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Susan Faludi's "The Terror Dream: Myth and Misogyny in an Insecure America" is a brilliant book with an annoying flaw.

Faludi opens by noting that even as late as 2007 when she finished the book, "Virtually no film, television drama, play, or novel on 9/11 had begun to plumb what the trauma meant for our national psyche. Slavishly literal reenactments of the physical attack... or unrepresentative tales of triumphal rescue at ground zero seemed all the national imagination could handle." She talks a great deal about "we" in following pages of her preface: "Nothing like this had ever happened before, so we didn't know how to assimilate the experience. And yet, in the weeks and months to follow, we kept rummaging through the past to make sense of the disaster, as if the trauma of 9/11 had stirred some distant memory, reminded us of something disturbingly familiar." And further: "allusions to Pearl Harbour provided no traction, and we soon turned our attention to another chapter in U.S. history," the Cold War, where, in the fall of 2001, with pundits invoking John Wayne and TV airing re-runs of all of Wayne's western films, "we reacted to our trauma, in other words, not by interrogating it but by cocooning it in the celluloid chrysalis of the baby boom's childhood."

Obviously, of course, Faludi suffers from the typical American problem of forgetting that Americans are not the only "we" in the world. But that's not really the problem here. The problem, and the flaw, is that despite her preface, Faludi isn't really writing about "we Americans" but rather, and only, about "we journalists, pundits, politicians, and other members of the Establishment." Which is the typical, self-centred and arrogant stance of most journalists, of course, but is an astonishing lapse from a feminist left-wing writer who has shown in the past that she knows better (more about why I think Faludi falls into making this mistake later). The result is a fascinating and revealing book about the mythical fantasy that the U.S. media and the U.S. establishment tried to impose on the nation's social fabric in the aftermath of 9/11, but it isn't a book about what Americans thought of 9/11 or how they reacted to it. Nor, aside from a few early and brief mentions of statistics that refute the so-called trends being claimed by various journalists, is it even a book that tries to compare the establishment's response to the attacks to the responses of ordinary people.

Many's the time since September 2001 when I have read something in the news about the U.S. and said to [livejournal.com profile] morgan_dhu, "they've all gone barking mad down there." And I know many of my e-friends in the U.S., and many of the U.S.-based bloggers that I read, were having very similar responses to the parade of craziness that the establishment media and political leaders were putting on. Faludi would have written a much better book, I think, if she had gone beyond the mainstream and establishment media and looked at opinion surveys, at left-wing blogs, at all the various non-establishment voices out there, and what they had to say about 9/11 and about the establishment's campaign of myth-making.

Despite this flaw, I still found the book utterly fascinating. It's a damn good book, if you accept the limits of what it tries to do. Read more... )

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