NBCC Awards Finalists in Criticism: Susan Faludi’s “The Terror Dream”


This is the twenty-second in a series of blog posts by NBCC board members covering the finalists for the NBCC awards. The awards will be announced on March 6, 2008, at the New School.

Susan Faludi, “The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America,” Metropolitan.

So many words about American reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have appeared that by mid-2007 it might have seemed futile to expect anything else simultaneously original and intelligent.  Then along came Susan Faludi, with her book “The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America.”

Readers familiar with Faludi’s decades of newspaper and magazine journalism already knew that she is a persistent, talented information-gatherer.  Those familiar with her previous books—“Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Male” and “Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women”—already knew that she employs her impressive information-gathering skills in unusual ways when compared to most other social commentators.  She gathers her facts, then forms her opinions through the lens of gender equality and inequality.

In “The Terror Dream,” Faludi opens with a couple of quotations that took me by surprise.  One, from “The Searchers” by Alan Le May, is compelling but longer than I care to quote in this word-limited write-up.  The other is from “Regeneration Through Violence” by Richard Slotkin:  “A people unaware of its myths is likely to continue living by them, though the world around that people may change and demand changes in their psychology, their world view, their ethics, and their institutions.”

The myth central to Faludi’s book is that of girls and women “as vulnerable maidens.”  On page after page, Faludi demonstrates how the outwardly macho but inwardly cowardly men (think George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as prototypes) directing the U.S. government’s post-9/11 war on terrorism have used the national emergency to suppress females whenever and wherever possible.  She also does her best to explain why the masses—including way too many females—have capitulated to that macho culture.

If that summary sounds like Faludi is a strident feminist using 9/11 herself to disseminate a self-serving, ugly theory, all I can say is read the book.  Her evidence is undeniable.  Furthermore, her ultimate goal is not about ratcheting up strident feminism.  Rather, it is to improve American society for everybody, to achieve “a national identity grounded not on virile illusion but on the talents and vitality of all of us equally, men and women both.”—Steve Weinberg, NBCC board member and author of the forthcoming “Taking on the Trust.”

Review in the Los Angeles Times.

Conversation in The Nation online.

Excerpt in The Guardian.