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The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (2007)

by Susan Faludi

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Well-researched and very readable: "The Terror Dream" analyzes how the media and the government manipulated the events that transpired on 9/11 (and the aftermath) so that everything be presented as a return to strict gender roles circa the 1950s and/or the Wild West. Faludi pulls out all these great quotes from the media and blogosphere (my favorite: "The phallic symbol of America has been cut off," he wrote of the World Trade Center, "and at its base was a large smoldering vagina, the true symbol of American culture, for it is the western culture that represents the feminine materialistic principle, and it is at its extreme in America") in order to show the backlash against feminism and women in general.

She points out how the overwhelming majority of those who died at Ground Zero were male, and yet the media searched in vain to find pictures of women being carried out of the ruins by strong firemen; she also points out how the rescue efforts were largely pointless, as most of the survivors walked themselves out of the building. When those male-hero stories failed to materialize, the "victims" plastered all over the media became the poor widows and little girls left behind.

Then she turns to how the government portrayed itself, going back to Westerns and stories of the Wild West, and making themselves out to be coyboys saving the nation from invaders; she goes back further in history to draw these parallels.

The whole time I was reading, I was also wondering to myself...was my head in the sand during all of this?! How could I have not noticed?! I remember specific events--such as the Jessica Lynch "rescue"--but I'm surprised that I never put two and two together as to how these stories were being presented to the public.

Still, this is not a book about victimization; rather, it's the beginning of a long-needed discussion on how the media and government draws the attention away from real issues that need to be faced.
  mugwump2 | Nov 29, 2008 |
The first 1/3 was quite boring. The second part, on 9/11, and de-bunking the Jessica Lynch myth, was fascinating. After that, the book switches to a historical perspective on feminism in America; I gave up.
  Seajack | Jul 7, 2008 |
The first half, covering the reaction to 9/11 was very interesting. The second, about reaction to terror in early American history was less so - I skimmed that part. ( )
1 vote attolia | Nov 3, 2007 |
Perspective requires time. With six years having passed since the events of September 11, 2001, we are beginning to see some critical analysis not only of the ramifications of that day but how we responded as a nation. In The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America, Susan Faludi provides a unique view of our response. Even if you don't agree with her, her case is both well-researched and well-written.

Faludi, an award-winning journalist and author, argues that after 9/11 America withdrew into a "dream state" marked by four perhaps uniquely American archetypes. The archetypes are related and based in significant, if not exclusive, part on the cultural roles we have historically assigned the sexes. At bottom, they indicate that America engaged in myth-making rather than addressing the reality of the events of that day.

The first step, according to her, was to undermine and demote the concepts of strong women and the role of women as leaders and equals in society. Faludi points out how media coverage following 9/11 focused on firemen and other males as the heroes of the day. Although women also played heroic roles that day, in the rescue effort and in the aftermath aftermath, they were difficult, if not impossible, to find amidst the heroes of the day. At first glance, this may not only seem conflict with our recollections of the time but Faludi simply returning to a topic she explored in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. Yet, as in Backlash, Faludi's use of facts and statistics (with supporting footnotes) documents the minimization of the female voice in the media in the aftermath of 9/11. This effort not only undercut, but seemingly reversed many of the gains women had seen with the advent and growth of the feminist movement.

Hand-in-hand with the demotion of the strong, independent woman came the increasing build-up and importance of "manly men." She sees America Hearkening back to 1950s Westerns with the John Wayne-type hero, the big strong man who would save the day and risk his life -- or even die -- trying. For example, she notes how four men were built up as the manly heroes on Flight 93 while the female flight attendants were relegated to weak roles. She also points out how Time magazine's first issue after 9/11 showed only men under the banner "Heroes" while the one photo under "Survivor" was of a bloodied woman sitting on a curb, a man with a badge putting his hands on her shoulders in a sign of protection and strong comfort. Likewise, all but one of the photos in the "Heroes" section of Newsweek's 9/11 Commemorative Issue, were of men. "The one example of female heroism offered was a cameo of two women in the line of traditional feminine duty: elementary school teachers who 'did their best to appear calm and look after their kids.'"

The portrayal of the elementary school teachers dovetails into Faludi's third point -- that there was a greater emphasis on domesticity. The hero would work and provide protection while the little lady took care of the children and kept the the fires burning on the home front. Among other things, The Terror Dream notes how 9/11 widows were treated compassionately and with kid gloves by the press, particularly if pregnant at the time their husbands died. But if the widows were driving for an investigation of the government's actions on that date or otherwise questioning what was being done, they were seen as having forfeited their "victim tiara."

Finally, these combined to help create the ultimate archetype -- the manly hero will search for and save an almost sanctified helpless female. As she commented in an op-ed piece shortly before this year's 9/11 anniversary, Faludi traces much of this back to traditional rescue tales stemming from as early as the Puritan colonies in America. The post-9/11 example is Jessica Lynch. While she was at first portrayed as fighting to her last bullet before being captured in the early days of the Iraq war, an equally false myth developed and took hold. Lynch ended up being the virginal lass (the school marm) kidnapped by evildoers (Indians) and who could be saved only by a large number of men (the sheriff and his posse) who risked their lives taking on those evildoers. Despite Lynch's protestations and other evidence to the contrary, the story was not only repeated in her ghost written book about the events surrounding her capture, it became almost unassailable.

Balance of review at http://prairieprogressive.com/2007/10/02/book-review-the-terror-dream-by-susan-f...
3 vote PrairieProgressive | Oct 2, 2007 |
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Epigraph
A bitter chill crept along the whole length of his body. The frozen ground seemed to drain the heat from his blood, and the blood from his heart itself. Perhaps it was that, and knowing where he was, that accounted for what happened next. Or maybe scars, almost as old as he was, were still in existence, down at the bottom of his mind, long buried under everything that had happened in between. The sky seemed to darken, while a ringing, buzzing sound came into his ears, and when the sky was completely black it began to redden with a bloody glow. His stomach dropped from under his heart, and a horrible fear filled him -- the fear of a small helpless child, abandoned and alone in the night. He tried to spring up and out of that, and he could not move; he lay there rigid, seemingly frozen to the ground. Behind the ringing in his ears began to rise the unearthly yammer of the terror-dream -- not heard, not even remembered, but coming to him like an awareness of something happening in some unknown dimension not of the living world.
-Alan Le may, The Searchers

A people unaware of its myths is likely to continue living by them, though the world around that people may change and demand changed in their psychology, their world view, their ethics, and their institutions.
-Richard Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence
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In Trauma at Home: After 9/11, one of several high-toned anthologies published in the early aughts that strived to "make meaning" out of the twin towers' rubble, Judith Greenberg, a professor of comparative literature, offered "an example of how this tragedy has been played out upon the body and in the mind."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805086927, Hardcover)

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author of Backlash--an unflinching dissection of the mind of America after 9/11
 
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"?
 
The answer, Faludi finds, lies in a historical anomaly unique to the American experience: the nation that in recent memory has been least vulnerable to domestic attack was forged in traumatizing assaults by nonwhite "barbarians" on town and village. That humiliation lies concealed under a myth of cowboy bluster and feminine frailty, which is reanimated whenever threat and shame looms.
 
Brilliant and important, The Terror Dream shows what 9/11 revealed about us--and offers the opportunity to look at ourselves anew.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:19 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Examines America's psychological response in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks to discuss why America responded with a call to restore "traditional" manhood, marriage, and maternity.

» see all 3 descriptions

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