Today’s Obsession: Nightmares

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Lizzy Caplan in Cloverfield, 2008.

I remember the morning of September 11th, 2001 very clearly. That week, I was in the middle of preparing a proposal for Aveda with the flailing dot-com I was working with, and I’d been at work until 2AM the night before trying to figure out elegant ways to say “your site sucks.”

I had gotten out of bed late, poured a glass of cold coffee from the refrigerator, wandered into the living room in a groggy and almost angry haze, and wondered immediately why my roommate was watching some stupid action film at this ridiculous hour. I needed to get to work and so did he.

Whatever was happening in the film was ludicrous and kind of trite; there was part of a plane rammed into one of the World Trade Center towers, and the whole thing was contrived to be a newscast. Kind of badly, too; the footage was terrible and the CGI didn’t really make much sense. I ignored it and shambled into the bathroom.

Ten minutes later, I walked out after having raked my hair into some semblance of order and he was still watching this idiotic thing. He finally looked up and acknowledged me, and I could see from the absolute fear in his eyes that something real was happening. It still didn’t occur to me that the footage was real; that took me another minute or so to realize. In complete shock, I did the only thing that made any sense at the moment: I drove to work. Two hours later, downtown Chicago was informally evacuated because of a rumor circulating about a a plane heading for the Sears Tower.

That was the day America’s fascination with bigger, badder explosions became a shocking reality, and my own reality folded in on itself. How do you deal with living in a civilization built on bigger, badder thrills presented in a safe environment once you’re shown it’s not safe? And might never have been?

I didn’t watch any more action flicks for a long time after that, until they got so big and out of control that it was safely and clearly stated that the film was a joyride. That nothing that horrible would happen anywhere, or to anyone, not for a long time.

Have you noticed, though, that ever since 9/11, the urban destruction sequences in action films like Cloverfield, Skyline (as terrible as that film was), and 2012 are so much more specific than they ever had been before? It’s like once it happened, we couldn’t stop watching it, ever again.