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A CLEAR AND "PRESCIENT" DANGER

Some popular culture seemed to "anticipate" the 9-11 terrorist attacks

Is there something in the collective consciousness? Is there a invisible link between the minds and creative energies that rivals our best telecom systems?
--Noel, a musician in Newfoundland, Canada, on a Web site, musing on pop culture that seemed to foretell 11 September

It represents capitalism. It represents freedom. It represents everything America is about. And to bring those two buildings down would bring America to its knees.
--Line from the original script for Nosebleed, a Jackie Chan movie involving a terrorist plot against the World Trade Center

It's a caper about people who are trying to actually fly a jet into the World Trade Center, so it has great special effects. It's really a funny story. It's got tight plotting. It's all those things you'd expect from The X-Files, but with three new guys.
--Chris Carter, X-Files creator, discussing the pilot show of the spinoff The Lone Gunmen, on KROQ-FM, Los Angeles, 2 March 2001

How to explain popular culture that either touched upon the attacks of 11 September 2001, or eerily anticipated them? Six months before 9-11, Chris Carter could declare a story about destroying the WTC "funny," not knowing about the terrorist plot. But how is it his script did get these future events correct?

Images of an exploding World Trade Center tower on a CD cover. A campy spinoff from The X-Files, whose pilot requires the good guys to foil an attempt to ram a jetliner into the WTC. A script about a heroic window washer who discovers terrorists want to bomb the buildings.

Action movies produced in the 1980s and '90s had plot elements of jets hitting buildings; jets hijacked by terrorists, Islamist and otherwise; and terrorists either threatening or actually leveling buildings with bombs. Hollywood scriptwriters drew upon current events, but in retrospect, the overlaps and the coincidences before 9-11 seem bizarre.

MUSIC

The resemblance of The Coup's original, proposed CD cover was not lost on those who saw Flight 175 hit the WTC south tower (AP photo, below)
Coup CD cover
Photo of actual south tower explosion

Several compact disc covers had to be yanked from distribution after 9-11, because the labels or distributors thought their artwork was too much like the WTC demise.

Rage against the World Trade Center as a symbol of bloated wealth was not new in 2001. Nor were references to the structure.

The late rapper Christopher Wallace, aka Notorious B.I.G., had connected his burgeoning fame to the WTC's 1993 bombing. Busta Rhymes' 1998 album, Extinction Level Event (The Final World Front), showed the entire Big Apple on fire. (1)

B.I.G.'s lyrics in "Juicy" use a simile of the 1993 bombing to refer to his rise to fame:

You never thought that hip hop would take it this far
Now I'm in the limelight 'cause I rhyme tight
Time to get paid, blow up like the World Trade
Born sinner, the opposite of a winner
Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner

But mass media that foreshadowed the devastation are more difficult to explain. Creators claimed they were all coincidences -- and unsettling ones at that. Apologies and sympathy for the victims usually followed, along with a rapid deep-sixing of the offending pop culture.

The most blatant was a CD by The Coup, a rap group from Oakland, California, founded in 1990. It was set to release an album in September 2001 called Party Music. The CD was on the label 75 Ark and to be distributed by Warner Bros. Music.

Party Music's cover displays this "prophetic" popular culture. Boots Riley, a known radical activist through his lyrics and attitudes, had previously released three albums with commentaries on the oppression of the poor by a callous wealthy class. The Coup worked with graphic artists in May and June of 2001 to create a cover to continue the symbolism.

The result was Riley and band member DJ Pam the Funkstress celebrating a bombing of the World Trade Center south tower. Riley is hitting a guitar tuner rigged as a detonator, while Pam is waving two conductor's batons as if to give this destruction violent rhythm. Behind them, orange flames and smoke issue from 2 World Trade Center.

It looked way too much like real life, especially since thousands of photos were taken at the very moment United Airlines Flight 175 hit WTC 2.

Riley said it was supposed to be symbolic subversiveness, an expression of his distate for the rich and their policies that disenfranchise people. He added that he did not support terrorist attacks such as the WTC incident:

It was supposed to be a metaphor to symbolize us destroying "capitalism." What The Coup talks about is what I think it takes to make a revolution. If anybody has ever listened to our music ... I definitely espouse revolution and overthrowing the system.

