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that's (not just) entertainment
the times they are a-bein' digitally re-edited
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)
pop culture

Context is everything, according to one of my graduate school professors, to whom we somewhat disrespectfully referred as "The Aptly Named Dr. Payne." Anyway, she was almost right. Context is almost everything. You can't interpret a work of art in isolation. Well, you can, but you'll probably interpret it wrong. Nothing exists divorced from context -- including, and especially, art.

That's not to say that anyone can truly explain the brief resurgence of sepia-soaked movie Westerns in the early 90s, unless you want to blame a) the renewed pro-America sentiment occasioned by 1991's Gulf War or b) the box office success of 1988's Young Guns. And lest you consider the Schwartzkopf vs. Estevez juxtaposition an expression of callous disrespect on my part, let me quote here (although it slips my mind who I'm quoting): The world doesn't stop being funny when we cry, any more than it stops being serious when we laugh.

In any case, as I write this, certain words don't seem to mean quite the same thing they meant a month ago. A week after September 11th's tragedy, a coworker entered a room and announced, with great seriousness, that a certain company "blew up." As it turns out, she merely meant that a planned subcontracting arrangement had fallen through. But on hearing the words "blew up" I most emphatically did not think of contracts and legal arrangements and business negotations. I thought a bomb had gone off in their basement. In August that thought never would have crossed my mind. In August it was just an expression.

Especially now, when it's all still fresh in our minds, we reinterpret older art in a newer context. For several weeks I've been bopping around my apartment to the music of Rustic Overtones, a new CD I've had on constant repeat since its purchase. The words haven't changed. The music hasn't changed. But as I executed a dancing little pivot to leave my kitchen for my hallway on September 13th (when the WTC rescue operation was still a rescue operation), I listened to the lyrics in a new way.

Love is underground
and it doesn't make a sound
digging in the dirt when falling down
I pulled up love from underground
It was deep beneath the streets
Beneath the boots that beat concrete
I always looked up to the sky in hopes for you and I

I still listen to the music, still love the song, but that initial re-interpretation was a slow sick moment. (Especially since the only other association this song calls up is a theme resonant of the Sesame Street tune "Up and Down," sung to Bert by Ernie.) Somewhat paradoxically, I still disapprove of the idea that radio stations would ban songs like "Smooth Criminal" and "Falling For the First Time" in the wake of the disaster. If you work hard enough at interpretation, you can make just about anything mean what you think it means. (Not inconceivable.) If you start banning, ban everything. Ban "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and "Right Place, Wrong Time" and "Magic Carpet Ride." It's conceivable that someone somewhere could find lyrics from any one of these songs offensive, just because it's conceivable that someone somewhere could want to ban "The Wizard of Oz" because it glorifies witchcraft. Stranger things have happened.

[That said, if I hear one more plot or album cover or lyric referred to as "eerily prescient," I may very well retch. Take one part even a broken clock is right twice a day and add one part there is nothing new under the sun and you realize that entertainment produced before the event shouldn't be interpreted as if it anticipated the event.]

Entertainment is a product of its times, and because we are entering new times, this will be reflected in new entertainment. Don't expect to see Schwarzenegger's already-filmed terrorist-related action-drama Collateral Damage anytime soon. (Of course, if you're me, you weren't expecting to see it in the first place, and can think of few movies on which you were less interested in wasting your hard-earned money.) The studios are scrambling to rework anything even vaguely related to crashes or planes or terrorism, to avoid prodding this new bruise on the national consciousness. Are they right to do so? Maybe.

I've been going back and forth on this. After all, when I first read that a scene was to be cut from the Spider-Man trailer -- a helicopter flying into webbing strung between the World Trade Center towers -- I thought it was an overreaction. Surely the mere sight of the towers couldn't be upsetting. But I thought over it again. And it wouldn't be upsetting to me, but there are people whose family members and friends died in those buildings, and it's not hard to imagine just how upsetting it might be to them.

