Susan Faludi

The Terror Dream


In this, the most original examination of post-9/11 America, Susan Faludi shines a light on the country's psychological response to the attacks on that terrible day. Turning her laser-sharp 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 an assault on American global dominance provoke an almost hysterical summons to restore "traditional" manhood, marriage, and maternity? Why did our media 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 to a regressive fixation on Doris Day womanhood and John Wayne masculinity, with trembling-lipped "security moms," swaggering presidential gunslingers, and the "rescue" of a female soldier compulsively recast 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 is also a nation haunted by a centuries-long trauma of assault on its home soil. For nearly two hundred years, our central drama was not the invincibility of our frontiersmen but their inability to repel invasions of non-Christian, nonwhite "barbarians" from the homestead door. To conceal the insecurity bred by those attacks, American culture would generate an ironclad countermyth of cowboy swagger and feminine frailty, which has been reanimated whenever the nation feels threatened. On September 11, Americans were once again returned to an experience of homeland terror and humiliation. And, once again, they fled from self-knowledge and retreated into myth.

Brilliant and important, The Terror Dream is ultimately concerned not with what 9/11 did to women or men but with what it revealed about all of us—granting us the opportunity to look at ourselves anew.

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