the attacks and the stories of those who were inside the towers; the ever-classy Biography Channel aired a special in which family members of victims shared messages from their loved ones from “beyond.” Major networks like CBS, FOX, and NBC aired standard 3-hour live broadcasts of the remembrance ceremonies on Sept. 11, while public radio station NPR had a whopping 9-hour coverage.
Psychology Today published an article in early September titled “The Case Against Watching 9/11 TV Coverage” that anticipated excessive coverage of the attacks on Sept. 11., and encouraged its readers to try and avoid it altogether.
“You feel a sense of helplessness because you are witnessing events that you are not able to control or help resolve,” a Dr. Stephanie Sarkis writes in the article. “Ten years after the fact, watching repeated television coverage of the plans hitting the towers, people falling from buildings can trigger that feeling of helplessness.” She later warns that so much exposure to such graphic images can cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The idea of 9/11 fatigue can be juxtaposed with the common idea that politicians have a tendency to exploit a national tragedy in an effort to seem more sympathetic and compassionate. “Look! Look at me!” they might as well be saying to the public as they feverishly wave an American flag. “I care about this more than the other guy, look how sensitive I am to what happened!”
President Bush was criticized in 2004 by Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization created by victims’ families, for airing a campaign ad during the presidential election that showed footage of rescue workers at Ground Zero pulling out a body draped in a flag from the rubble. The International Association of Firefighters, outraged by the ads, asked for them to be pulled. The Bush Administration refused, and White House spokesman Scott McClellan defended the advertisements, saying “Sept. 11 changed the equation in our public policy. The president’s steady leadership is vital to how we wage war on terrorism.”
And that’s exactly the point that these families may have been trying to make to politicians: Go ahead and fight the wars, but don’t use the nearly 3,000 innocent people who died as leverage.
The capitalization of the tragedies in American politics continues today. Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain released a “tribute” video two days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in which he sings a creepy rendition of “God Bless America” as footage and audio from the burning towers grace the screen.
Celebrities were also quick to jump on the 9/11 bandwagon, albeit under the guise of charity. Following the legacy of the “We Are the World” supergroup created by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie in 1985, “all-stars” of the new millenium that included Britney Spears, Destiny’s Child and Fred Durst, got together in October 2001 to record a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” to benefit an AIDS program in Africa. Soon, though, it became “the 9/11 song” and proceeds for the single went to the American Red Cross. It peaked at #27 on the USA Billboard Top 100 for the year.
But no one knows more about parading uncomfortable issues through documentaries quite like mega-liberal filmmaker Michael Moore. Moore is not exactly camera-shy when it comes to talking about Sept. 11. His gimmick of approaching politicians and pressing them for a reaction to the attacks and the “War on Terror” was lapped up by audiences; “Fahrenheit 9/11” grossed over $200 million in the box office, making it the highest-grossing documentary of all time.
As for where all that money went, well, good question. According to a 2004 report by the Associated Press, the documentary caused a classic corporate Hollywood battle that belongs on an episode of HBO’s Entourage. The Walt Disney Co., which initially refused to release the controversial film, decided seemingly out of spite to the Weinstein Bros. that 60 percent of the profits from “Fahrenheit” would go toward various charities of its choice. That “charity” was not immediately disclosed, but it sure wasn’t to the families of 9/11 victims.
In February 2011, Variety reported that Michael Moore filed a suit against the Weinstein Bros. claiming he had been cheated out of earnings from the documentary. For someone who cared so much about the people featured in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” it’s surprising how little was done on his part to make sure a part of the profits went to the people who deserved it the most. Well, it’s Hollywood, after all. Maybe it’s not so surprising.
Christopher Hutchins, a columnist for “Vanity Fair,” wrote an article on Moore’s documentary for Slate.com in which he accuses the filmmaker of making gross exaggerations and false claims regarding 9/11.
“To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability,” he writes in the article titled “Unfairenheit 9/11.” “To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental.”
It’s not that Moore is in the wrong for wanting to produce a documentary, to express his emotions about 9/11 in the manner he knows best. But it’s the fact that very little of the documentary is dedicated to sincerely giving remembrance to those who died on Sept. 11. It’s a political film, nothing more.
Remembering is just that—remembering. It’s not producing a hit single to get attention when a generous (anonymous) donation would do the trick. It’s not running cheap campaign ads with grainy, awful footage when a visit to victims’ families would have had the same effect. Some might claim that all the coverage on 9/11 is the best way to honor those who died, the only way to make sure we never forget the horrific tragedies of that day. But there is such a thing as over-saturation of a topic, and it’s time to think about whether or not we’ve reach that point with 9/11.