Rich, incisive analysis of the surreality of American life in the wake of 9/11.
In a clear-eyed recounting of our culture’s reaction to the terrorist attacks, Faludi (Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, 1999, etc.) finds that we have been living in a dream that offers solace for a national tragedy we cannot comprehend. We need stories to live, she notes. Lacking a story for 9/11, we made up a compensatory narrative filled with heroes and John Wayne–like leaders who went to war to maintain a national aura of invincibility. In fact, there were no heroes on 9/11, she says flat out. Exhaustively examining events and their coverage in media from talk shows to comic books, the author shows how the tragedy sparked a “national frenzy to apotheosize” that turned firefighters into supersoldiers (although they were helpless at the Twin Towers) and cast 9/11 widows as venerated keepers of the hearth—unless they criticized the government or spent newfound money in unseemly ways. “What mattered was restoring the illusion of a mythic America where women needed men’s protection and men succeeded in providing it,” Faludi writes, adding that the same process informed the story of Pvt. Jessica Lynch’s rescue in Iraq. In the last third of the text, she links the cultural response to 9/11 with a centuries-old national propensity for protection fantasies. From the days when settlers faced Indian attacks, we have favored “captivity narratives” in which men rescued captive women and children, providing a sense of security. Readers with misgivings about post-9/11 America will appreciate Faludi’s fantasy busting; right-wing radio hosts will denounce her as a traitorous feminist. But all will find painful her tearing away of the comforting stories we have told ourselves instead of “learning to live with insecurity.”
Brilliant, illuminating and essential.