It would be an understatement to say this: It’s hard to believe it is now 15 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. And it’s not that the generation-defining day has become lost in the lapse of time. The event influences everything in politics, media and the general culture in the USA.
In the popular culture, the attacks are a backdrop to everything. Countless TV shows, starting with Fox’s 24, which began airing just two months after the attacks, are anchored entirely in the fight against more and more terrorist assaults on the United States. ABC’s Quantico, which premiered last fall and returns this month, is specifically about a character who is “masterminding the biggest terror attack since the September 11 attacks.” The upcoming Designated Survivor stars Kiefer Sutherland as a politician thrust into the role of president after an attack similar to Sept. 11 eliminates much of the U.S. government.
However, as each major anniversary goes by, there is decreasing focus on the events of the day and what impact they had. It’s a fraught circumstance. There is the need to avoid exploitation of the anniversary and, simultaneously, there is a fatigue with reliving events of that one horrific day, over and over. It has seeped into the vast culture and the slow-moving grappling with the meaning of it goes on and on.
The major U.S. networks will largely ignore the 15th anniversary, later this week. On Sunday, Sept. 11, in prime time, CBS will air the finale of the summer series BrainDead, ABC will show the 2017 Miss America Competition and NBC will air Sunday Night Football. It is left to news channels, cable outlets and PBS to commemorate. Herewith, a short list of related programming.
9/11 Inside the Pentagon (Tuesday, PBS 9 p.m.) asserts that the attack on the Pentagon has been almost forgotten. And yet, the third plane to strike its target during the attack was American Airlines Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon at 9:37 that morning. Six crew members and 53 passengers were killed instantly. The documentary provides a detailed account of the chaos unfolding first in the skies on the U.S. eastern seaboard, and then chronicles what unfolded inside the buildings that were struck as jet fuel caused a raging widespread fire.
One striking detail is the assertion that the computer systems of National Military Command Center “came dangerously close to meltdown.” If they had shut down fully, the ability of the military to respond to the attacks would have been severely limited. Then, of course, those on the ground received notice that a second plane, another hijacked flight, was heading for the location. As it is described here, fleeing the building wasn’t an option.
9/11 Fifteen Years Later (CNN, Sunday, 8 p.m.) is a updated version of the Peabody and Emmy-winning documentary 9/11, made by Jules and Thomas Gédéon Naudet, the French-born filmmakers. They were making a documentary about New York firefighters on Sept. 11 and as a result managed to gain extraordinary footage, some of it iconic today. Denis Leary will introduce the new anniversary edition of the film, which will be shown with very limited commercial interruption.
The Lost Hero of 9/11 (CBC, Sunday, 10 p.m. on The Passionate Eye) is a repeat of a powerful doc about a man, Jason Thomas, who rescued two Port Authority police officers that were trapped in the rubble. Then he seemed to disappear. It’s an extraordinary story, the stuff of fiction.
The former marine headed to the sight of the Twin Towers as soon as news of the first strike spread. He wore his Marine Corps uniform and worked steadily and bravely until the two men were carried from the rubble and receiving attention. Then he went home. What he did became legendary, but it wasn’t until his actions were dramatized in Oliver Stone’s movie World Trade Center, and he recognized himself as one of the characters, that he came forward to tell his story.