U.S. TELEVISION SINCE 9/11
AND THE WARS IN IRAQ
Within the last few years, the United States has revised and reversed itself, turning from a global economy to a military economy, from internationalism to nationalism, and from peace to war. In this essay, I examine how U.S. popular culture, particularly U.S. television, participated in this revisionism from 1991 to 2003— the interval between the first and second wars in Iraq. I also consider how tales of death and personal sacrifice in war influence other cultural processes and artifacts. Since the current war in Iraq is an ongoing drama, what are some of its aftereffects?
The role played by fear in our current popular culture is palpable, and fear makes us intellectually vulnerable.1 According to Tyler Volk, who has contributed to a theory of “terror management,” immediate awareness of our mortality can lock us into a stringent “worldview” that serves as an antidote to our anxiety about death.2 Such an intellectual lockdown happened on a national scale after 9/11. More than ten years ago, I elaborated a model of fear and anxiety in U.S. television that f believed was outdated as the cold war ended. It is now once again applicable.3 In fact, television coverage of the tragedy of 9/11 echoed the magnitude of the U.S. primal catastrophe TV scene—the Kennedy assassination in the 1960s. In both events, the nation as a whole appeared to be in jeopardy.
And yet, the groundwork for the current revival of military heroism was laid in the 1990s. Best-selling books paid tribute to the generation of World War II veterans, our fathers and grandfathers, recreating their war through intimate memories. A short piece in the New York Times Magazine argued that