Tuesday, January 14, 2014

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

2007, first edition, from Henry Holt and Company
Susan Faludi
The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America
Bought new for $26.00
Good condition hardcover

Albert: That's too bad 'bout some folks not wantin' to be rescued from trouble by the Loan Arranger.
Noah: Some is even more fierce.
Albert: More fierce?
Noah: Some won't get in trouble for him in the first place.  Not very obliging.

--Prehysterical Pogo (1967)

I kept asking myself why, as I read this.  Why did a tragedy whose victims were mostly male get recast as a need for men to protect women?  Why were the same men who failed to protect the 9/11 victims recast as heroic studs?  (As if Donald Rumsfeld's "sexiness" or George W. Bush's ability to cut brush, or for that matter John Kerry's huntin', would've stopped the attacks, or even upgraded the firefighters' communications system.)  And why was it, as it always seems to be in the mainstream media, feminism's fault?

Faludi points out the lack of logic, but she also shows why the particular myths took hold at that time.  She draws parallels not only to, of course, the 1950s but also to the second half of the 1800s, with a look at the very different attitudes of the 1600s and 1700s.  (In that earlier time, white Christians saw themselves as weak and vulnerable compared to God, and they were fine with this.) 

When Americans of the last two centuries feel vulnerable, they often hope for cowboys and other heroes to ride to the rescue.  (And, yes, she quotes Rogin on The Birth of a Nation.)  But for some men, perhaps most especially the men who are most scared and least able to admit it, there's a corresponding need to believe that women are, or should be, damsels in distress.  If women are strong, including Daniel Boone's "skilled markswoman" wife Rebecca, then it makes the men seem weak, and thus vulnerable to Injuns, Commies, and terrorists.  If a woman is actually a victim, like Jessica Lynch, her victimhood is magnified so her rescue can be enlarged.

As the discussion of America's early days shows, it wasn't always like this, and Faludi sees it as a pattern that can be broken.  Her book obviously has a sad, frightening base, but I was surprised how much I laughed.  As always, her speaking truth and cutting through the crap delighted me.

The title comes from the novel The Searchers.  She discusses that book, its movie, and other media, although as usual not much about music, other than Neil Young's "Let's Roll."

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