It seems that every time a book or a film dealing with September 11th comes out, someone cries out the words, “Too soon!” It happened recently with Jay McInerney’s The Good Life, when Norman Mailer told McInerney that McInerney should wait ten years before attempting a novel about it. It happened with Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, where people declared it was “too soon” for a novelist to write about 9/11. And now it’s happening again with United 93. The trailer was released to theatres and people reacted negatively. The result? An AMC Loews theatre in the Upper West Side pulled the trailer.
It’s been more than five years since September 11th. And with all due respect to the victims, I’m wondering why today’s artists are so timid with respect to the subject. Is it standard operating procedure to take no chances for fear of offending? I hate to invoke Godwin, but the current silence reminds me of the situation chronicled in the 2004 documentary Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust, which I was lucky to see last year. The film offers a convincing argument that Hollywood adamantly refused to come to terms with the full reality of the Holocaust until years later and points out that later movies, such as the excellent film The Pawnbroker, were coping mechanisms that may have come too late.
This popular notion of repressing or, more accurately, self-censoring dramatizations of recent history hasn’t gone away. Talk of 9/11 and deal with its explicit details, and you are declared insensitive or tasteless. But what better way might our nation come to terms with that terrible day then to expose its explicit details through film, literature, music, painting, sculptures, theatre, opera, ballet or countless other forms of art? What do we gain when our culture reflects the notion that September 11th didn’t happen or shouldn’t be talked about? Piece of mind, perhaps. But limitations which might beget other limitations.
So people are crying and feeling uncomfortable when seeing this trailer. Well isn’t it art’s purpose to do this? And don’t such emotions allow a certain catharsis?
Too soon? If not now, then when?