Published January 13, 2015
There's no question Sept. 11 fundamentally altered the way most Americans think and act. But have some people used the events of that day as an excuse for their otherwise inexplicable or inappropriate behavior?
At least a few folks think so.
"It's a rationalization for people," said Warren Belasco, professor of American Studies at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "It's probably an excuse for something they would've done anyway."
Take the case of a fan riot last month at a Cleveland Browns football game, when hundreds in the crowd pelted the field with beer bottles in response to an unfavorable call on the field.
A few laid some of the blame for the incident on still-lingering post-Sept. 11 trauma. And Browns President Carmen Policy apparently did little to discourage that thinking when he defended the fans' actions, saying their "hearts have been ripped out from them" by the controversial call.
Those comments were slammed by critics who called them insensitive, particularly in light of Sept. 11.
"That's where hearts were ripped out in this country — not at a football game," said Bill Livingston, a columnist for Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer.
Belasco said blaming outbursts like the football riot on Sept. 11 was an example of oversimplification. "There have been many sports riots and instances of fans acting badly. I think it's way overdone to tie that to Sept. 11," he said. "It's part of sports history to have bad behavior."
The terrorist attacks have also been used as an excuse for people to gorge on naughty goodies and break their diets.
Dietitian Goulda Downer said that since Sept. 11, several of her clients not only gave up their new diets, but packed on fresh pounds. "My patients were celebrating with food the fact that they made it home safely," she speculated in The Washington Post.
Some statistics support Downer's claim. From Sept. 9 to Oct. 7, sales of frozen appetizers like pizza puffs and egg rolls rose 35 percent over the same period last year, and Oreo cookie sales jumped nearly 18 percent, according to a survey conducted by Information Resources Inc., a sales and marketing firm.
But Belasco said it's difficult to peg people's eating habits to the attacks. "Food is used to mark so many occasions, from happiness to sadness," he said.
Still, others predicted the end of lavish fashion in the days following the attacks, and attributed new trends to people's post-Sept. 11 need for familiarity.
"Scottish tartans, plaids, checks and tattersalls are a sign of fashion's change of mood since Sept. 11, a time when exaggerated silhouettes and theatrical flourishes have seemed out of touch," proclaimed The New York Times style section on Nov. 25. "Many women reached into their closets for the toned-down style of plaids, which suggest the security of tradition."
But just a few weeks later, on Dec. 14, fashion reporters noted the chic crowd at the opening of a new Prada store dressed to the nines in such decadent items as diamonds and high-heeled crocodile shoes.
Even those jumping into the sack used Sept. 11 as an excuse, giving way to the new phrase "terror sex."
But those types of needs — food, sex, love — "are so primal and continuous there is always a reason to want those things," said Belasco. "The overall culture pushes us towards enjoyment and self pleasure, so the rationalizations are superficial — the excuse of the moment."