Also, it depends. The towers weren't edited out of Glitter, but those scenes were 1980's scenes (I hear), so it would be foolish and inaccurate to remove them. In upcoming episodes of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," however, these scenes are supposed to be taking place now, and now, a skyline with the towers in it... well, it's as inaccurate as a 1980's skyline without the towers would be.

So, no WTC in the Spider-Man trailer. No more reruns of the episode of "The Simpsons" where Homer can't wait anymore by the car and goes all the way to the top of one tower to find the bathroom closed and then goes all the way to the top of the other tower and when he comes back the officer... well, you know. Terrorism in any form -- as focus and as offhand reference -- is strictly off-limits. The changing scene delays the release of Big Trouble (bomb on plane) and re-edits episodes of "Friends" (Chandler jokes about the fact that you're not supposed to joke about having a bomb when you pass through the metal detector) and generally, again, trying not to prod that bruise to see if it still hurts. Because it does.

The immediate fixes will happen. And should, I think, happen. On top of that, we don't know what to expect, if and as we become a wartime culture. I've said before that because society is made up of individuals, you can't truly say "America will want to see X" or "America won't want to see Y." But there are trends, and given that a number of people are paid a considerable amount of money to perceive, guide, and exploit said trends, we should expect that, somehow or another, the national taste in entertainment will change.

How? It's anyone's guess.

Maybe people will want to see more escapist, lightweight films, to get away from things. Maybe they'll want to see romantic comedies and pretend that the most engrossing problem in the world is whether or not the boy gets the girl. Maybe they'll want to see stories of heroes or action movies in which the villains get their asses soundly spanked and then handed to them.

Even sites like this -- especially sites like this -- reflect their times. It would be silly to expect that the entertainment landscape won't change, considering how much the landscape of our real lives has.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


the end of the world as we know it
the art of the apocalypse
by jael mchenry
topic: pop culture
published: 12.4.09

the ephemeral artery
is there a future in our present?
by jael mchenry
topic: pop culture
published: 9.5.01


matt morin
10.3.01 @ 2:00a

I always wondered what it would take for people to start paying attention to things like that. Every day people all over this country are killed by handguns. But no one seemed concerned that those victims' family and friends would probably see something similar that night in prime time.

Sadly, it takes something like September 11th for us to step back and think about it all for a second.

adam kraemer
10.3.01 @ 10:11a

For more than a second, I would hope.
On Howard Stern today, Ben Stiller was just saying how he went back and re-edited Zoolander to take out any establishing shots that might have had the towers in them.

alicia coleman
10.3.01 @ 10:21a

Well, here I go, getting all stripes-and-starry eyed ... What's so fabulous about this country (despite our sordid past, sordid present, and (hopefully) less-sordid future) is that - with a few first amendment exceptions - we, entertainment industry included, have the right to produce our art no matter how offensive it may be to the onlooker. (Not many other countries can tout that.) But, rights aside, we as concerned individuals rather than mere citizens sometimes take the higher road. That's always nice.

jael mchenry
10.3.01 @ 10:30a

I think it's only partly a question of actually offending or hurting the viewer -- I think, more than that, it's a question of studios being accused of not caring if they offend or hurt the viewer.

Something I heard but couldn't substantiate was that the top video rental for 9/11 was The Siege. And I've seen lots of stuff in syndication over the past two weeks -- episodes of SNL, whatever -- that make reference to all the things everyone's now scrambling not to make reference to.

I wonder what they'll do about the release of Edward Burns' Sidewalks of New York. They announced that release would be delayed just because of the New York setting. Well, if we're trying to erase New York City from popular entertainment, that's a whole hell of a lot of erasure. People are already reconsidering.

alicia coleman
10.3.01 @ 10:41a

That's true. There's definitely a line between "definitely hurtful" and "you're really stretching it." Stuff about editing out WTC is too much. Especially since those buildings, both before and after, were symbolic of New York and of American capitalism in general. That should never be erased. In fact, a couple of architects have been planning the exact opposite of what some editors have been doing: creating (through light) images of the buildings to fill the spots where they should be.

jeff miller
10.3.01 @ 10:56a

Violent expression in art an film is a part of our culture, and part of most cultures in one way or another. While it seems important to consider the feelings of the families and friends who were impacted the most, I'm not sure that an over-edited world is one I want to live in forever. Our movies, music, books, even television - these are the means by which much of the American public learns how to deal with trajedy on an variety of intellectual and spiritual levels.

