"The government has issued an orange alert, which once again, means nothing."
There are fewer and fewer foci of power. Already, in 1939, there were only five states capable of waging war on the grand scale, and now there are only three — ultimately, perhaps, only two. This trend has been obvious for years, and was pointed out by a few observers even before 1914. The one thing that might reverse it is the discovery of a weapon — or, to put it more broadly, of a method of fighting
— not dependent on huge concentrations of industrial plant.
— George Orwell
, being unnervingly prescient, You and the Atomic Bomb
9/11 'till... well, now, actually. Sort of.
The War On Terror is the current setting for a lot of Present Day
media, although how much it features in a given work of media varies considerably.
Although 9/11 was the event that caused America to actively participate in the War on Terror, its official declaration was actually made far earlier, in 1996, more specifically, by al Qaida, with unofficial attacks including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. However, largely due to Bill Clinton
's policies at the time (in the eyes of some), their attacks went largely ignored, including that of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole
and various American embassies in the Middle East.
If you're looking for the actual documentary called 9/11
, it's here
There are multiple levels:
Terror Alert Level Green: It's not really there
The situation isn't really mentioned at all. It's either not relevant (as in the Speculative Fiction
genre), or it's pretended it's not happening. This does not bar the show from making comments via metaphor though.
- The Stargate Verse. They've got bigger problems to deal with, such as the Ori and the Wraith. Occasionally an Atlantis character will flashback to being in it though.
- John Sheppard, the only Stargate Atlantis main character who has been part of the US Armed Forces has several references in the story about his time as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan (he hadn't been let in on The Masquerade yet, which is why he was bothering with the less important conflict in the first place.
- The new Doctor Who. See Stargate. Maybe less so, Doctor Who being British. The public, in general, doesn't care for the War on Terror and has reached a point of indifference about it, unless a family member is involved, and would have more concern for the giant eye ready to incinerate the Earth, or a visit from the Daleks. Spinoffs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, having more limiting methods of Time Travel, mention Iraq, but never higher than Alert Level Blue. Doctor Who on the other hand, involves frequent use of time travel, on top of having had just nine out of 32 episodes substantially set on present-day Earth between 2009 and 2011 note .
- Farscape subverts the "Green" level, even lampshades it: Crichton's father mentions to John that it's a different world than the idealistic one they believed in when he left, what with the War on Terror going on. Crichton is obviously not impressed and is almost glad that's their biggest concern, in contrast with all the atrocities he's seen and felt "out there".
- Sesame Street had a grease fire and a trip to the firehouse in its first season premiere after 9/11.
- Star Trek: Enterprise: While it doesn't mention 9/11 directly, Enterprise was the most blatantly American (or at least Anglo) centric Trek series in existence. This was particularly noticeable because of how relatively multi-ethnic Star Trek had always been in the past. The show was more strongly militaristic in focus even than Voyager, as well. Iraq, etc. don't get mentioned because it's the future, and in an Alternate Timeline these events never even happened in the Trek Verse (as the Eugenics Wars and War World III would happen), but we do have a whole-season arc where villains from afar hit much of Florida with a Kill Sat and the Enterprise must go out to kick their butts before they finish their full-on Death Star; this is sometimes seen by fans as the setting being hit with 9/11 [IN SPACE!] and the Enterprise going out to hunt down Xindi Osama bin Laden. Hard to say if they meant it that way; a Doomed Hometown being the start of The Quest is not exactly something invented yesterday. (Interestingly, the villains of the first two seasons, the Suliban, are named after the Taliban, but the writers had just liked the sound of the word; they had no idea that early in the show's run, "Taliban" would become a household name.)
- Just about completely ignored in The Taqwacores, to the point where it gets a lampshading, because despite what certain news channels would tell you it's really completely irrelevant to the American Muslim's day-to-day life.
- Arthur and his friends all deal with emotional responses to a fire at their school. The attacks are alluded to with the episode title, "April 9th". Police cars and fire trucks show up at the school.
