September 11 has by no means been absent from the pop culture landscape in the last four and a half years. Bruce Springsteen released an entire album of songs evoking the day less than a year after the attacks. Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg have all used the Twin Towers to underscore the message of their films. Countless other entertainers have directly or indirectly referenced the day, some tastelessly, some profoundly.
When United 93 is released this Friday, however, it will mark the first time a mainstream piece of popular â€śentertainmentâ€ť has attempted to recreate the day, forcing willing audiences to again feel the shock and terror unfold minute by minute. It will employ arguably the most powerful storyline from that day, the heroic storming of the cockpit by ordinary citizens that quite possibly saved the U.S. Capitol and prevented almost unimaginable chaos. With this movie, there is no more dancing around the subject. An account of the most visceral, horrible experience many of us could ever imagine is going to be floating around the country in a matter of days whether we like it or not.
This movie is not simply a matter of â€śif you donâ€™t like it, donâ€™t see it.â€ť September 11 is a day owned by everyone. Itâ€™s a part of our national consciousness and, for better or for worse, has altered the course of American and world history. If the attacks are not treated with respect or are prostituted in any way, it is an insult to all of us, not the least of who are the thousands and thousands of people who lost friends and family members. Ideally, the nation as a whole would be able to decide when itâ€™s ready to be explicitly forced to relive the day, because even if you decide not to see it, you have no choice but to be reminded. More troubling is that we know someone has designed a product aimed at making money off the worst shared day of our lives. For whatever reasons, most of them warranted, people associate Hollywood with bean counters and bottom lines more than other modes of entertainment. We know that if a movie has made it through the treacherous studio development system, it is being released because executives see a profit. There are no mistakes in Hollywood. There is no altruism.