Similarities

The main points that led to the evocation of movie images in relation to the attack on the World Trade Centre are quite straightforward, along the lines already indicated. The fireball that erupted when the second tower was hit was reminiscent of the ubiquitous fireball-explosion images of recent and contemporary Hollywood action-disaster movies, including images of exploding aircraft and exploding buildings. This is true in general (fireball explosions wrecking buildings and destroying aircraft, respectively, in each of the first two films of the Die Hard series, for example, among many others), and for some images that more closely resemble different aspects of those of September 11. The meteor storm that hits Manhattan in Armageddon is one obvious example: a panoramic shot of the aftermath includes the image of one of the World Trade Center towers with its cap missing and the upper reaches in tatters and, like its real-world equivalent, belching smoke and flame. Manhattan is also widely trashed in Godzilla (1998), a film the destructive images of which include aircraft (in this case military helicopters) coming to grief among the concrete canyons of the city. A helicopter disappears uncannily into the structure of an office block in The Matrix (1999), before bursting explosively outwards, an image similar to a number of shots of the second plane impact of 9/11, in which the aircraft vanishes from sight, momentarily, before exploding through the building. The explosive collapse or severe damage of skyscrapers has featured in numerous Hollywood spectacular extravaganzas, ranging from Armageddon and Independence Day to the closing sequence of Fight Club (1999), the latter being attributed to a deliberate human act of destruction. Images of the huge dust cloud that followed the collapse of the World Trade Center towers had also been foreshadowed in varying ways in the disaster cycle of the latter years of the 20th century. An actual dust cloud is manifested, although only seen briefly, after the toppling of the distinctive peak of the Chrysler building in Armageddon. Structures of shape and scale similar to that of the real-world dust cloud, from which people _ flee in terror, are also manifested by fireballs in Independence Day and the tidal to oc wave-front that sweeps up Manhattan in Deep Impact (1998). Some of those who j= told their stories afterwards likened the experience of trying to escape the dust and o debris specifically to being inside a movie scenario. It is certainly a strange and o somewhat uncanny experience to review any of these scenes after September the 11th, or after reviewing recorded images of the latter.

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St caused a great deal of discomfort for many commentators at the time, for reasons that are not hard to understand. The Hollywood versions offer enjoyable fantasies of destruction: enjoyable precisely because they can safely be indulged in the arena of fantasy. I have argued elsewhere that this might be appealing in at least two respects (King 2000). Firstly, as sheer spectacle: the dramatic audio-visual intensity of the images, as rendered by Hollywood with the latest in special effects technologies. Secondly, as something that can be understood in terms of longstanding American myths and ideologies: specifically, the notion of a cleansing destruction of centres of government and urban decadence, against which certain powerful notions of American-ness have often been defined. To have this imagined fantasy of destruction realized in actuality was potentially very unsettling for those who might have enjoyed the fictional version. There was also, perhaps, a guilty thrill in witnessing the spectacle of the live-actuality version and its constant repetition on the day. And also, perhaps, a post-hoc guilt about previous enjoyment of the Hollywood version. For some on the extreme right, the lesson to be learned from the real version was in fact much the same as that which could be read into the fiction. Christian fundamentalists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson interpreted the events of 9/11 precisely as the just deserts of 'sinful' American hedonism and materialism.

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