My way in which I think this has to happen is through hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of people moving, organizing and making something happen. I do think in the end it will be a violent revolution, but I don't think it's something that will happen by the act of a few people. I wanna say that off that bat, that last Tuesday's tragic act is not something that The Coup endorses.(2)

The revised cover was an opposite extreme -- a martini glass is supposed to hold a Molotov cocktail, but instead looks like a glass on fire.

The metal group Dream Theater had an album due for release on 11 September 2001 with a burning Big Apple cover.
Dream Theater band shot
Dream Theater's original album cover

Dream Theater, a Boston, Massachusetts, progressive metal group, also had its compact disc pulled by Elektra Records after the attacks. The CD did not exactly show terrorism. However, the image on the in-concert disc Live Scenes from New York had a similar theme to Busta Rhymes' 1998 cover: an apple, wrapped in twine, is topped by a burning Manhattan skyline, including the World Trade Center. The CD's original release date: 11 September 2001.

Band leader Mike Portnoy announced on the group's official site: "I can only say that it is a horrible coincidence that we obviously could have never forseen. The timing of the release of the CD happening on the very same day as this tragedy is merely an incredible coincidence."

A third CD with too-close-for-comfort artwork was from the Inner City Hustlers, another rap group from Houston, Texas. The album Time to Explode, released in July 2001, had generic twin towers with some resemblance to the WTC wracked by a bomb. Though like The Coup it had been a symbol of rebellion against a repressive system, the graphic design firm Pen & Pixel of Houston still received a call from the FBI about the imagery. "I wasn't shaken (when the FBI questioned us) because I knew we didn't do anything wrong," said Sherri Burrow, the firm's director of administration. "The album cover was created over a year and a half ago. It was a composite of buildings that wasn't necessarily the Manhattan skyline." (3)

THE WTC & GAMES

Another oddity was a game, created in Macromedia Flash, called "Trade Center Defender." For part of 2001, it was part of the "Angelfire Arcade," an area of free downloadable games on Angelfire, a Web hosting service through Lycos, Inc.

It was yet another variation of over 20 years of shoot-'em-defense games, such as Space Invaders and Missile Command. Using a gunsight with crosshairs, the player had to shoot down an endless flow of jets that threatened to hit a set of twin towers. When a jet hit, there was a rumble, flames, and part of the tower collapsed into itself -- same as what happened to the Twin Towers on 9-11. Each tower in the game was decimated after two plane hits.

WTC Defender screen shot
A screenshot of Angelfire's ill-timed Flash videogame, Trade Center Defender

The fact that it was called Trade Center Defender, and its filename was WTC.exe, indicates that it was the former New York City office building that was under attack. And not surprisingly, Lycos yanked it off its site on 13 September, two days after the attacks.

The Angelfire page read: "Please note -- the game was not meant to offend anyone; my deepest condolences to all of you who have lost someone in this tragedy."

The game's existence became known from a report by the Bulgarian state-run news agency BTA, which got a copy from a local Internet club. (4)

When the game was pulled, another version -- definitely not for the squeamish -- appeared at a French game development site called Uzinagaz. Entitled "New York Defender," the game showed what was clearly the WTC and used loud jet sound effects as aircraft headed for the towers. Additionally noisy were the explosions if the planes hit, and the fall of the buildings. (5)

Microsoft had a rather strange choice of humor on its Flight Simulator software, which enabled gamers to become PC pilots in 3D settings around the world. The 2000 version, actually released in fall 1999, had two men in a skit at the beginning laughing about their flying attempts.

The jokey, throw-away line that had to go: "John, you just about crashed into the Empire State Building! Hey, that would be cool." (6)
Screen capture samples of New York depictions in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2000.
Flight Simulator in NYC
Flight Simulator in NYC shot #2

An Army Air Corps B-25 bomber did slam into the Empire State in July 1945 at 200 mph, the result of thick fog and poor visibility. Fourteen people were killed, and dozens were injured.

There were unsubstantiated stories in fall 2001 that the 9-11 hijackers had used Microsoft Flight Simulator to practice flying jumbo jets.

The software company created a patch for Flight Simulator 2000 to allow people to eliminate the Twin Towers from the New York skyline. Distributors also pulled the game from their shelves in fall 2001. Flight Simulator 2002 was produced with the updated Manhattan built in.

