I’ve been a sub-editor, journalist and magazine editor for just over five years so I tend to remain un-phased when I come across sensationalised new stories. If I’m going to ‘feel’ outraged about something then it’s usually because of the cynical way in which the lowest common denominator media portrays it, rather than what happened in the actual ‘story’.
So hopefully you’ll forgive me if I sound a bit dramatic when I say that the recent eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks and the associated embassy violence are sad reminders of how the world has become that much more darker and fearful.
Just as those belonging to the western generation before us remember where they were on the day Kennedy was assassinated, so too does almost everyone from this generation recall where they were on September 11, 2001. For me, it was a quiet evening when mum called me to the lounge room, where we watched the horror unfold on TV. Both aircraft had hit by the time we tuned in. And then the towers collapsed, one after another…
Understandably, this singular event threw the public into a fit of fear, but just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, along came those anthrax spore-coated postal letters. Five people died after envelopes containing anthrax-infused powder were mailed to American politicians and media outlets, and while most people don’t remember the names of the victims, everyone knows Democrat senator Tom Daschle — who is still alive — was one of the targets.
Anthrax the virus. I made the mistake of searching for “Anthrax virus”
images on Google. Don’t do this if you’re at work or have a weak stomach.
The first of these deadly letters arrived a mere week after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent national attention it commanded pushed the fear-meter into over-drive. The pervasive mood of paranoia that followed was unprecedented, and for newspapers, magazines and television stations this could only mean one thing: gold rush!
From the murder of innocent people who just happened to look vaguely Arabic, to a massive drop in the value of the share market, to an unprecedented crack-down on privacy and civil liberties, no moral panic was exempt — and the media made damn sure you knew all about it (well, except maybe the civil liberties bit).
While news outlets did their utmost to ensure that the prospect of opening your mail was almost as terrifying as boarding a plane, a hell of a lot of people started searching for “anthrax” on the internet as news of more postal attacks came to light. This inevitably led them to www.anthrax.com — the website for the American metal band that was founded in, and had been using the name ‘Anthrax’ since, 1981.
Predictably, accusations of tastelessness and insensitivity started flying, and a band that had never enjoyed so much as a smidgen of support from commercial radio stations was suddenly inundated with interview requests from the biggest media outlets in the country.
Anthrax’s guitarist Scott Ian reminisced on this absurd turn of events in a recent interview while promoting the new Anthrax album, Worship Music.
“The fact was that all this very, very mainstream media — I'm talking from CNN to the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times, the biggest mainstream media in the world — are suddenly calling our publicist trying to get interviews with us,” he is quoted as telling the Georgia Straight (no, I hadn’t heard of that publication either).
“And my attitude right from the start was, ‘Well, these guys, they didn't want anything to do with us when our record came out not that long ago,’ you know. And now they want to talk to us because they need to fill space because this is the story of the week — which is gonna disappear in the next two months. And of course it did,” he said.
I remember hearing about this on a community radio metal show back then. The band put out a media release that scathingly said they were going to change their name to ‘Basket Full Of Puppies’ before promptly stating that, actually, under no circumstances would Anthrax change their name.
The band finally put an end to the media-manufactured rumours of a name change at a 9/11 benefit concert, when each of the five members came on stage in white overalls that spelt out the words “WE’RE NOT CHANGING OUR NAME”.
NOT changing their name. See what I did there?
It was a fitting and necessarily dramatic end to one of the more obscure (and certainly one of the silliest) legacies of the September 11 attacks. The media attention surrounding the ‘controversy’ vanished as quickly as it appeared, and Anthrax are thankfully still around today, still going by their original name and still kicking ass. In fact, I’m very much looking forward to seeing them at the Soundwave festival. Thank goodness this whole dumb saga was an isolated moment of fear-induced frenzy that…
Oh wait. That’s right, shortly after the attacks the largest owner of radio stations in America issued a directive to all its 1200+ radio stations. It was basically a list of ‘questionable’ tracks that included all songs by Rage Against The Machine as well as such riot-inducing works like Walk Like An Egyptian by The Bangles, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven and What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. In hindsight it seems that the direcetive wasn’t quite the black list it was thought to be (it was more of a suggested black list). However, the fact that someone not only bothered to come up with a list in the first place but actually turned it into some kind of official policy says so much about how fantastically warped public perception had become.
Oh, and spare a thought for hip hop group The Coup, whose new album at the time, Party Music, was all set to go and be released in mid-September 2001. In one of those “you couldn’t make this shit up even if you tried” coincidences, the cover depicted two members of the group standing in front of the twin towers, detonator in hand, the buildings exploding into flames behind them.
Astonishingly, the album was hastily recalled before it hit shops, whereupon it was re-issued with less ‘questionable’ artwork…