It’s an appropriate time to reflect. Some sad occasions have happened in recent days for me, the death of a relative, a family friend, and a global public figure, though I will reflect on those experiences in a later post. The World Trade Center attacks were a formulative experience for me to witness. My memory is murky as the years go by, but each time the memory is revisited, I make more connections to those vignettes that still exist in my mind’s eye.
I was five years old, approaching six in four months. My parents were shopping for a new house in our city to make room for our new baby brother, who was then around nine months old. I had just started kindergarten, and my parents wanted to stay within the same school district. My sister was four, and she and I detested visiting open houses with them. Our brother could just sleep through them, but we had to walk around and try to admire stuff we didn’t understand. Our previous house had been sold before we’d picked a new one, so we stayed with my grandparents in the meantime.
There was this strange movie on television occasionally with burning buildings. My parents enjoyed action and detective stories, so I figured it was one of those. But my mother acted differently when this movie came on. She’d rush to turn it off or change the channel when she’d see it with us children in the room. My grandparents hosted visitors often, so sometimes my uncles, aunts, or adult cousins would come over and want to play this movie. I didn’t get the fuss. I’d sometimes watch Law and Order with my mom when I couldn’t sleep, but the violent parts were short and she’d cover my eyes. Why was this shot of burning buildings so long? Did this movie have any other scenes?
The day of the attacks was a Tuesday, which was a day off for kindergartners and a half day for the rest of my elementary school. My teacher briefly explained to us the following day that some bad people attacked our country with planes. I feel like I learned pretty early on some of these planes came from Boston, departing from Logan Airport, so several of the casualties were local to our metropolitan, but I can’t remember when exactly I learned this. But the day she informed us was otherwise an unremarkable day.
The repetition stuck with me. People said “never forget,” flew the American flag, and just generally exhibited nationalistic pride. But people did it outside of patriotic holidays like Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, or Independence Day. I didn’t understand it. Over time, I heard the phrase “9/11,” and I’d be shown pictures of those towers that got burned in that movie I saw in kindergarten. Overtime, I realized I’d seen it. That was the real news at the time, not the fictitious news in some doomsday movie.
People began talking about censoring things. The Simpsons, a cartoon that tempted me but was forbidden to watch because it was not for kids, had a nuclear power plant in it that blew up sometimes, and over the years networks wanted those episodes shelved because they thought it insensitive to victims and their families. Around 2003 or 2004, my mother finally allowed us to watch this highly-acclaimed show, SpongeBob Squarepants, despite the fact she found it obnoxious. In an episode titled “Just One Bite,” which I felt to be a remake to Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham, SpongeBob’s cynical colleague Squidward proclaims his dislike for Krabby Patties, despite his never eating one. The first half of the episode has SpongeBob channeling Sam I Am, coaxing Squidward into trying it in a multitude of different settings. Squidward finally caves, but…unlike Green Eggs’ protagonist, Squidward is too prideful to admit his fondness for it. He breaks into the Krusty Krab restaurant during off-hours and suffers two gasoline burns in each doorway in his pursuit. This is done in effort to avoid confronting SpongeBob about his desire for the sandwich.
Except…something was different in the episode around 2007 to 2010. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but it felt shorter and…maybe missing some kind of detail? I shrugged it off for several years, until I came across a Youtube video around 2015 titled “SpongeBob Just One Bite deleted scene”…it was the scene of Squidward getting injured by the gasoline bucket. It was strange. The episode premiered in 2001, during which time I was not allowed to watch it, but the offending scene remained in tact for approximately 10 years after the tragic events of 9/11. Nonetheless, its removal is still seen as aftermath for the occasion.
Similarly, music was scrutinized too. People were sensitive to certain metaphors like “you dropped a bomb on me,” “you light me on fire,” “you are electric,” etc. Lots of pieces in the hip-hop and rock genres were temporarily banned. Today, it seems some circles are warming back up to this kind of hyperbole and explicit displays, but others still seem to have a collective post-traumatic sensitivity of this aggression.
There’s a lot more thoughts I have on this occasion and may create followup posts, especially about the censorship and nationalistic escalations. Anyway, I will conclude to say never forget, and participate in the AmeriCorps day of service if you can to mark this occasion.