Dear Americans: every exploding building is not 9/11

I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating.

9/11 was a crime and a tragedy. It was one crime and tragedy in a long history of humanity’s capacity for evil. I don’t diminish the loss of life; nothing could. But I insist that people acknowledge that similar or worse has been meted out again and again in history, and often by people Americans see as “the good guys.” You can acknowledge the enormity of the pain and anger that 9/11 caused without acting like 9/11 was a wholly unique historical crime, or as if the loss of those lives was somehow worse than the loss of countless other lives from intentional human destruction.

Here is a poster for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.

Here’s a taste of the public reaction. (And here and here, etc.) This is supposed to be inherently tasteless and shocking, I suppose, because it’s got a building blowing up and the release date is September 11th. The building that’s blowing up does not resemble the World Trade Center or the Pentagon in the least. It’s just a blowing up building. Buildings blowing up is, I’m sorry to say, a perfectly common feature of contemporary big-budget movies. If you find that stupid and vacuous, I agree. But as I said last year, the insistence that any shot of urban devastation is inherently a reference to 9/11 is exactly the kind of self-obsession that drives much of the rest of the world nuts about America. It’s an thoughtless, reflexive kind of American chauvinism, the unexamined assumption that what happens here is more important than what happens anywhere else, and that American lives are worth more than others. Buildings were blown up in other countries before 9/11, and they have been blown up after 9/11, and they are blowing up right now. If you think that buildings blowing up is necessarily a matter of sensitivity only to Americans, I suggest you spend a little time in Gaza.

By the way: the poster is for Australia.


  1. If the article you linked to is any indication, this is less about US chauvinism and more about a British journalist criticizing a poster for Australians after some tweeters (Twitterers?) of unspecified nationality raised the issue.

    IMO, this poster doesn’t reference 9/11/01. The “camera angle” and layout make the events too obscure. But the nature of the WTC’s destruction was iconic (in the visual sense), such that any depiction of “collapsing skyscraper” or “exploding skyscraper” will evoke 9/11/01 for a lot of people, although maybe not as much 13 years later, and less as the years go by. It’s worth asking if a given reference is simply exploiting a highly-charged tragedy (not to mention, simply exploiting mass violence) for shock value.

    Also…check out Donatello in eyeglasses. And, um, wearing a vacuum cleaner on his back?

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