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The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post 9/11 America [Paperback]

Susan Faludi
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2008
In this most original examination of America's post-9/11 culture, Susan Faludi shines a light on the 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 societal drama shot through with baffling contradictions. Why, she asks, did Americans respond to an assault against American global dominance with a frenzied summons to restore 'traditional' manhood, marriage, and maternity? Why did they 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 them 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, Jessica Lynch, cast as a 'helpless little girl'?The answer, Faludi finds, lies in a uniquely American historical anomaly: 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."The Terror Dream" is a brilliant and important new look at what 9/11 revealed about America.

Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843547791
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843547792
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15.4 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 533,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"'Susan Faludi has written a brilliant, unsentimental, often darkly humorous account of America's nervous breakdown after 9/11' Publishers Weekly 'This is a book that had to be written, and only Susan Faludi could do it so brilliantly and engrossingly.' Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed 'Blistering and brilliant, The Terror Dream is cultural criticism at its best.' Peter Biskind, author of Easy Rider, Raging Bulls 'Susan Faludi, as always, is simply stunning. With heroic acuity, she digs through the mythological debris of the Bush era to recover the dark fairytale - shades of white savagery on the early Frontier - that founds the vengeance fantasy we call the "war on terrorism".' Mike Davis"

About the Author

Susan Faludi is the author of Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man and Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-fiction. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Nation, among other publications. She lives in San Francisco.

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...the history you do not know." 10 Feb 2011
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
Stephen Kinzer commenced his excellent book, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror with an epigraph from Harry Truman: "There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know." It is an epigraph that would be equally suitable for Faludi's meticulously researched book. In the first chapter she gave a key caveat to her work, in which she essentially states that this is NOT a book which renders a comprehensive analysis of America's response to 9-11,: "Rather this is a book about one facet of our response, a facet that runs deep in the American psyche, yet has gone largely unrecognized and undiagnosed."

And that facet is the "proper" role of male-female relations in American society, as defined by the "decision makers" in the various cultural, media and governmental "elites." I lived for most of the first two years after 9-11 outside the United States, and it was at times embarrassing to read the reaction to this event by all too many of our "pundits," characterized by the chapter heading: "We're at war, sweetheart." In the introduction Faludi quotes Seymour Hersh that "the biggest weakness of the Arabs is shame and humiliation." and she goes on to ask: But what of our own shame and humiliation? I thought of the website which proclaims that it "watches Fox News so you won't have to." Large swathes of Faludi's documentation comes from sources that I am grateful she researched, so I didn't have to, from Jerry Fallwell, to Camille Paglia and William Bennett, and watching various episodes of "Sex and the City.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Anyone who picks up this book expecting another conspiracy theory will be disappointed. Faludi goes to great pains to explain why she does not think women's rights have suffered because of 9/11. She analyses the way women were treated in the media immediately following the attacks; the disappearance of influential women from the front pages; the attacks on anyone - most notably Susan Sontag and Barbara Kingsolver - who dared to question America's response to 9/11; the personal vilification of surviving widows of 9/11 who dared to make new lives for themselves instead of continuing to be brave and grieving women; the attempts by the media to present the terrorist action as an attack on the domestic lives of all American families. Some commentators even blamed the attacks on the so-called feminisation of America which had made the country appear weak to the rest of the world and went so far as to call feminists traitors.

In frightening detail she shows how newspapers, magazines and television started to glorify domestic life and to interview as many people as they could who had re-evaluated their priorities following 9/11. She highlights the way anti discrimination laws were ignored in recruiting to the New York fire service and police forces by tacit consent of the authorities. Women who were killed in 9/11 were ignored and no one wanted to interview the widowers; women who took part in the rescue attempts were pushed to the back of newspaper photographs or openly excluded. Anyone who dared ask what about the women was regarded as acting with treasonable intent. There was an attitude of `Not now, dear, we're at war', as though war was something men had to do without any input from the women.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Adept and shocking 19 Mar 2008
A fascinating examination of the construction of myths by the American media, through the prism of reporting on 9/11 and the ensuing national response. This isn't about 9/11, and certainly doesn't make any pretense to be definitive or comprehensive or even a treatment of the most significant aspects of that tragedy. It's simply a very educational analysis of the way it's been represented in some of the country's most prominent cultural conduits. In a sense, it's a continuation of her work in Backlash, only painting with finer strokes on a more specific canvas.

