For instance, Stephen Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan was hugely popular, and its explicit battle scenes won critical acclaim.

During the first four weeks after Ryan was released, it grossed more than $126 million - more than double the $57 million earned by World Trade Center and nearly seven times the $31 million collected by United 93 during the first four weeks of their respective runs, according to imdb.com.

But audiences didn't see Saving Private Ryan until 1998, a half-century after the Second World War that the movie so grittily depicts.

Films as metaphors
Dan Santoro, a sociology professor at the University of Pittsburgh, thinks we're surrounded with works of art and entertainment about Sept. 11 - but we don't always know it, because the movies and songs deal with the attacks obliquely.

"I'm fascinated with films that are metaphors for different events," he says. "In the 1950s and '60s, you started getting the Godzilla movies, and they were a metaphor for the atomic bomb. During the Cold War, we had Invasion of the Body Snatchers and all these movies about being infiltrated by aliens.

"Right on the heels of United 93, we got Snakes on a Plane. I can't help thinking that is a metaphor for terrorism, for the passengers and crew struggling with all the people around them who are devoted to their purpose and kill without remorse.

"It's a way for us to deal with our fears without confronting them directly."

It's not surprising, then, that those television shows that merely refer to Sept. 11 have been more successful than have those attempting to re-create the terrorist attacks.

Several weekly series are set in a world on guard against terrorists, and two - 24 and The Unit - are among the top-rated shows.

But so far, no series have been produced that are directly about Sept. 11.

Perhaps that's because none of several television specials, including A&E's Flight 93 and the Discovery Channel's The Flight That Fought Back, has been a huge hit.

Spotlight on courage
It's no accident, the experts say, that all the songs and stories stemming from Sept. 11 to date are stories of heroes. It may be some time before we as a society are ready to explore more complex questions.

It's worth noting that Stone, who is known for his sweeping, mythological interpretations of historic events, departs from his usual formula in World Trade Center.

Instead, he focuses narrowly and without irony on particular acts of courage and endurance.

With his recent book, Terrorist, novelist John Updike became one of the few artists to begin delving into those larger issues.

Though his book is not explicitly about Sept. 11, it was inspired by that day. Terrorist is about an American-born Muslim teenager who is recruited for a suicide mission to blow up Manhattan's Lincoln Tunnel.

The novel stays mostly away from politics. Updike posits psychological motivations for 18-year-old Ahmad's attraction to violence. And yet, the novelist was criticized for making the teen too sympathetic.

"Right now, the only artistic treatments that people will accept are those that depict the survivors and the people killed as heroes," says Melanie Finney, associate professor of communications at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind.