Is it OK to massacre skyscrapers in movies again?
I’m a regular listener to the podcast Slate’s Culture Gabfest. Usually I often find myself nodding in agreement with whatever the hosts put to the table. But this week’s show was an exception.
As was to be expected by a pop culture show, they had a discussion about The Avengers, since it’s opening in US this weekend. Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens and Julia Turner didn’t fancy the movie as much as I did, which I’m perfectly OK with.
What did surprise me though was one of their reasons for disliking it. They were critical about the final battle scene takes place on Manhattan in New York where space worms are going berserk and we see skyscrapers crumbling into pieces. They were also bothered by the aftermath scene, where you see people putting up pictures of lost people.
According to them, all of this reminded far too much of what happened at 9/11. Stephen called it “totally inappropriate”, “cheap” and even “bordering of repulsive”. He wasn’t completely against that you in some distant future could show falling skyscrapers in a movie, but if I understood him correctly, he thought that this was far, far too early. The national tragedy was too recent.
And this is where they lost me.
However, before I go into my objections, we’ll have a short break, because I need to point out something. I’m not a US citizen. I haven’t lived in New York and I didn’t know anyone who died there. While 9/11 affected me too, the way it affected the entire Western world, I didn’t have the direct connection that many Americans have. It’s possible that I would have thought differently about this under other circumstances.
So, after this intermission, back to business! A rant will follow!
Why it should be allowed
For a little while I thought I had one of the party members with me. Someone, I think it was Julia, objected: “Are you saying that nobody ever can destroy NY in a movie again? That could be a terrible thing for the terrorists to have taken from us”.
To this Stephen replied something about how the footage looked too much like CNN and in the end conclusion seemed to be that everyone still thought it was tasteless.
I however think that this question is totally valid and a good reason why demolishment of skyscrapers should be allowed in movies again. After all it has been an element that has been used over and over again in action movies for decades. I actually think that it’s the opposite idea – to completely eliminate this from pop culture – that is worrying and repulsive.
To me this is in some sense to let the terrorists go away with the victory. They wanted to achieve terror, they wanted to get attention and they wanted to restrict our lives. That is exactly what you allow them to do with that kind of self censorship.
The strongest act of resistance you can do against someone who tries to intimidate you with violence and fear is to just ignore it – to keep living your life the way you always have.
I can understand why it would have been strange to watch a falling skyscraper on the film screen within the first year after 9/11. But after more than ten years I think you must be able to send in some crazy space dragons there. Or to let bodies fall in the air, such as in the signature of Mad Men for that sake.
Also: 9/11 isn’t the only trauma the world has had. Air plane crashes happen. Earthquakes as well. And remember the tsunami in Thailand? That was a trauma to large areas of the world, though not so much to US. In the name of consistency, should we refrain from making movies about this type of disasters as well? For Sweden it was a disaster when the ship Estonia sank in 1994, costing 852 lives. Three years later came Titanic and I think that revived a lot of memories for many people. Was it tasteless and inconsiderate to make it so soon after?
Exactly where do you draw the limit? Is it required that US is involved for Hollywood to take those considerations? Many movies get global launches nowadays. Does that matter?
People are fully in their rights to criticize The Avengers but I don’t think this one is a good reason.
It’s been ten years since 9/11 and of course I don’t expect people to be “over it”. We’ll never ever be “over with it”. It’s a scar we’re going to live with for the rest of our lives.
However it’s long enough for filmmakers to be allowed to massacre skyscrapers on Manhattan without being called out for it.