In the wake of the catastrophic attacks on 9/11, Americans searched for meaning in the face of tragedy. One area where the search for meaning got weird was the flood of post-9/11 music.
Artists like Toby Keith and Bruce Springsteen strapped up their guitars and cranked out exploitative “tribute” songs because, if we weren’t rocking out to pseudo-patriotic masturbatory tunes, the terrorists would have won.
As groups such as the Charlie Daniels Band released songs with subtle lyrical wordplay, for example “This ain’t no rag, it’s a flag/ And we don’t wear it on our heads” (because people who wear turbans are terrorists, of course), record labels profited on the quasi-unified American public’s obsession with all things red, white and blue.
Meanwhile, media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications sent out a memo effectively banning 165 songs from more than 1,200 radio stations because of “questionable” lyrics. Songs such as Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” and Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” were forbidden by Clear Channel, along with all of Rage Against the Machine’s music. Seriously, the band was the only group to be completely banned following 9/11.
So, while Lee Greenwood’s Gulf War anthem “God Bless the USA” was dominating the airwaves working Americans up into a xenophobic frenzy, radio executives didn’t think you could handle listening to Peter, Paul & Mary singing “Leaving on a Jet Plane” without somehow sustaining damage.The music industry wasn’t the only beneficiary of post- 9/11 sentimentality. An entire industry revolving around 9/11 commemorative coins, coffee mugs, mouse pads and other assorted memorabilia sprung up overnight. Official Fire Department of New York City T-shirts flew off the shelves. Conspiracy theorists began mass-producing books and documentaries chronicling the vast network of alleged miscreants responsible for the collapse of the World Trade Center. Major film studios produced movies, such as “United 93” and the aptly named Oliver Stone flick
“World Trade Center” in an effort to capitalize on our sympathies for the victims of 9/11.
Our overwhelmingly capitalistic impulses reduced 9/11 to just another pop culture event for sale. It seems we have reached a point where the only way for us to process tragedy is through rampant consumerism. Instead of finding a meaningful way of communicating anguish, too many Americans stuck a sticker of Calvin peeing on Bin Laden on the tailgate of their Ford F-150s and called it a day.
Now, one cannot presume to fully understand the intentions of those who made significant profit from 9/11. I’m simply saying it was all very tacky and unnecessary. Sure, there were people who produced legitimate art as a means of processing their grief or as an expression of respect and gratitude toward first responders, but the majority of merchandise related to the most shocking and deadly act of terrorism the world had ever faced was nothing more than shameless capitalism rearing its ugly head at the least appropriate time in history.