A previous reviewer has suggested that Faludi's thesis can be thusly stated: that women's freedoms have come under assault America recently, and that this is the result of 9/11. In fact, Faludi takes great pains to state in The Terror Dream that she does not see 9/11 as some great catalyst for an anti-feminist backlash; rather, the way that 9/11 and its aftermath have been represented in the public imagination in America is revelatory of a dynamic that has been there, in ebb and flow, all along.

The book is strongest in its analysis of the variously delusional or cynically selective farces perpetrated by major political and journalistic figures following 9/11. What's less convincing is its attribution of this to the racist conflicts of America's settler past. Faludi draws some suggestive links but her explication of how they play out, and the development over time of the notion of men of a community as failed protectors against hostile native American forces, isn't quite as clear or as persuasive as the sections of her work with a more current focus. It's not that the argument is inherently bad or implausible, it's just that it isn't quite made with the same cogency and conviction as the first half of the book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  28 reviews
44 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, brilliant reporting and weaving history and contemporary events with new eyes. 10 Nov 2007
By Robert Kall - Published on
First, let's talk about the writing. Faludi is a brilliant writer. She could write about grass growing and make it a great read. There were times, reading her book, where I just had to stop and digest how well she puts things. A number of times, thoughts that she wrote with the beauty of Rumi came to mind.

Now, to the content of the book. Faludi submits a premise which she characterizes by a concept we learn in basic biology-- "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny." And in her book, she calls the beginning narrative of the book Phylogeny.

The German zoologist, Ernst Haeckel, suggested, in this theory, the idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny means that as over the short time span of nine months, a fetus, in the womb, goes through ontogenetic phases of development, it recapitulates the stages of development we see as we go up the evolutional scale-- phylogenetically, that took billions of years to develop.

So we start, in biology, with single celled, then microscopic organisms, then fish, amphibia, with tails, mammals with tails, until we reach the anthropoid stage.

Faludi suggests that as a nation, we are now recapitulating our early evolutionary stages.

She says, "Haeckel's hypothesis retains a metaphorical power in the realm of cultural history. The ways that we act, say, in response to a crisis can recapitulate in quick time the centuries-long evolution of our character as a society and of the mythologies we live by. September 11 presented just such a crisis..."

In her beginning section, called ONTOGENY, She does a superb job documenting how, after the 9/11 terrorist attack, there were no obvious heroes. No brave surviving rescuers, no brave fighters, no people who bravely dug through the rubble to discover survivors. It happened so fast, all the rescuers who came to the site either died or got there too late.

So the nation, the media-- had to come up with heroes. And they chose pregnant women who lost their mates in the attack. To make this work, the media and right wing groups massively attacked the idea of strong women. Even the fashionistas made frilly the fad.

The fact was that women had played as much a role in rescuing and dying as men. But the strong women who were there, at the WTC site were marginalized and ignored, or even put down and attacked. Their strength didn't fit the STORY that was being told, being etched into stone by the media.

Faludi gives example after example-- in the media, in the fire department, in fashion-- how this attack on women relentlessly took place-- all to serve to make men feel bigger and stronger.
She writes, "What mattered was restoring the illusion of a mythic America where women needed men's protection and men succeeded in providing it. What mattered was vanquishing the myth's dark wrin, the humiliating "terror-dream" that 9/11 forced to the surface of the national consciousness. Beginning with the demotion of independent-minded female commentators, the elevation of "manly men" at ground zero, and the adoration of widowed, pregnant homemakers-- that is, a cast of characters caught up in the September 11 trauma-- the myth quickly rippled out to counsel- and chastise-- the nation at large. Most particularly its women.

