The days following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were a strange time for Americans. For the first time in most people’s lives, political divisions disappeared. Daily life became anything but routine, even if you lived far from Ground Zero. Even American pop culture was deeply affected by the events, unsure of when it would be acceptable to laugh again.
Leave it to America’s foremost experts in drama and onscreen conflict to show everyone it was okay to gather once more.
On Sept. 13, just two days after the attacks that shook the world, it was the WWE who gathered people together in (where else but) Texas. Houston, to be exact. Emotions were still riding high, not only among the people who create the WWE’s show twice a week, but the nation as a whole. Just like the rest of America, Vince McMahon and his staff had watched helplessly as planes flew into the Twin Towers, not once but twice.
But the WWE – its producers as well as its staff and the “Superstar” wrestlers who make the show happen – considered themselves lucky, lucky to be with the people with whom they spent a majority of their time anyway. They were with the people who were as close to family as they could get in those stressful hours.
The show that night, just two days after the attacks, was supposed to be a Smackdown! taping in America’s third largest city. The WWE initially felt the taping should be postponed, that America had other things to worry about. They weren’t alone. Many shows, especially live-taped shows, were airing reruns instead of new episodes. No one knew exactly what to say.
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared with the cast of Saturday Night Live and told America is was okay to laugh again. Jon Stewart used his time on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to remind Americans that life had to go on, and that it was okay. But people and entertainers were still wary of getting together in large crowds.
Not the WWE.
After Vince McMahon was assured by government officials that regular WWE programming would actually be more helpful in getting people’s minds off the tragedy, they went ahead with the show. WWE Superstars crowded the ringside as their boss, the wrestling mogul, entered the ring to an enthusiastic crowd, chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”It was McMahon giving a speech just like the ones a WWE Superstar would give as part of the plot of any given Raw or Smackdown! episode, challenging a rival to a grudge match.
“The spirit of America lives here in Houston, Texas,” McMahon said, as he began a speech that sent condolences to the victims and families of 9/11 and condemned the terrorists. “Our nation’s leaders have encouraged us to return to living our lives the way we normally do… the American way… Make no mistake about the message this public assembly is sending to terrorism tonight. That message is simply we will not live our lives in fear.”
“America’s heart has been wounded but her spirit shines as a beacon of freedom,” he said, “that will never be extinguished.”