The culture of 9-11

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: As President Obama reminded us earlier eight Septembers have passes since 9/11. The images and stories of that horrific day in 2001 have come to be absorbed into our consciousness and into American culture. Jeff Melnick has paid close attention to that process as professor of American studies at Babson College near Boston. This year he put some of those thoughts into a book called 9/11 culture. And Jeff briefly give us the thrust of your ideas on the cultural ripples cause by 9/11?

JEFF MELNICK: Yeah the idea I started from really came from a Doonesbury comic strip. The punch line of which was is 9/11 the answer to every question now? It's a spokesperson for President Bush who gives that at a press conference as the answer to every question, whether it's about the environment or about the war in Iraq. And so I tried to test that premise and to find out for a few years after 9/11 was in fact 9/11 the answer to every question? Was it the answer to every question in movies, on radio, in animations, and so on?

WERMAN: So what did you find once you tested it?

MELNICK: Well among other things, I found that when we talk about 9/11 we can't just look at people who are directly saying 9/11 that in fact we're looking at what really is essentially 9/12 art. We're living in, as the novelist Don DeLillo said we're living in the time after. So we have to look for images, repeated images, images of rising for instance which was a major response after 9/11 for a couple years. Novelists, film makers, song writers � .

WERMAN: That Bruce Springsteen album �The Rising.�

MELNICK: Right exactly � Bruce Springsteen. So we have to look for sort of patterns of art that seem to respond to the great tragedy even if they don't necessarily name the tragedy. And that's what was most interesting to me was the less direct responses. The Spike Lee movie �25th Hour� for instance. A bunch of Jay-Z songs which are about resilience but don't necessarily name 9/11. That's where I think the really interesting 9/11 or 9/12 art really comes.

WERMAN: What was though, Jeff Melnick, the international cultural response?

MELNICK: Yeah that's a little harder to track. And we have to wait a couple years really to shake it out. I think one of the most interesting moments comes in 2004 when the Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour refuses to tour the United States as a response to the US invasion of Iraq. So it's kind of a deferred response but I think it's a really important response because it's a huge international star. Somebody really on the level of Bob Marley, to think of the best example, the best analogy I can think of, saying I can't follow this trail any longer.

WERMAN: And in fact that tour, that refusing to tour the United States came after this album he recorded called �Egypt� which was kind of a response if you will to the post 9/11 misunderstanding of Islam. Let's hear a track from that album.


WERMAN: Youssou N'Dour from his 2004 album �Egypt.� Jeff Melnick there were obviously big visa problems for foreigners trying to come to the United States after 9/11 but do you think Americans were repelled from or more attracted kind of suddenly foreign tastes?

MELNICK: Yeah that's a great question. And again it's a little diffuse to track. And one of the most interesting places I found, and where I really wanted to put my flag down, was looking at American hip hop artists who just opened their arms and just sort of took in whatever they could from various world music cultures. Most importantly, as it turns out, I think from bollywood music but also from various sounds of the Middle East, North Africa, and so on. So we have some key figures in hip hop including Jay-Z, Timbaland, Missy Elliott. Pop artists � you know popular artists, huge million-selling artists � who are saying we need to reach out and bring in what Youssou N'Dour called all the beautiful cultures of Islam. And they're bringing it in to popular American music.

WERMAN: Jeff Melnick, author of the book �9/11 Culture.� Thank you so much.

MELNICK: Thank you Marco.