How Did 9/11 Affect American Culture?

Ava Rosenow

September 11th, 2001, is a date that will forever live in infamy and marked the beginning of a distinct shift in many different areas of American life, but one that is often overlooked is our culture. 

One of the most immediate things to change after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was entertainment. No one quite knew how to react or precede, as no similar event had ever taken place.“The world’s largest radio network, Clear Channel, sent a memo to its radio stations soon after the attacks on September 11…[listing] about 150 songs that were ‘recommended to be eliminated from airplay’ due to concerns they would be triggering and problematic” (Quay, Damico 214). According to the Washington Post, “The New Yorker banished all the usual cartoons for the first time since Hiroshima,” and the joke contest Style Invitational removed all references to George W. Bush. “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” and “Back to the Future” both had the words terrorist edited out. The precedent for widespread sensitivity, for the most part, that we see in media today was largely kicked off following the events of 9/11. 

Countless tv programs and movies featured shots of the Twin Towers, staples of the New York skyline before their demise, however, after the massacre that occurred many Hollywood executives and producers decided to edit out many of those scenes. For example, the Spider-Man movie that was set to be released soon after the tragedy featured a scene that had bank robbers being foiled by a web strung between the two towers, but to the director, “leaving in that scene was “unfathomable.” Some other notable examples of similar situations include the movies “Kissing Jessica Stein” and “People I Know,” both of which had shots of the towers cut from their final products. Additionally, television programs like “Sex and the City” as well as “The Sopranos” and even “The Simpsons” had their credits or episodes edited to leave out the World Trade Center. After such a tragic event that shook the entire nation, entertainment was intended to be and used as a distraction, an escape, from such a horrific reality, and the majority felt that to thrust such imagery into the midst of a safe space would be crass and insensitive. Yet, some, like Micheal Bay, argue that “You can’t change history…Art is art — it’s a form of expression.” From his point of view, altering artistic representations of that time period is covering up the truth and legacy of what really happened. Jennifer Westfeldt, one of the writers of “Kissing Jessica Stein,” which, as mentioned previously, as its Twin Tower scenes removed, wonders if their decision is “[erasing] or [misrepresnting] history.” Today, while some entertainment still remains edited, others, like “The Simpsons” episode featuring the World Trade Center, have started to trickle back into circulation, and many previous representations, like posters and animation cels, have been inducted into the National September 11th Memorial museum, in order to preserve that part of history.

The other big cultural shift that occurred after September 11th surrounded how we ourselves viewed America. Patriotism received a massive revival following the attacks on 9/11. For example, many of the traditional Major League Baseball displays of American pride, such as the singing of “God Bless America” and the unfurling of massive flags were not started until September 17, 2001, at the first baseball game post-9/11, Mets vs. Pirates. Similar examples followed throughout many other sports, such as at “a football game the second Sunday after 9/11, between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings, sailors from the Great Lakes Naval Academy unfurled an enormous American flag across Soldier Field,” or Dale Earnhardt Jr. “[carrying] a large American flag around the track” after winning a NASCAR Race. American Flags in particular really picked up steam following 9/11. “Walmart sold 116,00 U.S. flags, compared to only 6,400 sold on the same day a year earlier,” and flags were hung from houses, businesses, cars, literally anywhere they could fit. Everything from shirts to bumper stickers to greeting cards was adorned with the stars and stripes in a display of American pride and solidarity. Political disagreements were (temporarily) put aside, which, according to The University of Virginia, included George W. Bush going from “losing the popular vote to having a 91% approval rating,” which was “almost unheard-of.” Not only that, but cancel-culture ran rampant with anyone or anything who seemed the tiniest fraction anti-American. The renowned country group the Dixie Chicks said they were “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas” while in London because they disagreed with the war in Iraq, and were immediately “met back home with canceled show dates, radio boycotts, and CD-destroying parties.” Another example includes Bill Maher, who hosted a debate show called “Politically Incorrect.” Maher made the mistake of saying that “staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly,” about the terrorists who hijacked the 4 planes, and almost instantaneously had his show canceled. When Tim Robbins and Susan Saradon opposed the war in the Middle East, the celebration of the 15th anniversary of their movie “Bull Durham” got shut down. After 9/11, our country witnessed what was probably the biggest show of American pride and Patriotism since World War II, as at that moment, the entire country was bonded in pain, and understood the importance of supporting one another regardless of what was happening outside our borders.

Overall, despite the horrific actions of the terrorists and all of the lives lost, the culture of America was changed for the better after 9/11, as in the face of tragedy our country was unified and came together to demonstrate that although we had been knocked down our spirit was not broken. However, some of the shifts that occurred, such as all of the shots of the Twin Towers being edited out of media, and the overwhelming amount of Patriotism at sporting events, are now being called into question regarding how they fit into our modern-day society.

If you would like a more in-depth overview of this topic I would suggest reading the book “September 11 in Popular Culture: A Guide” by Sara E. Quay and Amy M. Damico.

Works Cited

Baptiste, Nathalie. “9/11: When Pop Culture Went Into Patriotic Overdrive.” Mother Jones, 9 Sept. 2021, Accessed 10 Oct. 2021.

Berkowitz, Joe. “7 ways 9/11 influenced pop culture that you may have forgotten or never known about.” Fast Company, 11 Sept. 2021, Accessed 10 Oct. 2021.

Kang, Inkoo. “9/11: 20 Years Later.” The Washington Post, 7 Sept. 2021. The Washington Post, Accessed 10 Oct. 2021.

Mashberg, Tom. “After Sept. 11, Twin Towers Onscreen Are a Tribute and a Painful Remind.” New York Times, 10 Sept. 2019, Accessed 10 Oct. 2021.

Newman, Caroline. “What 9/11 Changed: Reflecting on the Cultural Legacy of the Attacks, 20 Years On.” UVA Today, 30 July 2021. UVA Today, Accessed 10 Oct. 2021.

Quay, Sara, and Amy Damico. September 11 in Popular Culture: A Guide. E-book ed., Greenwood, 2010. PDF.

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