Myths, Lies & 9/11

Susan Faludi

     ... journalist and cultural observer. Author of The Terror Dream, an analysis of the roots of and antidotes for fear and fantasy in post-9/11 America, Ms. Faludi won the Pulitzer Prize for her Wall Street Journal reporting showing the human cost of high finance. Both her Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, which won the National Book Critics circle Award for Nonfiction, and Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man were best-sellers. Other publications for which Ms. Faludi has written include The New Yorker and The Nation magazines, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

“9/11” brought reality home. There are consequences to the way the U.S. uses its military and economic might, for which we are responsible. But instead of accepting that responsibility - - and the shame for a government that failed to protect us, Susan Faludi’s careful study of post-9/11 America shows politicians and media turning instead to fears – both real and imagined – and a failed national myth of invulnerability. Foisting a Wild West that never existed on us, instead of offering a sober reality-check for advancing a viable future, has had terrible consequences.

“Right from the get-go, you notice something very strange. Here we have hijackers aiming the planes at the symbols of commercial and military power. Yet as a culture, we seemed to be reacting as if they were aimed at our home and heart. It was not as if we were reacting to the actual threat.

“What you find on the one hand is individual Americans who may be struggling with what's really going on in their own private lives in responsible and even courageous ways. Then you've got the culture as a whole which lies over us like a cement blanket, that silences those individual gropings toward truth and reality.

America seemed to fall into an odd fever dream, she recalls.

“Our politicians and pundits were re-enacting some Wild West drama, all this vigilante rhetoric, all this talk about how the war on terror was going to be a return to our days of taming the frontier and fighting the Indians.. It was all very peculiar.”

What happened? Instead of accepting responsibility and acting as adults, our politicians and the media smothered us with a worn-out and dangerous, adolescent central myth, the fiction of protective John Wayne figures and imperiled maidens.

“Basically, we reinstated the false American myth of invincibility and invulnerability. This fantasy was created over many, many years following the Puritan period. We used it to cover up the original foundational traumatic experience we had on the frontier: militias, leaders and husbands were not able to protect families. We replaced that reality with a fantasy of a thousand-and-one John Waynes and Daniel Boones.

“If you look at the days right after 9/11 in New York, you see another path we could have taken. You see individual people on the street reaching out to each other, supporting each other, not re-enacting of some kabuki drama of masculine dominance and feminine terror. Being compassionate. Having a sense of solidarity and being more human. But that went away very very quickly and was replaced by this overarching cultural narrative imposed on us by the whole media-entertainment nexus.”

Ms. Faludi concludes by quoting Kristin Brightweiser, one of the heroic “Jersey Girls” who Ms. Faludi reminds us almost single-handedly forced the Bush Administration to create the “9/11 Commission.”

“’I feel like Americans just refuse to confront the truth and that's where we must start. We have to begin to deal with the real world, even when we don't like it, even when it does not fit our mythic notions of how we should be as a people.’”


[This Program was recorded October 24, 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

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Susan Faludi has done an inestimable service in making sense of much of the madness that followed “9/11”. Actions have consequences , for which we are responsible, to be alive is to be vulnerable.

Ms. Faludi’s discerning examination of post-9/11 America is a hopeful step toward Americans accepting adult responsibilities: face reality, however distasteful; tell the truth; and join the worldwide struggle to create a life-affirming future.

Related Links:

The Terror Dream is a Metropolitan Book, published by Henry Holt and Company. Backlash, Ms. Faludi’s widely admired revelation of America’s undeclared war against its women, was originally published by Crown and reissued in a 15th anniversary edition by Three Rivers Press, part of the Crown Publishing Group; Stiffed, in which she shows how America’s men have been betrayed, was published by William Morrow.

Ms. Faludi greatfully acknowledges that RIchard Slotkin's work on American mythology informs The Terror Dream. Neal Gabler has reported at length and in depth on the role of movies in American culture.

Christopher Dickey suggests that good police work, good diplomacy and sustaining the American dream are the tools we should be using to address terrorism ... relevant myths rather than ersatz ones.

General and specific failings of America's mass media have been addressed by a number of our guests including: the late David Halberstam, Haynes Johnson, Ken Auletta, historian John Hope Franklin, cultural observer Neal Gabler, former CNN President Tom Johnson, former NBC and CNN reporter Bonnie Anderson, and biologist Riki Ott,

The consequences of telling ourselves lies have been examined by many of our guests including:  Gerry Adams, John Dean, Cornel West, Edward O. Wilson, former ambassador Peter Galbraith, environmentalist Paul Hawken, psychologist James Hillman, Arianna Huffington, Sandra Mackey, Rev. Robin Meyers, energy expert Amory Lovins, essayist and memoirist Richard Rodriguez, memoirist and biographer Alexandra Fuller, reporter Mike Tidwell, and novelists E.L. Doctorow, Stephen J. Cannell, and Daniel Silva.

Our failures to understand our history make it possible for lies to survive and thrive.  It's one of the reasons hisrorians teach and write ... examples from our Program include:  Richard Slotkin, David Cannadine, David Nasaw, Susan Jacoby, David Reynolds, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon Schama, Terry Parssinen, and Thomas Laird.

... and, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts.


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