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September 11 in pop culture between zombies, superheroes and the desert

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Men covered in dust. Towers crumbling. The desert, spies, human and superhuman heroes. “Nothing will be the same after the events in New York,” says Tony Stark, the human face of the superhero Iron Man, in Iron Man 3 of 2013. It does not refer to the Twin Towers, but the audience immediately understands the reference: not even the superheroes would have been the same, if the Towers had not fallen. Nothing like popular culture of the last twenty years, in fact, has been a faithful reflection of the reaction that the Western world has had towards 9/11: denial, depression, acceptance.

September 11, the reaction / The great fear that made us all stronger

The attempt of the cinema

Removal, immediate, was carried out first and foremost at cinema, through the censorship of the images of war and destruction, the same ones that in the nineties had made the fortune of films like Independence Day and Armageddon: the first to find the courage to return to an apocalyptic scenario is, in 2005, Steven Spielberg with The War of the Worlds, in which the enemy is alien but the consequences of the very human destruction. This is the first film to incorporate the image that has become symbolic of the bodies of the victims covered in dust (to embody it, here, is Tom Cruise): a more admissible image than that, equally iconic but more brutal, of the falling man, the man who falls into the void immortalized by Richard Drew, who has become the symbolic photograph of the tragedy. Terrorism, which in the nineties films is still of Russian origin (Air Force One, Die Hard), becomes Islamic terrorism almost regularly starting from 11 September, with the setting of action films, TV series and novels moved to the Middle East. Espionage also returns to the center of the serial narrative, as in the “cases” of 24 and Homeland. A terrorism that since then (and until today) has become taboo, a subject on which one cannot joke: the famous case of the Friends series, whose episode The One Where Rachel Tells Ross, written before the attacks, is censored because one some characters joke about suicide bombers.


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The elaboration of mourning

Consumed through the escape into distant and comforting worlds, those of fantasy and products for families, the mourning process of September 11 makes the fortune of the great sagas, from Pirates of the Caribbean to Harry Potter to The Lord of the Rings, while television stages the paranoia with series like Lost and Six Feet Under – before the zombies of The Walking Dead come to tell, with iconic power, the concept of evil that creeps into ordinary life. But it is the superheroes who stand as champions of the return to normal: when Marvel presents its version of the attacks it does so for the first time in a comic, Spider-Man Vol. 2, number 36, presenting the tragedy as something that brings together not only the heroes, but also the villains (even Doctor Doom cries). Give it Spider Man hero of 2014 to the great return of Captain America with his shield, from Bruce Wayne who sees Wayne Tower collapse in Batman v Superman, the triumph of superheroes – be it civilians with superpowers, supermen with deadly weaknesses, or normal men in extraordinary situations – it becomes necessary in a world that has lost its certainties, but desperately wants to put itself on stage to understand itself better.

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