Faludi mentions how the "Jersey Girls" strong women who took on president Bush and the congress, demanding a 9/11 inquiry and demanding that Bush and Cheney testify, were attacked as shrill. She reminds us how Rudy Giuliani chided them that they had to "trust our government." And the Wall Street Journal and other media complained of Jersey Girl fatigue. (I had a chance to meet and later correspond with the Jersey girls. They were heroic, in the true sense of the word. )

After solidly describing the "terror dream" and the myth that was created, or, perhaps, more accurately, resurrected, Faludi takes us back, in her Phylogeny section of the book, to show how early on, strong pioneer women were marginalized, how the books and stories about brave women, the statues were re-told and re-"visioned."

Because, back in the early days of the settling of America, when pioneers lived in log cabins, they were attacked by the terrorists of the time-- the American Indians, who would raid a house, burn it, kill the men and kidnap the women. Some women bravely fought back-- successfully. Others adapted, effectively and happily. But those events created stories of weak, ineffective men. That couldn't be.

So writers actually changed the stories, making the women weak and resurrecting the men who had run away, making them the strong heroes. Back in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, American men re-wrote history to create stories of weak, helpless women.

Putting the Salem witch trials into context, she shows that the women who were accused were independent, strong women, often widows who were not dependent upon men. Strong women were treated as insane, evil, possessed..., wrong.

I've been writing in my op-eds, for the past four years, since before the war started, that the right wing in America is engaged in a war against the feminine-- not just women, but also the feminine archetype. Jean Shinoda Bolen has written extensively about the need for women and feminine energies to make a difference (in her super book MESSAGE FROM MOTHER; Gather the Women and Save the World) Faludi brilliantly describes just how the weak, pathetic "Stupid White Men" culture that Michael Moore described in his book, of that name, how the media and the right systematically orchestrated this attack on women as strong and heroic.

She says, near the end of the book, "When an attack on home soil causes cultural paroxysms that have nothing to do with the attack, when we respond to real threats to our nation by distracting ourselves with imagined threats to femininity and family life, when we invest our leaders with a cartoon masculinity and require of them bluster in lieu of a capacity for rational calculation, and when we blame our frailty on "fifth column" feminists-- in short, when we base our security on a mythical male strength that can only measure itself against a mythical female weakness-- we should know that we are exhibiting the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction. Our reflexive reaction to 9/11-- fantastical, weirdly disconnected from the very real emergency at hand-- exposed a counterfeit belief system. It reprised a bogus security drill that divided men from women and mobilized them to the defense of a myth instead of the defense of a country."

Damn, she nails it. When I had a chance to meet John Kerry, I cryptically said to him, "don't let Bush be Viagra." I've said for years that Bush, his war, his cowboy idiocy, have all been props the boys in this myth, this terror dream have been projecting upon, so they could salvage their masculinity. Faludi dissects the apparition that infected America's soul. Having cast light upon it, there is no doubt it will no longer have the power it has previously enjoyed.

She writes, "To not understand the mythic underpinnings of our response to 9/11 is, in a fundamental way, to not understand ourselves, to be so unknowing about the way we inhabit our cultural roles that we are stunned, insensible, when confronted by a moment that requires our full awareness. To fail to comprehend the historical provenance of our reaction, the phylogeny behind our ontogeny, is to find ourselves thwarted in our ability to express what we have undergone..."

The book is a brilliant exploration of aspects of American culture we don't ordinarily think of. If you like Zinn's People's History of the United States, or if you are willing to see America with new eyes, this book could be for you.
69 of 81 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Keep at it, Susan 2 Oct 2007
By Edward Aycock - Published on
First things first, I commend Faludi, as always, for her writing style. Faludi's journalism background has made her books very readable and her latest is no exception. Those who fear a long-winded book full of academic jargon need not be afraid. This is vintage Faludi.

