What Keeps Me Up at Night, Redux

Curator's Note

The “falling man” imagery of 9/11--the shocking sight of individuals forced to jump to their deaths from the World Trade Center--was initially censored in popular and news media. Representations in novels, TV, and film have since circulated, including Tom Junod’s 2006 documentary The Falling Man. The horrific sight of human forms plunging to instantaneous death, preserved by witnesses holding cameras from below at a safe distance, remains an index of the unseen terrors inside the WTC offices so high above.

Fear the Walking Dead’s “Los Muertos” episode recently depicted the horror of bodies falling viewed from the hotel’s interior, conjuring the perspective of those trapped in the burning towers until they collapsed. For an uncanny moment, viewers see what it might have looked like to those weighing the odds of rescue against the fire, smoke, and heat: flashes of bodies tumbling to the ground. On screen, the fallen “walkers” simply stand up from their contorted positions and continue their mindless lurching about, their broken bodies unyielding to the release of self-annihilation. The tenuous privilege of surviving inside the high-rise hotel continues to depend on claiming safe spaces from the undead.

In popular culture, the undead continue to be powerful signifiers of fates worse than death. Zombie movie production has always spiked in times of global crises, and the proliferation of zombie texts in the wake of 9/11 continues to speak to the ways in which we have yet to fully reconcile the day’s trauma and the wars in the Middle East launched in response. In my introduction to this week’s corresponding In Focus on post-9/11 media studies, I concluded that what keeps me up at night are these wars and their intersections with the tragedies that the planet’s powerful and wealthy continually inflict on the less powerful: bombings, pandemic disease, drone warfare, climate change and its effects on extreme weather, etc. Now we face an impending Trump administration and its hasty 100-day plan; consequent spike in hate crimes; and threats to LGBT, immigrant, and minority citizens. Though we’ve yet to experience the narratives that artists will create in response, the zompocalypse will resurge to remain a staggeringly reliable and robust metaphor for our human condition as a new president remodels the United States’ relationship with the rest of the world. Will we see more stories from inside the burning building?

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