Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Terror Dream


The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (Hardcover)
By Susan Faludi

From Publishers Weekly:

Starred Review. Faludi has written a brilliant, unsentimental, often darkly humorous account of America's nervous breakdown after 9/11. The intrusions of September 11, she observes, broke the dead bolt on our protective myth, the illusion that... our might makes our homeland impregnable... and women and children safe in the arms of their men.Drawing on political rhetoric and accounts from the New York Times and the major networks, as well as Fox and talk radio, her book makes clear just how sexually anxious Americans became in the aftermath of that terrible day. But the tragedy had yielded no victorious heroes, so the culture wound up anointing a set of victimized men instead: the firemen who had died in the stairwells of the World Trade Center. The woman's role, she argues, became that of victim. Husbands had lost wives, but it was on the surviving wives of September 11 that America's grief was fixed. When some widows—the Jersey girls—rejected the victim's role by asking pointed questions about governmental incompetence, they were quickly ostracized by the press. After September 11, we read that Donald Rumsfeld had been a wrestler at Princeton—and that became his legend in news accounts. Even the president clearing brush in Crawford, Tex., became the stuff of legend in the National Review, which juxtaposed Bush's refreshingly brutish demeanor with the way the president sizes up the situation and says, 'You're mine, sucker.' A late chapter on Jessica Lynch rehearses how the myth of the imprisoned woman rescued by male warriors was manufactured by the government and the media. But I wish Faludi had appraised the more important Abu Ghraib scandal. Arguably, the photographs of Private Lynndie England standing over naked Arab men shocked many of us out of any remaining childish belief in our own heroism. The last third of the book traces how the American male's determination to see himself as protector (and the woman as dependent) derives from colonial Puritan wars against the Indians and the cowboy conquest of the West. In the end, Faludi judges our invasion of Afghanistan to be inept and tthe war in Iraq disastrous. It is essential, she says, not to confuse the defense of a myth with the defense of a country. A nation given to childish fantasy ends up with a president dressed like Tom Cruise, a chest beater in a borrowed flight suit.

From Booklist:

Starred Review. Panicked and anxious in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack, the nation has returned to the earlier mythology of the protective male and the dependent female, according to Faludi, author of Backlash (1991) and Stiffed (1999). She points to the sudden and stunning disappearance of women in the media as editorialists, commentators and scholars immediately following 9/11. In addition, police and fire departments across the nation have reduced their hiring of women, using 9/11 as justification for the need for brawny rescuers, while President Bush took on the persona of a cowboy, issuing threats to the terrorists. Faludi also examines how the media-fabricated rescue of Jessica Lynch morphed from a story of a heroic GI Jane to the more appetizing one of a fragile female rescued by heroic American male troops. She also examines the scrutiny and harsh criticism of four 9/11 widows who became politically active and asked embarrassing questions of the Bush administration. Faludi debunks the media-created myths of post-9/11 trends of baby fever, nesting, and security moms, all involving women returning body, mind, and vote to the hearth. Faludi traces the roots of the fascination with the tableau of the brawny male and the fragile female all the way back to Puritan America. In the conclusion of this insightful book, Faludi laments how all the myth-making has squandered opportunities to critically examine the flaws in American foreign and domestic policy.

From the Publisher, Henry Holt:

"In this most original examination of America’s post-9/11 culture, Susan Faludi shines a light on the country’s psychological response to the attacks on that terrible day. Turning her acute observational powers on the media, popular culture, and political life, Faludi unearths a barely acknowledged but bedrock societal drama shot through with baffling contradictions. Why, she asks, did our culture respond to an assault against American global dominance with a frenzied summons to restore “traditional” manhood, marriage, and maternity? Why did we react as if the hijackers had targeted not a commercial and military edifice but the family home and nursery? Why did an attack fueled by hatred of Western emancipation lead us to a regressive fixation on Doris Day womanhood and John Wayne masculinity, with trembling “security moms,” swaggering presidential gunslingers, and the “rescue” of a female soldier cast as
a “helpless little girl”?"

From BlogCritics:

"Ultimately, Faludi seems to believe that our retreat into this fantasy or "terror dream" reveals an aspect of an American belief in invincibility, one that exists so long as these archetypes exist. As a result, America tends to ignore reality in order to feel safe and secure when, in fact, these archetypes may actually undermine our response to actual events and conditions because they contradict the story we want to believe."

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