Terror Alert Level Blue: It gets cursory mentions
The thing is there in the background, it's acknowledged it's happening, it affects the plot somewhat, but ultimately doesn't directly affect the plot on a day to day basis.
- Alias is the prime example of this. While the increased world tensions are mentioned, people get threatened with the Patriot Act and there's one trip to Afghanistan, the rest of the series is chock full of non-Islamist terrorists and there is never a direct "Al-Qaeda" plot during the entire show. A notable incident is a case in Series Two, where Sydney, as part of a disguise, is wearing a heavily metal-studded shirt. Her comment: "When I last went through JFK, they literally made me take off my shirt". Guess what ends up happening...
- Comedies like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia like to dig joke material out of it, but that's as far as it goes.
- Community: 9/11 was pretty much the 9/11 of the falafel business.
- CSI: New York has the main character's wife dead in 9/11, and it gets painfully reminded every other episode like it was some new (to be fair, to the irregular watchers, it is new... until they stop being irregulars) heartbreaking thing that ''didn't happen soon-to-be over 10 years ago. Milked for all it's got, but that's usually as far as it goes, except rare random terrorist involving plots.
- The War on Terror has tangential effects in The Wire. Mainly, the local Baltimore police discover that drug trafficking has fallen off the FBI's priority list and they can't get Bureau assistance in their anti-drug cases anymore. (Although in Season 3 sympathetic Agent Fitzhugh hooks them up with an expedited wiretap by registering "Stringer" Bell as a homeland security threat named "Ahmed".)
- They do manage to crack one case with the help of equipment granted to the Baltimore PD by a Homeland Security grant. Hilariously, none of the cops knew what it was or how to use it, so it was buried on a back shelf for years.
- There's also one seen in the Western District squad room where a federal agent is trying to train the police officers in how to deal with terrorist threats only to have the police officers crack jokes about how Baltimore is already a war zone or how the city's drug gangs would scare off any potential terrorists.
- There's also the fact that due to all of the FBI's resources being aimed toward terrorism, a lot of cases where the Baltimore Police would get additional help and resources from the Feds now has to be handled by the local cops alone. Considering the apathy, incompetence, and lack of resources the Baltimore cops are plagued with, this makes life a lot harder for anyone trying to do something about the big cases.
- White Collar often mentions how traditional tactics used by crooks have had to change in a post 9/11 world.
- Scrubs has an episode featuring an Iraq veteran with the entire hospital siding in heated debates. Another episode has J.D. becoming a makeshift US flag due to a shortage of them in wartime.
- Dr Watson from Sherlock is, as in the original, a veteran who fought in Afghanistan. We see him having a flashback to it in the beginning of the first episode and, as in the original, Sherlock comments upon it when they first meet, but that's about it.
- The Sopranos, like The Wire example, the Feds lose interest in The Mafia after 9/11. It comes up a few times, notably in the final season when Chris debates whether to sell guns to two Arab men and Tony tries to offer information (violating his Omerta) on terrorists.
- David Kelley's shows mention it from time to time. Ally McBeal's therapist mentioned that after 9/11, casual sex has become more common because people just felt like they needed some connection they could turn to during that trying time and Alan Shore dealt with the ramifications of the war on terror frequently, even butting heads occasionally with the extremely conservative Denny Crane.
Terror Alert Level Yellow: It turns up in a few plots
A common one for the Cop Show
that otherwise has to deal with its third Serial Killer
of the season. This includes attacks on veterans, possible involvement of someone in Islamist terrorism and asylum seekers.
- The Punisher once has to deal with a situation in Afghanistan (though it's with Russians) and occasionally calls in favors to hitch a ride on a CIA flight (no questions asked, but avoid being allergic to Pakistani prisoners).
- The Boys is an Alternate History where a superpowered attempt to prevent 9/11 ended up sending the planes into the Brooklyn Bridge. The main character is shocked to learn this, and the fact that the intended target was the World Trade Center.
