This opinion article tries to outline why the destruction of New York is presented in films and takes the 11th September terrorist attack as a case study and it attempts to find reasons why disasters that happen in real life remain stamped in the imagination of the human psyche.
The destruction of the New York skyline has long been an obsession for the American film industry. It is depicted a lot in the Planet of the Apes series when in the first film’s memorable closing sequence we see Charlton Heston finding the Statue of liberty half buried in the sand. The sequel ” Beneath the Planet of the Apes” goes one step further where it has Charlton Heston and James Franciscus finding a destroyed subterranean New York City where they witness the tragic ruins of the New York Public Library, the New York Stock Exchange and the Radio City Music Hall.
The fourth installment “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” has the Apes completely destroying New York City and if one goes back in time to 1933 the Monster Movie that started it all! King Kong culminated with a battle between this gigantic ape and the American air force atop the empire state building. Besides the apes destroying the big apple, New York has had its fair share of variable disasters such as the criminals that wreak havoc to the city in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York where the US president’s plane crashes in Manhattan that has now been transformed into a dark maximum security prison. In the 1984 film Ghostbusters, a team of scientists are called to rid Manhattan of ghosts and poltergeists and end up having to deal with a ghost that in size resembles King Kong – the 100ft Marshmallow man!!
From a mad bomber to aliens, what will they come up with next? there seems to be no limit to Hollywood’s obsession with turning the Big Apple to smithereens in the movies but Life imitated art on the 11th of September 2001 when terrorists seized control of two American Airlines Jetliners and crashed them into the two World Trade Center in New York City.
As these terrorist attacks occurred, a larger -than -life poster for the film ” Collateral Damage” loomed over the Brooklyn Bridge. As pedestrians fled the crumbling building pouring over the bridge into Brooklyn, many were caught in an ironic middle ground between Hollywood that is the billboard image of Schwarzenneger and the terrorist illuminated by a fiery explosion that contrasted with the real background that was the horrific sight of the towers in flames.
This phenomenon with disasters having an impact on the mind’s of people is not new, if one goes back in time we find people that were fascinated and disturbed by the TITANIC tragedy for so much was written in the newspapers on the British luxury passenger liner because it was considered unsinkable by many.
In 1937 another real life event stunned the general public when what was supposed to be an enjoyable journey ended in disaster when the mighty German airship Hindenburg burst into flames and plunged into the ground. It is reported that the effect of these images captured on camera was enough to drive people out of the cinema when they were shown on special news bulletins.
Apparently nowadays a new tourism market is surfacing and this is the observation either on screen or live the destruction of an object as it unfolds. ” There is nothing to be really shocked about” explains Antonio Preiti sociologist and scholar of behavioral studies at the Societa di Ricerche Sociometrica di Roma because it is part of the Tourism logic that traveling around means spending money, time and energy to look for something new that is quite different than the norm. For example the last stretch of land pertaining to a Rainforest in the Amazon has been all photographed and so now we must go beyond what is beautiful and view what is destroyed or must be destroyed. It’s like a call for the human being to go back to his animal instincts.
It can be, that the wonder of traveling is no longer in searching different cultures and colourful localities where people live, but to seek violent events and destructive situations. The more catastrophic they are, the more they are attractive, no wonder many audiences were fascinated at the Planet of the Apes ending, because it was the first time they saw a scene of the Statue of liberty ravaged by war in comparison to the clean, secure pictures of encyclopedias and tourist magazines.
Speaking personally about myself when I saw this movie, the scene was too much for me, because as it stands, I always saw the statue of liberty as representing something commemorative, yet I could not take away the thought that sprang to my mind as to what if ?
According to Psychologist Maria Christina Koch, observing up close phenomenon’s like hurricanes and eruptions represents some kind of a challenge that is far more stronger than us and it must be unraveled. This explains the impact such films have on audiences like Planet of the Apes, king Kong, Volcano, Armageddon and now Titanic. When there is a portrayal of a natural catastrophe or a manmade destruction, people then become obsessed with their own security, and it is probably normal that people want to see buildings blowing up provided they are safe in their seat at the cinema.
Nowadays we have television programmes like ‘8MM’ and ‘Real TV’ that are aired where 20% of the people show their own home videos of disasters and explosions, 30% are filmed by the production company that produces the programme and 50% of the filmed accidents are bought by agencies. This proves that there is a growing market out there for people wanting to film disasters or watch disasters but what if a person or a group sparks off a disaster for attention or a political statement such as the terrorists on September 11th who as it appeared timed the crashes simultaneously for the media and the cameras to project these images to the world that their sending a message to America. What is certain is that live television added dimension because it provided the unthinkable reality show of devastating live coverage of American jetliners crashing into the World Trade Center that far surpassed anything from Hollywood’s fiction factory.
Even though audiences knew what they were seeing it was almost impossible to believe what was actually happening. Watching the pictures coming out of FOX News and CNN of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon Tuesday morning, the first thought might have been that it all seemed so oddly and sickly familiar i.e: an Independence Day coming hideously to life. If only it were.
TV has shown us what real mass murder and real destruction truly look like live before our eye, will the audience ever lose their taste for these types of films? But what makes people fascinated into wanting to follow disasters on the mediums of TV what is the fascination that makes people want to follow disasters on the T.V and cinema. Has the world become so predictable that a disaster is the only thing that will surprise us and show us how small we really are? Is it a psychological perverted mechanism or just normal curiosity?
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association all agree that the depiction of violence or destruction in the media is related to aggression in real life. This includes the news, according to Jeffrey Johnson of Columbia University in New York. He said ” One thing I did find of great concern was that when I learned, that the American networks were repeatedly showing images of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center … and that they only stopped, when some of the family’s victims pleaded with them to stop, he said.
This is all indicative of the problem as to how accidents are projected on the media and the impact they leave on the viewers. They should not be glorified by the movie industry/media, nor be used as a mechanism to spark off a chain of events or message. This is why there must be responsibility and the need to draw the line and not go forward with a way of thought of it bleeds, it leads. That is the problem. We are all in a position to take responsibility to think about what we’re watching and as the repeatedly airing of certain events can traumatize people and may lead then to act in a certain way, therefore education and awareness are necessary.