9/11 Terrorist Attacks Changed Americans’ Views of Foreign Cultures, Journalism Research Shows

By Nathan Hurst
MU News Bureau

Columbia, Mo. (March 26, 2010) — The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks impacted the United States in many ways. From a drastic re-evaluation of homeland security to sending the nation into war, the attacks affected millions of Americans. Now, a Missouri School of Journalism researcher has examined the cultural impacts. Yong Volz, an assistant professor of journalism studies, found that the 9/11 terrorist attacks contributed to a shift in attitudes towards foreign cultures for millions of Americans.

“We cannot underestimate how these kinds of significant incidents put a huge imprint on all aspects of a society.”

Yong Volz

“People do not expect that events occurring thousands of miles away could have a significant impact on the attitudes of individuals not directly involved,” Volz said. “But we cannot underestimate how these kinds of significant incidents put a huge imprint on all aspects of a society.”

Yong Volz
Yong Volz

To determine if 9/11 had an impact on Americans’ receptions of foreign cultures, Volz reviewed the American box office receipts of nearly 600 foreign films from 1984 to 2006. Volz found a dramatic change in audience preferences regarding the country of origin of films after 2001, when compared to pre-9/11 ticket sales.

Among the biggest losers were foreign films produced in France. Volz says this isn’t surprising considering the strong anti-French sentiment found in post-9/11 America.

“Shortly after 9/11, many Americans wouldn’t even eat French fries, so even though French-produced movies were among the most popular pre-9/11 foreign films in America, they saw a drastic reduction in popularity,” Volz said.

Volz documented another shift in post-9/11 American viewing habits. Volz found that prior to 2001, Americans tended to prefer foreign films from more exotic cultures, or cultures that differ greatly from that of the United States. Volz says that after 2001, however, foreign films from more culturally similar countries tended to do better at the box office. Furthermore, Volz found a genre shift in Americans’ preferences.

“Before 9/11, Americans would be more likely to watch high-context films. In order to appreciate such genres as comedy, audiences need to have a greater knowledge of cultural clues and background information,” Volz said. “After 2001, Americans were more likely to choose low-context genres like action and science fiction. These are films that don’t require much cultural engagement to watch.”

Volz says her study suggests that after 9/11, Americans were less willing to fully engage with unfamiliar cultures. Although this study focused on Americans specifically, Volz believes these kinds of responses could occur in any society.

“I don’t think this reflects only on the American culture, but rather on human nature in general,” Volz said. “I would think these kinds of historical events would have a huge impact on any culture’s attitudes toward other cultures.”

Volz’s study “Critical Events and Reception of Foreign Culture: An Examination of Cultural Discount of Foreign-Language Films in the U.S. Before and After 9/11,” was published in the International Communication Gazette in 2010, in collaboration with Francis Lee, Ge Xiao and Xianglin Liu. Volz has earned three “top paper” awards from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication as well as the Asian Journal of Communication’s Best Paper Award for International Communication Research. Volz’s articles have appeared in a number of refereed journals, including Media, Culture & Society, Journalism, Journalism Studies, International Journal of Advertising, and Communication, Politics & Culture.

Updated: May 7, 2020

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