- Without A Trace is an example here. In one case, an Iraq veteran went missing, some of the team headed to Iraq[!]... then it turned out the guy was killed while doing an armed robbery and the war was nothing to do with it whatsoever. Also had a guy mistakenly shot dead because they thought he was a terrorist by virtue of the books in his library and the fact he looked like he had a gun.
- The Bill is in this category. It's an interesting example. Despite being set in an area with a considerable number of Muslims, it has not yet done a straight Islamist terrorism story ("Moving Target" was a vendetta over Iraq artefacts).
- Law & Order has seen a couple of episodes come and go with both attacks on veterans and a (white) Islamic extremist murdering a women's rights activist.
- NCIS has had several plots featuring Islamist terrorists, most notably Ari's attempt to use a target drone as a cruise missile to attack a crowd at a crew homecoming. When that plot failed he killed Kate Todd. Later seasons have introduced more elements which connect to the Islamist terrorism, and the ending of season 6 very strongly suggests it will be a major part of stories in season seven.
- The West Wing falls into this catagory due to the infrequent, but heavy-hitting episodes involving Islamic extremists and Qumar
- In NUMB3RS, Colby is an Afghanistan veteran, and there are a few terror-related episodes, but most of the episodes are close-to-home.
- In The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, a plane comes down and extremists are suspected.
- Arrested Development has both major and minor references to the war on terror. At first glance, the war only seems to get a passing, satirical treatment. However, upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the War on Terror is a central element in this show and that it is actually behind the premise of the series.
- Such references run the gamut from Maeby offhandedly mentioning that school let out early because an Arabic student parked too close to the gym to Michael, Gob, and Buster actually going to Iraq to clear their father's name after he supposedly built houses for the Hussein regime.
- Blue Bloods has several mentions: Frank and Henry were WTC first responders, along with many other cops, and Danny fought in Fallujah. In Season One, the NYPD's Intelligence Division has infiltrated a splinter cell and prevents a major terrorist attack.
Terror Alert Level Orange: It turns up a lot
Islamist terrorists turn up a lot, but there are other people as well.
- Spooks (MI-5), the first example of "terror TV"- a series explicitly set post-9/11.
- Later seasons of JAG had the War on Terror taking a central role in the story arcs. Very justified, as the show centers around career military officers. Notably, the show made a point of depicting at least a few of the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters as being Not So Different, with Bud managing to gain vital information from a prisoner while they bonded over a common interest in Star Trek.
- Person of Interest has the events of 9/11 as the explicit inciting incident for the creation of the Machine, which drives the plot of the series, and several major characters have backstories relating to the War on Terror as well as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. More generally, the series is a pretty good representation of the technologic, post-9/11 surveillance state.
- Army of Two is mostly you vs. Al-Qaeda. However You also get to fight the Chinese military and SSC.
- Though Alpha Protocol encompasses a far greater scope than just the War On Terror, the initial part of the game involves fighting an Al-Qaeda Expy named Al-Samaad who were supplied missiles by a US weapons contractor to touch off tensions allowing them to sell more weapons to everyone. Later on in the game, exploiting fears of terrorism is the entire point behind Conrad Marbug's plan in Rome to bomb the city.
- Postal 2: Paradise, Arizona has an absurd number of Islamic terrorists living or at least operating in and around the town (to the point that the "Tora Bora" complex can be reached from an underground sewer complex within the city limits), but beyond them taking over the church on Tuesday and the National Guard taking out one of their training camps in the expansion, they're just another group of people for you to kill with reckless abandon.
- WinSP:MBT, a Fan Remake of Steel Panthers II, includes a number of scenarios set in this. The majority are based on actual events in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there's a few hypothetical scenarios as well, including a campaign where Al-Quaeda tries to run operations in the Netherlands and the player has to root them out.