Second, a previous reviewer has dismissed the argument of this book that it's just human nature the way people respond to such crises. Faludi goes to show us the opposite: human nature includes a survival instinct within us all, male or female but too often, other forces and the need to create heroes brings up a divide between men and women, casting the former as heroes and the latter as the victimized in need of saving. Perhaps this isn't a new argument, but Faludi brings it new life by comparing the post-9/11 climate to earlier periods in the history of the United States. I had heard of many of the male archetypes referred to here, the Daniel Boones, the Natty Bumppos but I have never read many captivity narratives and to me, this was new ground.

I could have used a bit more in the beginning when Faludi discusses Susan Sontag and Barbara Kingsolver. What those writers said after 9/11 is never quoted in full; I admit feeling a little angry at their comments in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, not because I was bloodthirsty but because they seemed the words of apologists and ill-timed. Then again, that was my emotional response to a day that still haunts me and I'll never be able to think rationally about it, but it would also cause me to miss Faludi's point: it's not so much what they said as the reaction to the women who spoke out as opposed to male commentators who said similar things yet were ignored by the press.

I recommend this book, whether you agree with it or not. As interesting as the first section of the book is, it's the second that held my interest best. This book will undoubtedly anger some, but it's worth reading and discussing, adding to an increasing lists of polemics about the current state of the union.
58 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Backlash in a post 9/11 world 9 Oct 2007
By R S Cobblestone - Published on
The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America, by Susan Faludi, is unsettling.

Let me start with her ending:

"When an attack on home soil causes cultural paroxysms that have nothing to do with the attack, when we respond to real threats to our nation by distrusting ourselves with imagined threats to femininity and family life, when we invest our leaders with a cartoon masculinity and require of them bluster in lieu of a capacity for rational calculation, and when we blame our frailty in 'fifth column' feminists - in short, when we base our security on a mythical male strength that can only increase itself against a mythical female weakness - we should know that we are exhibiting the symptoms of a lethal, albeit curable, cultural affliction" (p. 295).

What? And Susan Faludi can make a case for this? As it turns out, however complex this is, Faludi makes a very strong case. There is a smell somewhere in the house, and Faludi attempts to track it down.

Here is the book, in outline form.

1. There was an event we call 9/11.

2. Society at all levels responded to this event.

3. In an extraordinary reversal of the "Rosie the Riveter" phenomenon that redefined the potential for women to hold up this nation, at all levels of society and in all quarters, the post 9/11 phenomena of "manly men" and "perfect virgins" is being forced upon us in entertainment, politics, media coverage, the blogiverse, and unfortunately, journalism.

4. This will have further impacts on society.

Faludi, with the writing and analysis skills I appreciated in her book, Backlash, tackles this topic head-on. My first reaction? Guilt. I was oblivious to the broader issues here. Yet now, I wonder how I could have missed it.

The late Jerry Falwell's rant against "pagans, abortionists, and feminists" for lifting God's "veil of protection" from the US apparently had a much wider and receptive audience than I would have guessed.

Here's what Faludi says:

"In some murky fashion, women's independence had become implicated in our nation's failure to protect itself" (p. 21).

The sedition? Women's liberation "feminized" men. And feminists have emasculated our military's ability to defend our nation.

I knew it was my fault.

Women writers and speakers seeking to find meaning and lessons in the 9/11 attacks were raked over the coals. Women-authored opinion pieces practically disappeared from view. Author Barbara Kingsolver, crucified in the national press for a quote she never even said, lamented "The response was not the response you would expect toward a child. It was more like we were witches" (p. 32).

And you know how we treat witches.

There was the return of the "supermen" (aka Rumsfeld and Cheney). The women on Flight 93 were forgotten. Tributes to women firefighters were rare. Male victims in the Twin Towers were overshadowed by the wives of these victims [I certainly believe there were many, many victims].

"If women were ineligible for hero status, for what would they be celebrated" (p. 80)? Faludi argues that the role of women in the post-9/11 world was as "perfect virgins of grief."

The second half of the book is Faludi's analysis of how American society got to this point. She discusses the historical factors "predisposing" society to a world as defined by the Rush Limbaugh types.

