The following clip is simultaneously moving and deeply, deeply troubling. What you’ll see is a montage of clips, the first third of which depict stock images of Americana—football and such. Then, at roughly the 1:35 mark, you’ll see 9/11 footage of United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the World Trade Center. All of this is set to the track “A Song for Our Fathers” by the post-rock group Explosions in the Sky.
What’s moving about the clip is that it does a fair job of making a fairly sophisticated political statement about American foreign policy. It also, according to the gloss on youtube, was apparently a class project (grade unknown—to me, at least). In that context, I’d happily give the students credit.
What’s troubling about the clip is that it frames its politics in terms of 9/11—that event is literally and grotesquely the catalyst here—and in doing so soundtracks those politics with EITS’s music. Explosions have been notoriously linked to 9/11 in ways that are flat out wrong. Absolutely wrong. Click here for the poison. And here for the antidote. Sure, the band’s name absolutely demands this type of historicizing, but it’s still unsettling to see how even in an era where nearly open access to media—and the ability to manipulate it—doesn’t always seem to result in increased awareness of what information is actually being manipulated—in short what is true and what isn’t. Certainly there are larger theoretical questions circulating here about the nature of truth and representation, and I’d be happy to see people put pressure on those questions in the comments section. But in this case, the tendency to mythologize EITS as a 9/11 band does them and 9/11 a disservice, I would argue.
What brought all of this up was an attempt to look for a clip of Explosions performing “Catastrophe and the Cure,” a song that presents a dialectical clash between opposite musical dynamics. The title obviously does the same. I intended to place that clip up here as a way of inciting discussion about social and class conflict, and the ways that these issues are at the heart of virtually any discussion of 9/11/01, whether its anniversary remains a day of mourning or a day of service. My general academic interests lie in the ways in which cultural concerns like class conflict weave their way into the sonic fabric of popular music. However, once I typed Explosions’ name into youtube’s search bar, I got a hit for this video, the image of the burning Trade Center ominously gleaming outward from my computer screen.
Despite my initial frustration, I persevered, and I ultimately found the clip for which I was searching. I’ll be curious to hear what people think about it in light of this broader context. Does the song—musically and performatively—provide a corrective to the tensions of the class project clip? Does the band seem particularly political? Does the song seem political? What conflicts—cultural or otherwise—are presented here (if any are)?