Terror Alert Level Red: It's the entire point of the series
- 24 is usually cited when people use the term "terror TV" and Islamist terrorists feature in six of the eight seasons thus, while the third season has a Big Bad annoyed over US foreign policy. However, the first season was conceived pre-9/11 and has the Kosovo War as its backstory (the S3 big bad is partly motivated by the fact he was left to be captured there). Season 2's second part involving "three Middle Eastern countries" now appears to be a rather heavy-handed, slightly inaccurate, but pretty prescient metaphor on what was then the approaching Iraq War. (The Bombers On The Screen use is great, though)
- The Grid was a Mini Series on an Islamist plot to explode a gas tanker near Chicago.
- Homeland is about a returned POW from the Iraqi War whom a CIA agent fears has been turned by an Islamist terrorist group.
- Were it not for 9/11 and the War on Terror (and Family Guy getting canceled for the third time), we wouldn't have American Dad. Nowadays, the show is somewhere between Blue and Orange...
- "Which means something might go down somewhere in some way in some point in time, SO LOOK SHARP!"
- An additional bit of Fridge Horror: Seth MacFarlane was almost a victim of the attacks himself. He was scheduled to board American Airlines Flight 11 and was saved by a hangover that caused him to be late to the airport.
The full-scale conflicts
Quite a few TV and film examples, including a number of Afghan ones, but nothing stands out so far. Lions for Lambs
went down badly with critics and the public alike, as well being criticised for the title being an apparent misquote of the World War One
expression "lions led by donkeys
". Studio 60
featured Tom's brother being kidnapped in Afghanistan in its closing five-parter, then ended in Fairy Tale
An Afghanistan D20
role-playing boardgame has been published, doing a fairly serious job with describing the early stages of the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan. Times have changed however, and today (this is written in Kabul in the autumn of 2008) the war looks quite different.
"The Road to Guantanamo" is a 2006 docu-drama about the detention in Guantanamo of three British men picked up in Afghanistan in 2001. It won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature, and the Silver Bear for Best Director at 2006 Berlin Film Festival. Contains archive news footage from the period, and recounts the men's experiences from their travels into Afghanistan to their capture and imprisonment.
And then there's the new Medal of Honor
video game that has you as both a soldier and a Tier 1 Operator fighting in Afghanistan. It semi-accurately depicts the war, centering on a fictionalised version of Operation Anaconda
, with, in true Medal of Honor
fashion, everyone who isn't American (Or in this case, Afghan) conveniently excised.
Outside of Iraq itself, movies and TV (there's a few novels out there and a number of computer game mods on the conflict, the latter of which raises the moral issue of playing games involving an ongoing war) that directly deals with the conflict and is actually set in Iraq is few and far between. The first attempt at a TV series in the US, Over There
, was critically acclaimed, but ultimately cancelled(some speculate it was cancelled for "political reasons"). In contrast, the 2008 HBO miniseries Generation Kill
is based on the 2004 book of the same name about an embedded reporter's experience with his unit of Marines and has at least one character played by his real-life counterpart (Sgt. Rudy Reyes as himself).
All the movies are pretty obscure and have effectively flopped at the box office, with some commentators arguing that "war movie fatigue" on the part of the public was responsible. On the other hand, some have argued that "anti
-war movie fatigue" is responsible.
One exception would be The Hurt Locker
, which won an Oscar for Best Picture. However, it should be noted that it is also the lowest grossing film to win that award.
A good past example that may serve as a guide for the future (due to general perception, accurate or not, on the Iraq War) is The Vietnam War
. It took four years after the fall of Saigon for the first widely-known (Go Tell The Spartans
isn't that well known) period and area set film to come out and that, Apocalypse Now
, is also Heart of Darkness
in Vietnam. Full Metal Jacket
wasn't until 1986. On the other hand, during previous American conflicts films were produced expressing a pro-war position (if not quite actual propaganda). During World War II
Hollywood was essentially co-opted by the US war department to produce pro-war films and cartoons (although every country did the same thing, except, ironically, Germany, which mainly produced period films). During the Vietnam War films in support of the war like The Green Berets
(with John Wayne) were made, and the vast majority of 80s action films were supportive of the Reagan administration's foreign policy. In contrast, The War on Terror
hasn't produced many films or TV shows that expressly support it (with the possible exception of a Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie
Appears as backstory
quite a bit, especially in Brothers and Sisters
, where Blonde Republican Sex Kitten
Kitty, trying to prevent her brother going to Iraq, tries to bribe the Senator she later gets engaged to and performs on an on-camera volte-face. One can't help feel someone's going Strawman Political
on this one (supporting a war until it directly affects you). Justin eventually goes of his own free will anyway and is seriously wounded there.
