Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream


I recently finished reading Susan Faludi’s The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America. This book was recommended to me a little over a year ago by my professional writing advisor at MSU. I bought it on a brass trip (Houston for the sweet sixteen, maybe?) and finally got around to reading it.

In some ways I’m disappointed I put it off: It had so many interesting and well-researched points that I feel would do well to be put more in the mainstream media. But on the other hand, I’ve only recently really developed the language with which to talk about those ideas, so perhaps much of it would have been lost on me a year ago.

First, an overview.

It is undeniable that the attacks of September 11, 2001, had devastating consequences for our nation, for the events of a presidency, our foreign policy, and our sense of what it means to be patriotic. Faludi argues, however, that the attacks were responsible for another change in our national identity, a change that has extensive consequences yet has gone mostly unremarked. When the “phallic” symbol of our nation was essentially cut off, we responded by reverting traditional gender roles. When towers that housed predominately male workers fell, taking mainly male firefighters with them, we talked about how the attacks were against the American family and way of life. The media talked about how we had become an overly feminized nation, how feminism and a departure from traditional John Wayne era gender roles were responsible for making us vulnerable. Fauldi explores the gender-blaming reactions to the attacks, how they are situated in history, and what it might mean for us as a nation.

Now, my thoughts.

This book was incredibly well researched, and Faludi does an excellent job situating the responses into a greater American historical context, which helps her open up her issue from possibly isolated incident to yet another symptom of a specific and gendered way of thinking. She explores such topics as

  • the sudden decline in women’s voices in the public sphere in the days and months following the attacks
  • why the flight attendant who threw coffee at a terrorist is not discussed but men who only might have been involved are
  • the ideas of heroism and sacrifice post-9/11
  • the malfunctioning communications equipment that may have resulted in hundreds of firefighter deaths
  • the supposed “rescue” of Jessica Lynch and the ways in which the media wanted to (and did) present it

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in digging beyond the myths the media presented (and continue to present), for anyone interested in exploring more deeply the long-lasting and tragic consequences of the events surrounding 9/11.

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