Movie Coincidences

As noted in the section on movies, 11 September influenced the release, editing and preproduction of several films. Some movies released in the 1990s had plots or hints of things to come in 2001.

Turbulence (1997) pitted flight attendant Lauren Holly against serial killer Ray Liotta. Liotta has escaped from his guards on a near-empty Christmas Eve flight. Many people get killed, including the pilot and co-pilot of the jet, which is now flying on autopilot in a terrible storm. At one point, the plane scrapes the top of a hotel and threatens to hit Los Angeles office buildings.

Executive Decision (1996) involved an airliner that is hijacked while bound for Washington, D.C. Terrorists aboard the fictional Flight 343 have a cannister of nerve gas that is strong enough to kill the entire population on the east coast. The hijackers are Arabic and are demanding the release of their leader, being held in a London prison for extradition to the US. An elite Army team aboard the plane to take out the terrorists. If they fail, the plane will be ordered shot down by the US president's Crisis Management Team.

The Siege (1999) begins with showing the footage of the real 1996 bombing of US military personnel housing in Saudi Arabia. This incident was blamed on al-Qaida, the terrorist group linked to Osama bin Laden. Next, an bin Laden-like leader is shown being kidnapped and taken to the United States to face trial for the crime. Retaliations by Islamic fundamentalists occur, including the destruction of a high-rise federal building with FBI offices. An army general, played by Bruce Willis, establishes martial law in Brooklyn and creates prison camps for Muslim and Arab men.
Jackie Chan
Chan

The closest coincidence, however, had to be Nosebleed. It was written in the 1990s by Raven Metzner and Stu Zicherman. The premise was a window washer at the World Trade Center learns about a terrorist plot to blow up the towers. His sidekick -- and romantic lead -- was to be a waitress from Windows on the World, the restaurant atop of the north tower.

Nosebleed, classified as an action-comedy, was acquired by New Line Cinema in February 1999, with an estimated price of $600,000, and up to $850,000 if the film were made. At this point it was only a "pitch," a concept Zicherman and Metzner had successfully sold to the studio. (7) In 2000, New Line put Nosebleed in "turnaround" (indefinite hold). MGM Studios picked up the project by spring 2001, with Jackie Chan set to star as the window washer, and Renny Harlin (Deep Blue Sea, Die Hard 2) to direct. In 2001, Metzner and Zicherman also won the job of penning Deathlok, based on a comic book about a suburbanite becoming a living computer due to technology experiments.

Production supposedly was to begin at 7 a.m., 11 September 2001, but this turned out to be a rumor originating in a Hong Kong newspaper. Oriental Daily News, Chan said that he originally was going to start production on Nosebleed in New York City in September 2001, but the script was delayed. Instead, he went to Toronto, Ontario to start work on The Tuxedo.

It was a story of dramatic coincidence itself, but since has proven untrue.

Chan was supposed to have said, "Filming was scheduled to have taken place at 7 a.m. last Tuesday morning, and as I had to be at the top of one of the towers for one of the scenes, I would probably have died if the shooting had gone ahead as planned. Well, I guess my time is not up yet." (8)

In reality, Chan's movie schedule from September to December 2001 was to be in Toronto, Ontario, for the shooting of Tuxedo, an action hero comedy released in June 2002. The September start had been scheduled months in advance with the studio, DreamWorks SKG, as Chan lines up several projects a year.

Interestingly, MGM may not to completely shelve Nosebleed. Zicherman and Metzner were ordered to create an entirely new plot for a production that may see release in 2003.

TELEVISION TERROR

The Lone Gunmen were a trio of conspiracy theory buffs and technology geeks who as semi-regulars helped the FBI agents solve mysteries on Chris Carter's suspense show, The X-Files, which ran on the FOX network from 1993 to 2002.
Jackie Chan
Frohike (Tom Braidwood), Byers (Bruce Harwood) and Langly (Dean Haglund) of The Lone Gunmen

In March 2001, FOX was willing to give Carter a third chance at a new show, even after his two previous tries, Harsh Realm and Millennium, got the axe for low ratings. So Carter turned to the tried and true: a spinoff. The stars were the Lone Gunmen, named after the theory of the Warren Commission that investigated John F. Kennedy's assassination that postulated Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.