- In The Unit, Jonas Blaine's daughter Betsy is kidnapped while serving in Iraq.
While Iran is somewhat a separate issue - Iranians aren't Arabs but Persians, they don't speak Arabic but Farsi, and they're Shias not Sunni - they're lumped in these days because of two main reasons. One: the apparent threat, real or otherwise, of the regime in Tehran. Two: they're brown
and live in the same general direction (exactly between Afghanistan and Iraq, in fact), what more do you want?
Smaller Scale Conflicts (Those that do not usually involve the US, at least not directly)
- The Mediterranean Sea
- Somalia, the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Aden (a continuation of the Somali Civil War)
- Saudi Arabia (ended around August 2008)
- Pakistan (though it's usually included with Afghanistan)
- Southern Thailand
- Israel, Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories
- Northern Caucasus (the period after the Second Caucasus War/South Ossetia War)
- Algeria and The Maghreb (The Northern Half of the former French West Africa)
- Yemen (had ended in 2008, but showed signs of another flare-up)
- The Arab Spring.
The War On Terror, IN SPACE
There are a couple of shows out there that use their settings and plots to make points, usually rather anvilicious
, on the War On Terror:
- 300 sparked an enormous amount of controversy from all corners of politics on release because of its plot involving asymmetrical warfare, swarthy Mediterraneans, Freedom™, extremely stylized history, and even disagreement about its real subject matter between co-creators. Not least of its problems is that some people are still very fussy about the historical figures it portrays, and Greece and Turkey are still going at it.
- 9th Company is a strange example: The events in the film predate the War On Terror by nearly two decades, as it focuses on the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan. That said, it was made in 2007 and there are numerous, subtle parallels to the current war. It is almost as if the director was saying "We went through that hellhole. Now it's your turn".
- Star Wars Episode III. "If you're not with me, you're my enemy!" Whether that was meant as a reference to George W. Bush or not is debated.
- Though Lucas says it is unintentional. Or rather, that people are getting the wrong period: He says it was inspired by the Vietnam War (which was happening at the time the prequels were envisioned), not the War on Terror.
- The cinematic reboot of Star Trek, where the Romulans were downgraded from Romans IN SPACE to swarthy, sword-bearing savages in dusty clothing. Although many would argue otherwise, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which particular recent historical event the destruction of Vulcan might possibly be alluding to.
- The Dark Knight Rises draws a clear parallel between the League of Shadows and organized terror cells based in the Middle East. The film sidesteps mentioning which desert country Bane and his cronies hail from, as most of them are played by Anglos.
- In John Birmingham's Without Warning and After America the war on terror takes a bizarre turn in 2003 when an energy field of unknown origin and composition wipes out about three-quarters of the population of North America. An energized Saddam Hussein takes the offensive against a demoralized US military just before they were going to invade and drives them out then allies with Iran to declare a universal jihad against Israel. This leads Israel to nuke all its Islamic neighbors except Lebanon (too close) in what becomes called the Second Holocaust. Other ripples from this include the French Intifada and the United Kingdom deporting or interning all of its Muslims while parts of Germany, especially Cologne become functionally converted to sharia.
- Saddam allies with Iran?!?!
- Flipped on it's head in Matt Ruff's Mirage where the United Arab States are threatened by Christian terrorists, especially after the Bagdad Twin Towers are destroyed on 11/9, 2001.
