Shortly after the United States terrorist attacks occurred, Prof. Carney posted the following remarks on IndieWire, reflecting on the relevance of the events to filmmakers.

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In this time of sorrow and mourning, it is impossible not, at least briefly, to despair that art matters, or that in fact anything matters, in comparison with the horror we have all just lived through. There are places in my heart that ache so badly I wonder how I can continue to go on, or if anything means anything anymore. I want to give up. Why continue to make movies? Why continue to write about them? What does any of it matter?

But at rare moments of calm and insight, as I slowly attempt to work through these events emotionally, I realize the opposite is true. It is not a time to give up, but to get to work. We need art. We need truth-telling films. We need true artists.

If an independent filmmaker or writer on film can find any positive lesson in this tragedy, it should be about the importance of what he or she does and what great artists have always done. Events like those of Sept. 11th should wake up us and all of America out of the slumber of unreality that Hollywood "entertainment" and most of the media have had us in for decades. They should make even more clear what a cultural drug state we have been living in: —A culture where the news media devote weeks to documenting the sexual misbehaviors of politicians, as if life were an endless soap opera, while they completely ignore events that concern ordinary people. —A culture where people seem to care more about whether the stock market went up or down that day than the meaning of their lives or the lives of others in the rest of the world. —A culture where film is judged by critics and reviewers as if were an Olympic diving contest, awarding “style points” to meaningless stylistic cleverness and fancy photography. —A culture of L.A. Confidential triteness, of Titanic teenage sentimentality, of Matrix video-game escapism.

To borrow a phrase from Neil Postman, Sept. 11 brings home to us, painfully and embarrassingly, how much we have been entertaining ourselves to death—and how much the frivolousness of the movies, the media, and the reviewers has contributed to the irrelevance of much of our culture and our lives. We suddenly realize how glutted we have been on triviality, sensationalism, and escapism. We see how much of our souls we have unconsciously sold to the gods of celebrity, fame, power, and wealth.

Now more than ever we need artists who will help wake America up from the sleep of unreality. Who will tell the truth about our lives, our emotions, our culture, and our world. Painful, hard truths at times; joyous, celebratory truths at others. The task of the artist of the future is to explore the tortured chambers of the human heart and mind that could cause it, as well as the capacities of the human heart and mind to reach out in self-sacrificing expressions of love and kindness in response to it. We desperately need artists to help us understand what we are and what we can be. More than we ever did before. It is time to get on with our work. It matters now more than ever.

That does not mean to focus on this specific event or even allude to it, of course. There is something obscene about the media’s desire to keep discussing it and showing pictures of it. They claim they hate it, but you know they really really love it. It fits their soap opera imaginations like a glove. Just yesterday, I saw the new issue of T.V. Guide when I was standing in the supermarket checkout line. The cover is a photograph of the towers exploding, cropped and PhotoShopped in a brilliant, four-color full-page bleed. I wanted to leave. I couldn’t bear to stand there next to it. How can we do this to ourselves? What is this insane lust after violent sensations? Why don’t we put photographs of children being sexually molested on display while we’re at it? That’s no worse than the World Trade Center photos.

Are we really this depraved? Is nothing too personal or too emotional to be commented on and discussed to death? Is nothing too sacred or private to have a movie or TV show churned out about it? Next we’ll be videotaping the death rattle of our relatives and submitting the tapes to ”America’s saddest home videos.” But I guess it’s nothing new. It's just journalism as usual—the P.T. Barnum freak show of the present—selling us our own experiences magnified and distorted beyond recognition. Reporters have always rushed to interview grieving widows, and hoped for a tear or a sob in their voices. If the TV coverage doesn’t make life lurid and trashy it trivializes it by turning every experience into an advertising slogan, “Attack on America,” “America unites”—with more glossy shots of the towers collapsing in the background of course.

No, don’t make a movie about the event. Present ordinary, everyday life. That has pain, sadness, heroism enough. Those horrors are ones we really need get to work on—as artists and as human beings. This desire to go out of ourselves and treat events as if they happened to or were caused by someone else is just another way of avoiding ourselves. All of history, all of sociology, everything felt or thought—all of the present, past, and future that ever was or can ever be—is in us. Everything that happened on Sept. 11 was already in our hearts.

But let me end on a more positive note: I despair of so much about our culture, but never about real artists. The greatest miracle of all is that there is this thing called art—an impulse to say something unique and precious and personal—that doesn’t die and can't be extinguished. Not by the violence of terror. Not by the selfishness of business values. Not by the melodramatics of the evening news. Not by the stupidity of popular culture. Not even by our own doubts and fears. Art always has nothing going for it. It is on the fringes, shunted aside and scorned in our culture. It has no advertising campaign behind it, little support in our education systems, and almost no visibility. Its greatest works are jeered at or ignored, and almost never given any worldly reward. But miracle of miracles, it never goes away and can never be snuffed out. The impulse is re-born in every new generation. Against all odds, the artists go on giving voice to the soul. It’s testimony to something like God in us. Something that gives hope, no matter how dark the present moment may seem.

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Text Copyright 2003 by Ray Carney. All rights reserved. May not be reprinted without written permission of the author.