NEW YORK – On Sept. 11, 2001, not many people were thinking how pop culture would be affected by the attacks, but the months that followed revealed a kinder, gentler entertainment world -- sort of.
At least the guilty-pleasure barometer dipped for a while.
But just months after radio giant Clear Channel issued a list of songs with "sensitive" lyrics, shock jocks Opie and Anthony broadcast a live account of a couple's sex act in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
"It would've been great if Sept. 11 really could've conformed our culture -- a little less violence and wise-guy-ironic -- but you can't expect a culture to change that fundamentally based on one day," said Robert Thompson, pop culture professor at Syracuse University.
"That would be like losing 100 pounds on a miracle diet in one weekend -- not healthy," he said.
Instead of changing our culture completely, the events of Sept. 11 added a new genre to the mix, which co-exists with the entertainment's traditional light fare.
Bruce Springsteen's album, The Rising, presents a series of character studies reflecting the personal consequences of Sept. 11. "This is a powerful album ... exactly what we'd expect American culture would be doing," Thompson said. "Then The Anna Nicole Smith Show started within days of that. We've got both really serious, sincere stuff and we've got the steady progression of outrageousness to get our attention."
A perfect example of lowbrow entertainment melding with the newfound sensitivity came during the Super Bowl, Thompson pointed out.
During the halftime show, U2 performed as the names of Sept. 11 victims were displayed behind the band, and front man Bono sported a jacket lined in an American flag pattern. At the same time, NBC aired Fear Factor featuring Playboy centerfolds.
"At this point, we really knew what direction pop culture was headed," Thompson said.
As for TV, the fall lineup will reflect what networks thought would work back last winter.
"The fall season is kind of preserved in amber where America was right after Sept. 11," Thompson said. But, he added, shows that were predicted to please last winter might fall flat now that Americans are back into programs like The Osbournes and American Idol.
Hollywood, which delayed films like Collateral Damage -- about a firefighter seeking revenge for a terrorist bombing -- remains reluctant to take on Sept. 11 directly.
"There may be proposals circulating about Sept. 11, but I don't think anyone is quite prepared to make a statement on a dramatic level," Robert Dowling, editor-in-chief of The Hollywood Reporter, said.
But that doesn't mean Tinseltown has banned violent action flicks.
"I don't think we're going to see a lot of Middle Easterners blowing up buildings anytime soon," said Jill Bernstein, senior editor of Premiere magazine. "But violence is not dead and will never die."
Bernstein said she was glad to see The Sum of All Fears, a film about terrorists detonating a nuclear bomb on American soil, debut when it did (early June). "Seeing realistic horrors can be cathartic. It touches on our fears instead of repressing them," she said.
Despite some hesitation by parts of the creative community, there is one group of artists that began addressing the attacks right away: songwriters. Tributes such as Neil Young's "Let's Roll" and Paul McCartney's "Freedom" came out last fall, along with the militantly patriotic "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)," by Toby Keith.
For some artists, enough time has passed for recent works to become reflective. Steve Earle's "John Walker's Blues" is a ballad about John Walker Lindh, the American who recently pleaded guilty to fighting for the Taliban. With Arabic chants in the background, Earle sings of Lindh as "an American boy raised on MTV" and driven to a distant culture.
Pop culture has undulated in the past year, from David Letterman's somber return speech to the craze that is American Idol, and is still trying to strike the right balance.
"What Sept. 11 did was add a whole new set of themes and concerns and stories to American culture. What we didn't do was eliminate the ones that were there before," said Thompson.
"We've come full circle -- a sign of a healthy culture that can recover."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.