Wait till Limbaugh gets a summary of this book.

The most surprising thing, for me, was that I needed Faludi to sharpen my eyesight. There were things going on around me that perhaps I wasn't seeing. She gives me glasses that I can use to see for myself whether a post 9/11 world is as "culture bending" as she claims.

What was missing from this book is any kind of response from those who would disagree with her premise.

So, Susan Faludi, thank you for opening my eyes. You will make many people angry. You will make some contemplative. And you will make others active.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Topic Worth Discussing 26 Mar 2008
By Thomas V. Millington - Published on
In "The Terror Dream" Susan Faludi writes, "A culture forges myths for many reasons, but paramount among them is the need to impose order on chaotic and disturbing experience--to resolve haunting contradictions and contain apprehensions, to imagine a way out of darkness." Throughout her book she presents a fascinating argument detailing how from the time of the Puritans, through the age of the wild frontier, to the era of the John Wayne archetype, American mythmakers--journalists and book publishers in particular-- have mythologized the 'heroic' male and consigned women to the role of frail 'victim' amidst the background of national anxiety or tragedy. Faludi skillfully presents a well-researched look into the Puritan view of the importance of being weak before God and how captivity was seen as a way to strengthen that aspect of their faith and character. Faludi introduces the reader to the 'captivity narrative' which was popular at the time and featured such heroines as Mary Rowlandson, who survived and escaped captivy from the Indians.

In the era of the wild frontier, however, the image of the rugged, solitary, independent frontiersman, best embodied by Daniel Boone, who fiercely decried the exaggerated image of him put forth by his contemporaries, become dominant and was made so by an increasing number portrayals of poor, defenseless women. Indians were made out to be the bad guys and I thought it was interesting how Faludi pointed out the similarities between 9/11 and the execution of nearly 300 Native American Indians in 1862. Faludi notes that in each crisis, society reacted in a way that did not allow a discourse to exist. The literary critic Kenneth Burke once wrote that, "History is an endless conversation." In the case of the 1862 execution of the Indians and the days immediately following 9/11, there was only a monologue. I did not know that very few women were allowed to contribute to Op-Ed sections of newspapers right after 9/11. Why? I was surprised to learn that some people reacted to 9/11 by saying, 'Well, this blows feminism right off the map!' Faludi rightfully questions the relation between feminism and the horrific events of 9/11.

It is a shame that people will most likely never know about the heroic exploits of Cynthia Ann Parker or Hannah Duston, but I am glad that there are people like Susan Faludi who will remind us that history and the mythmakers have overlooked figures who play such important roles in rejecting gendered stereotypes.

This is an excellent book and like many good books, it kept me thinking, even when I was not reading it. I am sure some people will not agree with everything she writes, but her argument deserves to be considered.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Creation (of a) myth 25 Mar 2008
By J. Gravener - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Being a long-time Faludi fan, I was not quite sure if I wanted to read a book about 9/11, not because I had been traumatized by the event or anything, but I was unsure that I would find a book that looked at all of the complex views of such a complex event. However, I found, as usual, Faludi's insight into the propagation of the Male-as-Hero Myth and the Female-as-Victim/Weak Myth to be an intriguing lens through which to look at 9/11. This books continues, in a way, the material that the author brought to BACKLASH, that women in a certain context can be subjugated or oppressed, depending on the need of those in power (in tis case, the media, and by extension, politicians). Faludi adds to the age-old paradigm of women as either virgins or whores; now they are also victims, even when they really aren't. Clearly there were heroines of 9/11, but why have they been obscured? One reviewer of this book actually proves Faludi's point about blaming feminism for being crybabies rather than being "Americans". I hate to be the one to burst anyone's bubble, but women are Americans, too, and they have every right to assert their position as participants in this Great Experiment, especially when they are purposely being erased by conservative pundits and the sexist media. I cannot wait for this book to come out in paperback so that I can put this as required reading on my college syllabus.
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