Comfort entertainment after the World Trade Center tragedy

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
September 21, 2001

Chicagoans want to hear Ray Charles sing “America the Beautiful.” We are reading up on the Middle East. We are renting movies that celebrate the human spirit, but some of us also are checking out “Armageddon” and “Independence Day”–films where the United States reigns victorious.

In different ways, we all are sating our psyches with comfort entertainment–in whatever form we need it–to help us deal with last week’s tragedy.

For some, like Lauren Stanley, this means renting “Mulan” for the little ones at a northwest suburban Blockbuster.

“I’m also bringing home a couple of other Disney cartoons,'” says Stanley, 32, of Mount Prospect. “I need this break from reality as much for myself as for the kids. There’s only so much bad news you can take on television.”

But for others, such as Carl Logan, escape means renting “Deep Impact” at a Hollywood Video on the Northwest Side.

“I told my friends I was bringing this home for us tonight, and they were surprised,” says Logan, 25, of Milwaukee, who is visiting friends in Albany Park. “Some people may view this as a weird movie to rent, but I want to see something that’s fiction, where nobody really gets hurt and that entertains me and takes my mind off of war. I want to feel like America is strong, and it is in this movie.”

People deal with their sorrow and fear in different ways, and to peg them as callous for their choice in entertainment is unfair, says Northwestern University sociology professor Bernard Beck.

“I wouldn’t have expected that people would want to see violent movies at this time,” Beck says. “But I wouldn’t be too worried about someone for renting ‘Armageddon.’ I’m very leery of interpreting people’s cultural choices as being directly translatable about what this means to them and to us. Something like this hasn’t happened among us in a long time. We’re not only dealing with different generations, but with different religions and points of views.”

Chicago-based psychologist George Smith says such films can provide a release for the viewer, just as a musical may comfort another person.

“People go back to the comfort level they operate from,” Smith says. “If they’re accustomed to watching horror movies, they’ll want to see that. If someone enjoys comedies, they’ll turn to that. There’s nothing wrong with a person wanting to watch ‘Armageddon.’ ”

Chicagoans also are turning to music to express their feelings. The top-requested songs at the teen-friendly WBBM-FM (96.3) aren’t by Britney Spears and ‘N Sync. Rather, listeners can’t get enough of Enrique Iglesias’ patriotic “Hero” and Whitney Houston’s rendition of ”The Star-Spangled Banner,” which she sang at Super Bowl XXV on Jan. 27, 1991, when the United States was engaged in the Gulf War.

“Sometimes songs that don’t ordinarily fit our format fit in now,” says Todd Cavanagh, program director at ”B-96.” “The audience’s taste is more broad at a time like this.”

Lydia Stevens agrees. The 32-year-old Hyde Park resident says, “I generally don’t like schmaltzy music, but for these past two weeks that’s pretty much all I want to hear. Give me Whitney Houston singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ or Jewel singing [‘Hands’]. Listening to these songs makes me cry a lot, but it also feels good–like a release. Songs like that are comforting and make you think about the good we all have in us.”

Psychologist Smith says tears are natural, especially during a time such as this and they can be therapeutic.

“Tears are a natural outlet for our emotions,” he says. “We cry when we’re sad, but we also cry when we’re happy or relieved.”

Earlier this week, it was reported that Clear Channel Radio–the nation’s biggest radio station chain–had sent out a suggested list of songs its stations might want to consider omitting from their play lists. It included John Lennon’s “Imagine,” the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” and James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.” But Carl Anderson–assistant program director and music director for WNUA FM (95.5)–a local Clear Channel affiliate– says his station never received such an edict.

“We have not been asked not to play any songs,” says Anderson. A Clear Channel spokeswoman has since issued a statement saying, “Clear Channel Radio has not banned any songs from any of its radio stations. Each program director and general manager must take the pulse of his or her market to determine if play lists should be altered, and if so, for how long.”

“We’ve always been an emotional outlet for listeners to put aside their worries and relax,” Anderson continues. “We’re doing pretty much what we’ve always done, but we’ve got a few additions. We have Ray Charles’ ‘America the Beautiful’ on steady rotation. People seem comforted hearing his voice singing that beautiful song.”

And while a listener insists that WJMK-FM (104.3) played an edited version of “Imagine”–minus some lines (“Imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too”), program director Kevin Robinson says that’s not the case.

“We have always played the uncut version of that song,” says Robinson. “I haven’t heard from anyone who was offended by the song or its lyrics.”

Ironically, the two most popular tracks at WJMK aren’t songs at all, but rather spoken pieces from decades ago. Listeners are requesting “The Americans,” a 1974 recording by Canadian Gordon Sinclair extolling the virtues of the United States, and Red Skelton’s 1969 recording in which he explains–word by word–the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Over at Borders Books on Michigan Avenue, Lance Falkner was trying to find a children’s book that could help him explain war to his son.

“I’ve got a 5-year-old boy who knows about war only in context of fiction,” says Falkner, 42, of the Gold Coast. “I don’t know how to explain what’s happening and need a little bit of help with this. I guess it would help me understand what’s going on, too.”         Many adults are seeking answers by trying to learn as much as they can about the perceived enemy.

“People are looking for anything on the Middle East,” says Nancy Deuchler, manager of Barbara’s Bookstore in Oak Park, “They want to read about germ warfare and bin Laden.”

But adults and children alike are asking for the Harry Potter books, in which a young boy assembles his own coalition of fantastic creatures to triumph over bullies, she says.

“Sometimes you just want to read something friendly,” says Bonnie Lee, 12, of Evanston. “I’m recommending it to my parents.”

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