- The new Battlestar Galactica, which over the course of the series has dealt with themes such as military occupation, suicide bombing and whether it can be justified, an enemy that blends in with the public, the results of a nuclear holocaust, and religious conflict.
- The 2006 Robin Hood in the first season actually has the Sheriff use the words "war on terror" in late 12th century England and uses the Crusades as a (rather inaccurate) metaphor for the whole thing. It's toned down a lot for the second.
- Stargate SG-1 with the Ori arc.
- Star Trek: Enterprise's third season drew heavily on current events. Earth is savagely attacked, apparently out of nowhere, and the NX-01 (bringing along a cohort of Army Guys) heads into a treacherous region of space to find the culprits. Many fans were afraid this storyline would be untrue to Trek's philosophy, but they needn't have worried: the aliens aren't all bad, Archer's new hard-edged attitude isn't always endorsed, and there's enough ambiguity all round to keep it from being Strawman Political in either direction. Prior to that, a couple of first-season episodes — "Fortunate Son" and especially "Detained" — examined elements of the war on terror. But contrary to a common assumption, the decision to name the first season's bad guys "Suliban" happened long before 9/11. They were named after the Taliban, but only because Rick Berman thought that name had the exotic sound he wanted; no one was expecting it to become a household name.
- The Halo series, while debuting a few months after 9/11, has Scary Dogmatic Aliens who are religious extremists going to war with the UNSC (humanity's united military, modeled after the United States Marines). It was subtle in the first game, but was more obvious in Halo 2, where the War was on the developers' minds more. The aliens' religious motivation ceases to be an Informed Attribute. The allegory, if it was intentional, sort of falls apart when the Flood shows up.
- The UNSC were also in a revolution by "The Insurrection," which had turned to terrorism to fight for freedom. However, in many ways this is more reminiscent of the troubles than any more recent conflict.
- However the developers have also said that The Culture was an influence. Seeing as how that series had Scary Dogmatic Aliens in the first book it might just be coincidental.
- Deus Ex is a rare example, since it came out before 9/11. The game deals with the issue of if terrorists are doing their actions because they are simply violent, or because they have been left with no other option. The issue of increasing security at the cost of personal freedoms comes up throughout the game, especially as the Crapsack World setting becomes more so.
- Deus Ex Invisible War had the tagline "The future War On Terror" since it came out in 2004 when it was fresh on people's minds.
- Again, Modern Warfare 2. The basic plot for the American portion of the game is obviously influenced by the real War on Terror: a group of terrorists (Makarov's group) launches an attack on a country's famous landmark (Russia, airport named after a major character from the previous game), said country finds a link between the group and another country (the US - the player controls an undercover CIA agent going with the attack, who is killed by Makarov specifically for his corpse to link America with the attack) and invades them on this pretext. As noted above, though, even with a few missions both at the beginning and end explicitly taking place within Afghanistan, things aren't quite what they seem to be.
- South Park had Cartman kill Osama Bin Laden (actually, a soldier delivered the final shot) the Episode after 9/11. Team America from the same creators fits this Trope better; it takes place during the War on Terror.
- The Simpsons touched on this in their 2006 Halloween special, where Kang and Kodos decide to invade Earth. Incidentally, the scene originally ended with the line "This sure is a lot like Iraq will be", tossing an anvil straight through the Fourth Wall. This was wisely cut at some point down the line, but it still aired on some channels.
- Many other recent episodes, such as "Bart-Mangled Banner", have satirized post-9/11 America.
- The entire plot of "MyPods and Boomsticks" is about Homer's attempt to reveal that the family of Bart's newest friend are terrorists.
- In The Legend of Korra, Tarrlok's treatment of non-benders is similar to this, especially as of the most recent episode.
Tropes from media set in this period:
Pro US Portrayals
Anti US Portrayals
See Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie
for the subject of terrorism in some depth. Also see Turn of the Millennium
. Not to be confused with the Australian comedy series The Chaser's War On Everything
, though they've certainly touched on the matter on occasion.