Before Sept. 11, no one would have given it a second thought. Buildings falling, violence, destruction, war; these were all the stuff of the movies, and usually of the big blockbuster movies at that. But now, Hollywood is scrambling to scrap movies with terrorist plots, bands are holding back singles with destructive themes, awards shows are being postponed, possibly cancelled, and images of the World Trade Center are being digitally removed from various new releases. Is Hollywood doing the right thing? This has become a point of contention through most of the entertainment community. Some believe that ignoring the issue is the right thing to do. They say that people want to be entertained and not be reminded of the tragedy that is unfolding around us in the news.
But public opinion seems to be working counter to that theory. While box office numbers may not be soaring, they are consistent with times of peace, and the material people are wanting is the exact thing analysts predicted they would avoid. As a prime example, this past weekend’s box office was dominated by the police thriller Training Day which is not only dark in tone, but featured strong themes of police corruption in a time where public figures like police and firemen are being heralded as heroes. This follows last week’s strong performance by the Michael Douglas thriller Don’t Say a Word, which beat out analyst favourite Zoolander, a Ben Stiller comedy which was predicted to run away with the box office, in a nation believed to be looking for light entertainment and escapism.
Video rentals have skyrocketed in recent weeks, with the some of the most popular rentals being movies like Die Hard, The Siege, or Executive Decision, all action movies where, to quote one Los Angeles Blockbuster manager, “… the terrorists get the stuffing beat out of them.”
The music industry has also been making changes. Radio stations are refraining from playing certain songs, like Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner” and REM’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The Dave Matthews Band has also recently delayed the release of their next single, entitled “When the World Ends.”
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, already having pushed back the broadcast of the Emmy Awards from Sept. 16, postponed the ceremony again yesterday, only hours before it was to begin. The producers decided Sunday afternoon to put off the awards, perhaps indefinitely, after the attacks began in Afghanistan. “We [thought] this is not the time to have a celebration, as much as we wanted to do it,” explained Academy President Jim Chabin. “There will always be time for another awards show.”
Movies still in production will be the ones affected most by the changes. The Jackie Chan film Nosebleed will need to be reworked considerably, for example, as it was to have featured Chan as a window-washer at the WTC who thwarts a terrorist plan. In fact, Chan was to have begun filming on Sept. 11, at the WTC, only to be stopped at the last minute by a late script.
Hollywood is even going so far as removing the Twin Towers from new films digitally. Zoolander, for instance, had a seconds-long shot of the New York skyline edited to remove the buildings. Also, next year’s Spider-Man had its trailers pulled from theatres to remove a scene which takes place between the towers, where Spiderman has spun a giant web.
What do all of these precautions say about the effect that these tragic events have had on our lives? While politicians say that these attacks will not change the way we live our lives, Hollywood seems to polarized by its attempts to decide what it can and can’t show without offending the general populace. TV season premieres were pushed back, series’ with terrorist themes postponed, similar movies removed from network schedules, and comedy shows like SNL and The Daily Show struggling to find a way to make the public laugh again. But it would seem as if people know what they want, and that tastes are not going to change overnight, no matter what tragedy befalls us.
So, is all of this really necessary? Should Hollywood continue to try and shield us from a harsh reality? Or should it simply go about business as usual, following the current public opinion that seems to be that people are able to make up their own minds as to what they can handle? The solution will likely be somewhere in between, both acknowledging and tiptoeing around the issues going on around us; not wanting to appear to be collapsing away from their policy of freedom of expression, but also not wanting to offend any of those still suffering, in a balancing act only Hollywood would be capable of.