A Book Review; The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America by Susan Faludi
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 comentators, 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.