Roger Waters' The Wall is a great example of a violent and horrific piece of multimedia that really taught me a lot about introspection and self-absorption. The movie is full of war imagery that I'm sure would still be hard for a lot of people to look at.

If images of the towers are disturbing to people now, that's understandable. I Imagine that, in time, the WTC will be used as a powerful symbol again and again in all forms of art.

adam kraemer
10.3.01 @ 11:08a

I was telling someone the other day that every time I look down 5th Avenue, I feel like there should be a shadow on the sky from where the towers were.

joe procopio
10.3.01 @ 11:48a

For me, oddly enough, it was a re-run of the Critic reaaaly late at night on the 11th (12th, I guess). The opening montage includes the towers.

adam kraemer
10.3.01 @ 12:17p

Yeah, that actually hit me, too, a couple of nights later. Luckily, the soothing voice of Jon Lovitz made everything right again.

matt morin
10.3.01 @ 12:36p

MTV is running a Real World disclaimer that says something like "This episode was shot prior to the terrorist attack. But we're going to run it unedited as a testament to the history and memory of NY."

adam kraemer
10.3.01 @ 1:17p

Well, to be fair, not all of New York is gone.

michelle von euw
10.3.01 @ 4:17p

Rumor has it that audiences have been cheering loudly when the WTC buildings are shown during Glitter. Of course, rumor continues, that's the only thing that is cheered during the film.

jeff wilder
10.3.01 @ 9:16p

I listened to the lyrics in a new way.

Love is underground
and it doesn't make a sound
digging in the dirt when falling down
I pulled up love from underground
It was deep beneath the streets
Beneath the boots that beat concrete
I always looked up to the sky in hopes for you and I

That happened to me with Tool's "Lateralus album (So far my pick for best album of 2001). There's a lyric in the song "The Patient" that goes

I'm still here
Giving blood and keeping faith

Very appropriate for this point in time.

jael mchenry
10.4.01 @ 9:34a

Okay, I said I might very well retch if I saw it, and here it is, from Mr. Showbiz: "An eerily prescient [emphasis mine] 1999 book in which Osama bin Laden orders an attack on the White House is being made into a film by Miramax — once some of the too-true-to-life details are changed, the studio says."

It's NOT eerily prescient. It's not even prescient. Someone imagined something. It's called fiction. Argh.

adam kraemer
10.4.01 @ 10:07a

I seem to recall that one of Tom Clancy's most recent paperweights included something about a plane flying into Congress.

mike julianelle
10.4.01 @ 11:08a

I seem to recall Adam seemingly recalling something on another discussion thread.

adam kraemer
10.4.01 @ 12:58p

It wasn't me. I only read about it this weekend.

jael mchenry
10.4.01 @ 1:12p

I seem to recall Mike being a smart(-)ass.

adam kraemer
10.4.01 @ 1:33p

No doubt that will be proven to be a prescient comment.

mike julianelle
10.4.01 @ 2:40p

On a different topic, has been any discussion about editing Glitter out of Glitter?

Ya know, to be sensitive?

matt morin
10.4.01 @ 2:47p

If we were being sensitive we'd edit out Mariah's voice box.

jael mchenry
10.4.01 @ 5:20p

So if she loses her voice now, we can refer to Matt's statement as "eerily prescient," and the discussion will come full circle.

Could they take Mariah out of Glitter the way they took Jar-Jar out of Episode I?

matt morin
10.4.01 @ 6:16p

Mariah's lost a lot of things recently. Her sanity comes to mind...

jael mchenry
10.5.01 @ 8:41a

Dignity and fanbase included.

mike julianelle
10.5.01 @ 9:22a

What dignity?

joe procopio
10.5.01 @ 9:31a

I've heard (and you kind of have to have seen her MTV Fanatic episode for this joke to work) that Butterfly is no longer Mariah's favorite album.

