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For Hollywood's Dream Factory, A Sober 'New Normal'
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For Hollywood's Dream Factory, A Sober 'New Normal'
For Hollywood's Dream Factory, A Sober 'New Normal'
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DAVID GREENE, host:

The economy - and football - share the news this week with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Among many other things, those attacks affected our entertainment. Here's screenwriter and commentator John Ridley.

Mr. JOHN RIDLEY (Screenwriter/Commentator): In September 2001, Hollywood found itself in a place where it doesnt much like to dwell - reality.

As the entertainment industry struggled to find its way in the new normal, once seemingly innocuous projects that dealt with terrorism were delayed or quickly pulled from distribution pipelines. The American action hero who takes names and kicks tail - a longtime staple of popcorn movies - suddenly became too difficult a subject matter for entertainment.

One of the higher profile casualties was an Arnold Schwarzenegger film called "Collateral Damage." Scheduled to open in theaters just weeks after the attacks, the plot of the film, with painful synchronicity, revolved around a firefighter who goes on a mission of revenge after his family is killed in a terrorist bombing.

(Soundbite of movie, "Collateral Damage")

Unidentified Man: No one can stop a killer, except a man who knows his face.

Mr. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Actor): (as Gordy Brewer) No.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Mr. CLIFF CURTIS (Actor): (as Claudio Perrini) Whats the difference between you and I?

Mr. SCHWARZENEGGER: (as Gordy Brewer) The difference is Im just going to kill you.

Mr. RIDLEY: 9/11 seemed to put an end to the idea that American exceptionalism and an icy stare were enough to keep our enemies at bay.

Also gone, supposedly, was the age of irony. It seemed as though nothing could ever again be mocked or taken lightly. Without a certain wryness, Hollywoods first attempts to address the attacks came off as trite or maudlin.

In a hastily produced episode of "The West Wing," characters literally tried to explain terrorism to children. Time magazine wrote that the episode was earnest in its tone, admirable in its charitable intent and god-awful in its condescending pedantry. For the time being, at least, reality would be much more compelling than fiction.

In time, Hollywood began to explore Sept. 11th and the war on terror more thoughtfully; from the film adaptation of "The Guys," a play about a fire captain preparing eulogies for the men he lost in the Towers collapse, to the Academy Award-winning "The Hurt Locker."

But it was television that nailed Americas need for jingoism and retribution with the show "24." The lead character, Jack Bauer, played by Keifer Sutherland, was a by-any-means-necessary anti-terrorism operative. Muslims were unapologetic bad guys and enhanced interrogation techniques were a given.

(Soundbite of TV series, "24")

Mr. KEIFER SUTHERLAND (Actor): (as Jack Bauer) Get up against the door and sit on your hands.

Mr. CURRIE GRAHAM (Actor): (as Ted Cofell) Who are you?

(Soundbite of a punch)

Mr. SUTHERLAND: (as Jack Bauer) Shut up. My name is Jack Bauer.

Mr. RIDLEY: If Jack Bauer resurrected the American action hero, it was Denis Leary who proved that irony was not dead. In the television series "Rescue Me," Leary played a heroic but troubled firefighter haunted by the loss of his cousin who died in the Sept. 11th attacks.

(Soundbite of TV series, "Rescue Me")

Mr. DENIS LEARY (Actor): (as Tommy Gavin) You (beep) better pray you dont get assigned to my firehouse, because I have seen it all. I knew 60 men gave their lives at ground zero, four of them from my house.

Mr. RIDLEY: "Rescue Me" captured the post 9/11 struggles of first responders in particular and Americans in general. In the tradition of "The Great Dictator" and "MASH," it brought soulful and witty insight to otherwise painful material.

Mr. RIDLEY: For many, Sept. 11th should never be associated with any kind of entertainment. But like Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11 is a generational marker of before and after.

In the indie comedy "A Little Help," actress Jenna Fischer argues with her character's young son regarding his lies about the death of his philandering father.

(Soundbite of movie, "A Little Help")

Ms. JENNA FISCHER (Actor): (as Laura) Dennis, your father did not die in 9/11.

Mr. DANIEL YELSKY (Actor): (as Dennis) I know, but what a cool way to die -9/11 or a arrhythmia thing?

Ms. FISCHER: (as Laura) 9/11 is cooler but

Mr. YELSKY: (as Dennis) It is cooler.

Ms. FISCHER: (as Laura) Dennis.

Mr. RIDLEY: Funny and appropriate are of course subjective. But 10 years ago, would any of us have thought that humor could ever dull the pain of that horrible September morning?

(Soundbite of electronic music)

GREENE: Commentator John Ridley is screenwriter for the upcoming movie "Red Tails."

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep.

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