A Surge in Patriotism: Redefining the American Image
Now, a national identity acts as an imagined community. The 9/11 attack was the largest terrorist attack to occur on U.S. soil and so public, in the heart of perhaps America’s most iconic city with towering skyscrapers coming tumbling down. This jarred and tore at the very fabric of America’s image.
In grief and fear and in pride, Americans wrapped encosed themselves even more firmly in the red, white, and blue of patriotism. There were more American flags than ever before on display, whether in flight or a pin on a lapel. The urge for unity as a community, as Americans was necessary to heal and face the fears of the uknown. Faith was also a focal point. The attack was executed by foreign nationalists of a religion far from the mainstream American image and in response, Americans formed closer bonds to their religions of choice.
In Memorium: Pain Vocalized
Music was another outlet for mourning using patriotism and faith-inspired lyrics and poignant instrumentation to provide a demonstration and an outlet for the intense grieving of the United States.
Alan Jackson, acountry singer debuted his song “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” on November 7th at the 2001 Country Music Assoiation’s annual award show. The song reflected on the events of 9/11 and expressed how he and others felt in the wake of the attacks.
The song earned a number one spot on Billboard’s country chart and went on to win the Academy of Country Music and CMA Song of the Year and Single of the Year honors as well as earned the singer his first Grammy for Best Country Song. Additionally, the song’s lyrics were officially entered into the Congressional Record and was commended for its honoring of those lost and keeping their memory alive.
Overall, the song received overwhelmingly postive reviews and was considered a perfect snapshot of that emotional day.
“A multitude of songs have been written and recorded in the wake of September 11, but none captures the myriad emotions unleashed by the terrorist attacks on an unsuspecting nation more perfectly than Jackson’s eloquent ballad”
– Deborah Evans Price, Billoard magazine
Some of the lyrics are as follows:
Where were you when the world stopped turning
That September day?
Out in the yard
With your wife and children
Workin’ on some stage in LA?
Did you stand there in shock
At the sight of that black smoke
Rising against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger
And fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?
Did you weep for the children
Who lost their dear loved ones
Or pray for the ones who don’t know?
Did you rejoice for the people
Who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?
Did you burst out in pride
For the red, white, and blue
And the heroes who died
Just doing what they do?
Did you look up to Heaven
For some kind of answer
And look at yourself
And what really matters?
I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN but I’m not sure I could
Tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love
For complete lyrics: source
Simiarly to “God Bless America”, the song invoked both patriotism and faith as a means of unity and healing.
Call to Arms: Country Music’s New Voice
Country music is often considered the most patriotic of music genres and in the aftermath of the attacks, many country artists took to writing tributes and anthems for an America in need of strength.
One example, “Only in America” by Brooks and Dunn which was written before the terrorist attacks on 9/11 but quickly became a “pick-me-up” afterwards. The patriotism in the song was so strong and relevant that it was used by President Bush as his re-election campaign song.
Another song that made a comeback was Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” which was originally written in the 80s. The song did not hit it big until Desert Storm during the Gulf War in 1991 and it experienced a resurgence in popularity among radio stations post 9/11.
The resounding need for some good, something to be reminded of in dark times resulted in a slew of both old and new messages of hope.
The Criticism of Opposition:
A consequence of the surge in nationalism and the overwhelming sense of duty regarding retribution, there was tremendous backlash when criticism was voiced. Not just from the people but from the government.
One of the most public instances was the criticism of President George W. Bush by Dixie Chick member, Natalie Maines during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. The Dixie Chicks were tremendously succeessful at the time, coming off of a strong albums that generated commercial interest and allowing them to break into the mainstream.
During a performance at the Shepherd’s Bush in London on March 10, 2003, she stated:
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
Her statements resulted in much controversy, namely due to the genre of music her and her bandmates played. Country tends to run along Republican party lines and while criticism from a band like Rage Against the Machine is expected, the comments made by the Dixie Chicks were not.
As news reached the States, there were boycotts of the band, banning of their songs from country radio, destruction of their CDs, and worst case, death threats. They also lost support of their original sponsor, Lipton which had pulled out due to the involvement of politics. They did produce an unapologetic album, Taking the Long Way as a result of the conflict and it was full of defiance and conviction. They stuck by their statement and refused to apoligize.
In 2006, the band returned to the “scene of the crime” and stuck by their statement despite the backlash received.
The intense response to critcism and the oftentimes subsequent censorship demonstrated the delicacy and the warring emotions still resonating in the United States. There was a sensitivity there and it was encouraged by the confusing mess that was the state of politics at this point in time. It did not stop with the Dixie Chicks, either.