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Attacks force pop culture to step back

firefighter costume
Instead of cartoon characters or sports stars, the costumes in demand this Halloween are firefighters and policemen.  

From Bruce Burkhardt

(CNN) -- Since the events of September 11, many have wondered if things will ever get back to normal -- to the days when our biggest concern was who would win the $1 million on "Survivor," and what J. Lo wore to the latest awards gala.

But the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington had such an earthquake-like impact on U.S. pop culture that the real question seems to be, what is normal now? Or, more to the point, what can the general public stomach as it returns to the comforts of everyday life?

Hollywood -- long the purveyor or fear and destruction at the local megaplex -- is one industry that is taking a step back.

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Two major movies slated for release have already been pulled: "Collateral Damage," an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick with a terrorist theme, and "Big Trouble," a film starring comic Tim Allen that also sported a terrorist angle.

In other words, Hollywood feels violence is no longer cool, or funny.

"The public's nerves are raw and edgy," says Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America. "You have to be discreet and understanding about the films you are showing."

A new face on Halloween

Fall movies aren't the only entertainment for Americans -- Halloween is also hiding from the recent tragedies.

"I think it's going to be ... fun rather than grim reaper, big bad monster type, because we have seen the big bad monster for real and we don't need fantasy monsters," says Stephanie Pettys, who runs Holiday Costume in Atlanta, Georgia.

Fake wounds have also been left on the shelf.

"Before the 11th, I was selling some, but it just stopped," she says.

Instead, Pettys says, patriotic costumes will be the norm on Halloween night, worn without irony, and with a sense of pride. Uncle Sam and George W. Bush outfits, for instance, are selling out.

And among the biggest sellers for kids are firefighter and police costumes.

"Going like crazy," says Pettys. "Had to re-order."

Toys and TV tone down the rhetoric

firefighter action figure
A firefighter takes on superhero status with his own action figure.  

The effects of September 11 on sales of merchandise could stretch well into the Christmas holiday, as well. Already, toys with unintended references to the attacks are being left behind.

For instance, there's the MX 99 Heli-Jet. Inside the toy, a mission card reads, "Vitriol (the bad guy) is on top of the World Trade Center with his deadly energy waves. Your mission -- stop Vitriol before he destroys New York City."

Needless to say, that toy is out. And like Halloween, firefighting toys are in. One, called Billy Blazes, is made by Fisher Price, and all of the proceeds from it will go to the Firefighter Safety Education Fund.

Of course, television is reacting to the tragedies in varying degrees. Wednesday night, NBC's "The West Wing" aired a special episode on terrorism.

But even NFL announcers have altered their commentary -- networks have ordered their game broadcasters to tone down the war analogies like "bomb," "blitzes," or "aerial attacks."

It has yet to be seen whether or not violence will once again reign in movie theaters. Next Halloween, will we be a safe enough distance away to wear gross-out costumes again?

History leaves few clues.

"To have something happen that never before in our history have we ever borne witness to or imagined, that hits very deep in the entrails of this country," Valenti says.

"I'd like to think (the changes are) a permanent thing," says Pettys, "but who knows?"


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