December 20, 2001

9-11: A Wartime Lexicon

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“Where were you on the morning of Sept. 11?” These words now join the historical archives containing such questions as “Where were you the day that John F. Kennedy was shot?” and “Where were you when Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon?”

As these words enter the archives of history, they will continue to comprise the daily logs of the present. Those who were fortunate enough to be harbored in the safe refuge of our homes and our schools on Sept. 11 were protected from the immediate physical trauma that ravaged our nation. Yet, for those of us privy to the instantaneous visuals on every television network, the immediacy of the trauma brought the tragedy closer to home.

Since the very moment the second American Airlines passenger plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, the media rapidly allowed the tragedy to infuse homes across the nation as we watched the attack live. The nation has become immersed in a network of daily news reports, daily speculations, and daily advice on how to function in a nation that has engaged in a need for heightened security. With headlines such as “America Under Attack,” “America at War,” and “The War Against Terror,” mass media news providers, such as CNN and MSNBC (and their updated Web sites), as well as local stations, have proliferated a national lexicon of war, of terror, of fear — a 24-hour lexicon that, according to The New York Times Magazine, has generated a language derivative of conflict.

Commemoration in the Cultural Sphere

This wartime lexicon, or public jargon, has eminently beseeched an even more prophetic discourse, for it has developed into a discourse of unity, compassion, and partisan sense of spirit that has spanned across the nation from one ocean to another. It has spanned throughout individual stories of strength and morale to the tangible manifestation of this discourse through media and entertainment venues. While headlines sustain a heightened sense of alert, these changing times have begotten a changing perspective of humanity, culture, and pride. From additional section of The New York Times entitled, “A Nation Challenged,” to the commemorative issues of magazines, such as Newsweek, the discourse of “a nation challenged” has become one of intense and imperative national interest.

In the weeks following the attacks upon the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., entertainment magazines, such as Entertainment Weekly, focused on the effect that this historical malice has had upon future endeavors of the entertainment industry. With consideration for a national mood characterized by heightened alert and anxiety, expected movies containing explicitly violent visual material were postponed or altered before their release. The showing of prime-time season premieres on television networks were delayed, and various artists’ recent musical debuts were interpreted in correlation with the emotional consequences of the attacks.

With a therapeutic value, music has nonetheless helped to prevent the nation from embracing a paralytic fear. MTV suspended its regularly scheduled programming to feature CBS News information for two days. Subsequently, both MTV and VH1 aired week-long specials that paid homage to the victims and offered solace to the nation through appropriately subdued and empathetic music, both old and new. In various tributes of star-studded magnitude, the icons of the entertainment industry have united as a microcosmic example for all Americans. Many celebrities have patriotically united to raise money for the victims of the attacks and their grieving families. The public can complete the charitable ring begun at the tributes by purchasing CDs documenting the musical repertoire of the concerts.

Aside from the rapidly organized public tributes, celebrities have maintained the tone of solemnity and remembrance throughout other, more established areas of the industry. “The show must go on” award shows (namely the Emmys which were cautiously rescheduled) displayed an uncharacteristic, subdued dress code. The Hollywood image of flagrancy and bedazzlement aptly succumbed to the national mood. With reverence and respect, celebrities removed themselves from their star-studded personas and joined the ranks of everyday patriotism that now envelopes covers of even high fashion magazines.

Accordingly, on the most recent cover of Vogue, Gisele Bundchen is donning, not the exorbitantly priced couture style of previous months, but the limited-edition nationalist T-shirt by Donna Karan New York, priced at $22.50. The patriotism of our great nation has returned to stores, catalogs, and even public activities, such as the Thanksgiving Day parade. While the attacks plundered the security of our land, they consequently bolstered the hometown feeling upon which America was built.

The Celebrity of America’s Spirit

While we respect the celebrities that have mobilized national movements to ameliorate the conditions of those most drastically affected, we turned to the heartland of America — the cities, the towns, the farms, etc. — for moral support. Now, thematic pigments of red, white, and blue characterize our neighborhoods; radio station lineups have replaced potentially controversial music with various patriotic tunes; and most importantly, the true heroes of our nation are finally ascending to the public spotlight as they are these men and women who appear on the news, in papers, and in magazines. The NYPD, FDNY, PAPD, EMTs, and other rescue workers have become forefront in the eyes of the American public as the true, and often disregarded, heroes of our nation.

Faces of entertainment celebrities have been somewhat replaced with the faces of once everyday men and women