There was Richard "Ringo" Langly, with his long, blond locks and wide-eyed look; John Fitzgerald Byers, with business suits, a closely trimmed beard and a name drawn from JFK's; and the brooding, pouty lipped Melvin Frohike.

The pilot for The Lone Gunmen had them discovering a deeper conspiracy beyond the faked death of Byers' father. A cell of rogue US government intelligence men has decided to execute Scenario 12-D, based on domestic terrorism. The plan: take over a commercial jet by remote control via the autopilot and send it crashing into an office building, with the impact and fuel serving as a bomb.

This technology bore resemblance to a computer guidance program called "Home Run," reported on 9-11 conspiracy sites. Home Run was created in the 1970s under the auspices of the Defense Department's Advanced Projects Research Agency after a series of terrorist hijackings of passenger jets. The project would allow persons on the ground to take over a jet by remote control by overriding the autopilot system. (9)

The rationale by the TV show's "Overlord" and his men is that the Cold War is over, and peace is not justifying more defense spending. Fake a terrorist attempt, and any number of groups will take responsibility. The president and Congress will quickly react with increased funds for military needs. Reality, of course, did give us Congress allocating more money for personnel, military materiel and the "War on Terrorism."

The program echoed reality in too many incidences. The jet took off from Boston, just like American Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, which ulimately struck the Trade Center. Even the fuel capacity and low number of passengers were close. Here is the TV jet pilot's dispatch to a New York area airport:

PILOT: New York Center? This is Atlantic National Flight 265 heavy. We are declaring an emergency. We have 110 souls on board, 16,000 pounds of fuel, and no dangerous goods or cargo to report. (10)


Lone Gunmen screenshot of WTC view
Ominous view out the cockpit window of fictional Flight 265: those towers should look familiar.

The jets that hit the WTC were estimated to each have 18,000-20,000 pounds of aviation fuel, as they both were originally transatlantic flights.

Byers and his father are on the jet when the other Lone Gunmen discover the aircraft's final destination:

LANGLY: Byers. Your flight's going to make an unscheduled stop. In exactly 22 minutes.

(Cut to FROHIKE and LANGLY.)

FROHIKE: Corner of Liberty and Washington, Lower Manhattan.

CUT TO:

(On board the aircraft. BYERS and BYERS SR. are trying to keep their voices low.)

BYERS: World Trade Center. (He turns to his father) They're going to crash it into the World Trade Center. (11)

Fortunately, television usually has happy endings. The Lone Gunmen take control of the autopilot from the government villains and fly the jet up over the Twin Towers.

The Lone Gunmen was canceled after a half dozen episodes and faded into TV history with hundreds of other program failures. The WTC-themed pilot may mean it entered oblivion even further.

NOTES

(1) Michael D. Clark, "Album covers echo reality," Houston Chronicle, 17 September 2001.

(2) Davey D, interviewing Boots Riley of the The Coup, "Boots speaks out about controversial album cover," transcript, 18 September 2001, San Franciso Bay Guardian online edition (http://www.sfbg.com).

(3) Clark, Houston Chronicle, 17 September 2001.

(4)British Broadcasting Corp. News, "Game withdrawn after attacks," 13 September 2001 (http://www.bbc.co.uk).

(5) Personally viewed at Uzinagaz Web site (http://www.uzinagaz.com), March 2002.

(6) "Microsoft to alter 'Flight Simulator' game," Cable News Network site (http://www.cnn.com), 14 September 2001.

(7) Script sale data for February 1999, The Hollywood Reporter, 1999; "Movie News/Rumors," Movie-News Page, 8 February 1999.

(8) "Jackie Chan almost at WTC on September 11, 2001," reported on Digitalmediafx.com (http://www.digitalmediaefx.com"), 19 September 2001.

(9) Joe Vialls, " 'Home Run' Electronically Hijacking the World Trade Center Attack Aircraft," Unsolved Mysteries and Black Operations, (http://www.geocities.com/mknemesis), 2001.

(10) From a fan transcript by "Libby" and "Dr. Weesh" of The Lone Gunmen pilot, on the British fan site Inside the X, (http://www.insidethex.co.uk), compiled 2001.

(11) Transcript, from Inside the X Web site, 2001.

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