(Don't ask me why I was watching her Fanatic).

tracey kelley
10.5.01 @ 10:00a

could they take Mariah out of Glitter the way they took Jar-Jar out of Episode 1? Thank you, Jael, for the best laugh I've had all week.

Well, with the exception of Adam's "dry clean a polar bear...."

jael mchenry
10.5.01 @ 11:23a

Mike, I thought she had something vaguely approximating dignity back in the "Vision of Love" days.

Joe, speaking of lost dignity... Fanatic???

mike julianelle
10.5.01 @ 11:37a

Jael, I was going to say Vision of Love was about the only chance you had for a rebuttal. And you nailed it!

I saw Fanatic once, where this young guy worshipped Christina Aguilera and showed footage from his high school talent show in which he dressed up as a genie and sang that genie song. On stage. It was HILARIOUS!!! Why put that on TV, son? Why?!

matt morin
10.5.01 @ 12:44p

Fanatic was bad, but its warped MTV stepchild, "Becoming", is even creepier.

adam kraemer
10.5.01 @ 12:51p

I think MTV's shows have all been downhill since The Maxx.

sigbjørn olsen
10.5.01 @ 3:46p

Matt, indeed... The hard statistical truth? September the 11th was not really a big (relatively speaking - IMHO all violent death is bad, but please understand that I am comparing the magnitude of human suffering) tragedy. It was icklishly small compared to the daily human suffering, the daily fear, and the daily despair felt across the globe.

Sadly, I don't think all that many Americans entirely realize that. In the zealous rally to the flag, I do get the impression many people did not step back and thought for a moment.

sigbjørn olsen
10.5.01 @ 3:53p

Yeah, Tom Clancy wrote about planes crashing into the congress during the whatsitsomething when everyone is there. I almost finished half a chapter before ditching the book. Not because of the content, but rather because, well, the lack of such ;-)

jael mchenry
10.5.01 @ 4:05p

Sigbjorn, while I understand that suffering and death a) across the globe and b) in the course of human history include greater tragedies than what just happened here, it's the greatest loss of American lives in a single day. Period. Ever. Including the Civil War. I don't think anyone's overreacting.

And if that seems to underrate the rest of the world's suffering, maybe it does. But I don't think it's a lack of perspective. I think it's the difference between when something happens to someone else and when it happens to you. And to draw a distinction between those things is human nature, not callousness.

jael mchenry
10.16.01 @ 8:31a

To bring this back to entertainment and crisis, there's some sort of Hollywood/Pentagon brain trust going on to brainstorm possible scenarios. Has anyone else heard this? It's not specific to this situation -- been going on for years -- but they get screenwriters to come up with the most far-fetched or bold or original possibilities for attacks.

On one hand, you'd expect creativity to come from that source, but on the other hand, when's the last time you saw anything original from a Hollywood screenwriter?

mike julianelle
10.16.01 @ 9:01a

Well, it's not just screenwriters, although Steven de Souza, who wrote Die Hard, is in there. It's David Fincher, Spike Jonze...the more creative, wacko guys. If the terrorists ever got someone like Spike Jonze or Fincher to come up with a plan to attack us, I'm moving to Canada. Some serious shit woukld go down.

jael mchenry
10.16.01 @ 9:43a

And... we're back to one of my favorite topics. You can maybe make that statement about Fincher, but Jonze? Was he truly responsible for the wacko creativity of Being John Malkovich, or was Charlie Kaufman? Fincher did some crazy fab things with Fight Club, but a lot of that crazy fabness was Palahni... Palu... Chuck P's. Or the actual screenwriter's... so telling that I can't even remember his name. Uhls? John Ulhs?

I am Jack's faulty memory.

At least they're not using P.T. Anderson. A rain of frogs is hardly an imminent threat.

mike julianelle
10.16.01 @ 10:26a

I will not fall victim to yet another PT bashing!

