I think about 9/11 a lot, which, I mean, you probably do too. I think about how Ja Rule was called in live on MTV, now memorialized by Dave Chappelle’s stand up bit, to give initial thoughts on the attacks. My father had recently finagled yet another three month cable television trial, our third or fourth over the last few years. The unprecedented access I had to celebrity and pop culture flipped instantaneously to a barrage of commentators, eye witnesses, and experts, faster than I’d ever been able to toggle between MTV1 and MTV2.
I think about the movies that had to be cancelled or delayed or altered because of the terrorist attacks. A sequel to True Lies never happened. Sofia Vergara’s role as an airplane hijacker in Collateral Damage was cut. The movie Big Trouble was set to be released the 21st of September but pushed back to April of the following year because of a plotline where a nuclear device is smuggled onto an airplane. Due partially to ramped up advertising for its initial release and all but zero promotion for the delayed release, the film was a flop. Sofia Vergara managed to appear in that movie, however.
I think about how Ben Stiller made the decision to digitally remove the World Trade Center Towers from the New York City skyline in Zoolander which came out two weeks after the attacks. True, the towers were no longer part of the skyline, but their manipulated absence was almost violent in a time of grief. Was Stiller wrong to revise the skyline? Perhaps, but. everyone’s morality was shifted in the aftermath of the towers falling. Any deliberate choice could be perceived as callous. But as anyone who’s experienced trauma knows, hollow actions are sometimes your only hope at eventually finding your way back onto a path of purpose.
I think a lot about the girl I’d carpooled with to swim practice every day over the summer who was a passenger on American Airlines Flight 77. How I’d go to her home to change into my too-tight-for-my-growing-11-year-old-body racing suit. How we’d turn our backs and I’d shyly cover my budding nipples, aware so suddenly that my sixth grade body was notably different from her fourth grade body. In June and July, innocence lost meant acute awareness of sprouting hairs and new smells from new creases in my body. In September, it meant acute awareness of evil. Isn’t it funny that that realization is procured both by literal growth and literal annihilation?
I was settling into eleven years old when September 11th occurred and my understanding of the world was expanding at a time when the world’s own perception of itself was shifting. We were moving into 24 hour new cycles, reality TV was stepping out past the front doors of the Real World house. Any eye witness was a commentator and anyone with a cellphone video was an expert. Celebrities didn’t just appear in weekly tabloids but ushered us through tragedies, minute by minute. Years later on November 13th, 2015 I’d awake from an afternoon nap, check Twitter on my phone, and learn from Fixer Upper’s Chip Gaines that there’d been a mass shooting at a Paris concert venue. His thoughts and prayers were with the victims and my comprehension of those events are forever linked to his likeness now.
I owned two DVDs as a middle schooler, one of which was Blue Crush (the other was Pootie Tang which isn’t relevant to the story but arguably is to who I am as a person.) I learned recently that the production of Blue Crush began on September 12, 2001. Understandably, the attacks affected the entire mood of the set. Michelle Rodriguez, who played Eden, told IGN, “I had the 9/11 thing going on with smoke from buildings coming over into my house, I need to get out of here [New York] dude so I was like, Hawaii, whatever, let’s go! Let’s do it now!” Matthew Davis, who played Kate Bosworth’s love interest, called the filming of it traumatic. Of course, none of this anguish is apparent in the film. In fact, it’s an incredibly fun and empowering sports rom com that led me to try and do a single pull up as a twelve year old. Reader, I did two.
I think a lot about how my memories of September 11th exist within a television. I think about processing trauma with a celebrity, any celebrity, by my side and how the incessant news cycle born from this American tragedy left me with little time to reflect on my own terms. When I look back on that day, it’s fragmented media memories of newscasters, radio announcements, celebrity interviews, these throwaway movie facts. I think about the need to push forward, how making decisions feels proactive despite the directions the decisions actually lead you in.
There’s a scene in Blue Crush where Kate Bosworth’s character Anne Marie is about to catch a wave at the Pipeline Masters competition and Eden is screaming from the shore,”Charge it! Go! Go!” It isn’t a notable piece of dialogue in the least. Friends have often teased me for quoting it as if anyone would possibly pick up on the reference. But the energy behind it is fraught with emotion the way any culminating cinematic event ought to be. And I wonder, knowing what I know now, that this was filmed when we as Americans were grasping onto any encouragement we could to push forward, if that influenced just how fervently Rodriguez delivered those lines. For what it’s worth, the wave demolishes Anne Marie, holding her underwater for minutes. I don’t ever remember that part.
September 11th was, and is to date, the most violent way I’ve lost someone I’m close to. But like Stiller, Vergara, like the eventual release of Big Trouble, or the producer who got Ja Rule on the phone, I just kept making decisions to move forward, to go go go, charge it. I think about my friend a lot.