Regardless of who wrote what for Fight Club, the visuals were Fincher's. And both The Game and Se7en have some less-than-normal ideas floating around in them. And have you ever seen Jonze's music videos? Or commercials? Or even the "interview" that is included on the BJM DVD? He is tapped. Funny as hell, too.

jael mchenry
10.16.01 @ 11:21a

You're no fun.

Getting Christopher Walken to softshoe on a hotel end table, while "creative," is not the same as inventing the concept of a puppeteer climbing through a tunnel to inhabit the body of... oh, you know where I'm going with that.

Ditto for recreating the incredibly detailed garbage can full of McDonald's and Starbucks refuse. It's a great visual, and the creative impulse is undeniable, but it's not a flash of brilliance on the order of, say, beating up your alter ego in a parking lot.

Anyway, as I go through these examples, I'm beginning to ponder the difference between creativity outside of reality -- which is what I love most about those two movies -- and creativity constrained by reality. I don't have strong thoughts on it yet but it does point out that there's a huge-ass difference between making movies and developing terror scenarios.

mike julianelle
10.16.01 @ 11:30a

Movies are very collaborative, and while Fincher and Jonze certainly can't take credit for the scripts, the writers can't take credit for the films either. Just because they didn't come up with the scenarios doesn't mean they are devoid of creativity.

And Fight Club isn't necessarily outside of reality. I bet there are a lot of psychos with alter ego's running around out there.

And raining frogs has happened. (That be good grammar).

jael mchenry
10.16.01 @ 11:55a

You said you weren't going to get into PT again. Ha!

Not arguing that directors are devoid of creativity. Far from it. Just that the kind of creativity they have exhibited in their movies is not the kind of creativity being solicited by this whole brain trust thing.

When raining frogs has happened it has not been the direct result of a human agent choosing to make it so.

To read makes our speaking English good.

adam kraemer
10.16.01 @ 11:57a

Me fail English? That's unpossible!

jael mchenry
10.17.01 @ 9:31a

AP today quoted Robert Altman as blaming Hollywood for terrorist activity, saying, "No one would think to do something like that unless they saw it in a movie."

It'd be funny if it weren't sickening.

russ carr
10.17.01 @ 10:23a

Mm. Sorry, I've been gone awhile.

Several people have mentioned the Tom Clancy book, "Debt of Honor," in which a gas-full but passenger-empty 747 is smashed into the Capitol, killing the President, most of the cabinet, Supreme Court and Congress. That was one of the first things to flash into my mind as a "life imitating art" thing.

But quick on the heels of that thought came one far more eerie: In the premiere episode of "The Lone Gunmen," on Fox (it was canceled too soon, alas) our intrepid heroes stop a plot to...crash a loaded jet into one of the WTC towers.

I shook for awhile after recalling that episode...which was aired roughly a year prior to the events of 9/11. I'd be curious to know the exact airdate, if anyone recalls. No wonder the show was canceled: the only viewers were me and Al Qaeda.

russ carr
10.25.01 @ 10:39a

Further twisted asides (music, not film): A recent interview with some member of the heavy metal band "Anthrax" included said head-banger's musing on whether or not the band should change its name to something more innocuous, like "Little Fluffy Bunnies."

I note this, because of the blurb under "News" here at IM which advertises upcoming performances in NY and DC by a group called "Burning Airlines."

Then there's the group suggesting the name of next December's episode of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy be renamed something as an alternative to "The Two Towers"...

adam kraemer
10.25.01 @ 10:51a

How about "Evil Wizard With An Ugly Army"?

I read that Anthrax was also considering "Basket Full of Puppies." And "Cipro," though the last is already copyrighted.

joe procopio
10.25.01 @ 12:02p

Burning Airlines actually did go through a cycle of whether or not they should change the name. Ultimately, they decided to keep the name but they did change some of the artwork on their swag.

Related, kind of, my father in law used to run an import business called Columbine Imports, named after the state flower of his state of residence, Colorado. He changed it immediately but has never even been questioned about it when his old collateral shows up.

jael mchenry
8.14.02 @ 9:47p

Interesting to reread this. I think I agree with most of what I said then, but there's still a light layer of dust. Hmm.

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