Sunday, October 14, 2007

1 Book, 10 Minutes -- Faludi's The Terror Dream

Jim: We're going to try a book discussion again. Participating are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Dona, Jess, Ty, Ava and, me, Jim, Rebecca of Sex and Politics and Screeds and Attitude, Betty of Thomas Friedman Is a Great Man, C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Cedric of Cedric's Big Mix, Mike of Mikey Likes It!, Elaine of Like Maria Said Paz, and Wally of The Daily Jot. We're discussing Susan Faludi's new book, The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasies in Post 9/11 America. Mike?


Mike: Susan Faludi is a Pulitzer award winning journalist. This is her third book, previously she published Stiffed and the best seller Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. It's 296 pages of text, no illustrations other than the cover. It retails for $26.00 in the US. Faludi examines what has taken place in the United States in the last years and the meaning of it all. She ends her introduction noting, "In the end, this is not a book about what September 11 did to anyone. It is a book about what September 11 revealed about all of us and, to that degree, about the opportunities that this great tragedy provided to look at ourselves anew."

Betty: The first thing I'll note is the humor. The humor was sorely missing in Stiffed but it really added to the enjoyment of Backlash. She's addressing serious topics here but there are moments where you will laugh.

Dona: The other big difference is the page length. Both Backlash and Stiffed were huge.

C.I.: Backlash is 460 pages of text, Stiffed was 608 pages and, as Mike noted, The Terror Dream is 296 pages.

Jess: So we're talking a big difference there right away. But, and I think Kat might address that topic, before we go further, Betty's correct, Backlash was a joy to read. Stiffed left me cold more often than not. Do we want to discuss any of that?

Rebecca: Well it was a second book and so there's the natural sophomore slump and the pressure to turn out another groundbreaking book like Backlash. But the humor really isn't there, it pops up in places, in Stiffed. I think it suffers from that.

Elaine: And you have to wonder whether that was intentional? The other two really do depend upon the humor to tell the story. These are big issues and it's a huge scope. The humor is both entertaining and a tool to keep you tuned into the narrative. So I wonder whether the scope of Stiffed, men's issues, made Faludi feel less free to use humor?

Ava: I would call Stiffed a failure, a noble one, but a failure none the less. I'm not referring to the sales, I'm referring to telling the stories it set out to. Promise Keepers, to cite one example, is actively hostile to women and you don't get that from Faludi's coverage, you don't get how hypocritical the group is or how hateful they are. The book suffered from a very delicate approach to the issues so I think it's fair to wonder whether humor is absent due to concern about potentially hurt feelings on the part of men?

C.I.: I think that's a good point and Stiffed does need to be addressed because, whatever you term it, a lot of people put time into that book and may feel they don't need to bother with The Terror Dream. To provide another example, besides the one Ava noted, a magazine, a men's magazine, is discussed but not addressed in Stiffed. Here's the back story Stiffed doesn't explain. A shake up is noted, but why the shake up at the magazine? Two cover stories. One on a musician, one on an actor. In the case of the actor, the feature writer notes the actions of the musician and the actor. These are not the actions of two straight men. This is not tattling on the part of the feature writer. The actions took place in full view of many others and cannot be said to have been private. The writer did not make a judgement call that the two were lovers. The writer merely noted the behavior. When the actor's cover story ran, you had a huge group of people outside the magazine screaming for blood including a large record corporation. The fact that those making money off an ambi-sexual musician and a flavor of the month actor were able to bring down the magazine's leadership, which they did, goes to the sexual panic that is a theme of Stiffed. That it's not covered is an issue because we're speaking of an investigative reporter and that story is well known in publishing circles -- and leadership did not leave the magazine quietly. If you're attempting to find out why a men's magazine that was popular with readers and sported a fluid portrayal of sexuality suddenly becomes restrictive, you're grasping at air unless you're addressing what happened, what caused the huge change, and why. There are many themes that are successful in Stiffed but there are many where the punches were pulled. Ava's given one example and that's another. It's important to note because while Stiffed was successful, it wasn't the huge success Backlash was. Few things ever will be. But the disappointment some feel over Stiffed may prevent them from picking up The Terror Dream so it needs to be stressed that this is nothing like Stiffed.

Jess: I'd agree with that. I read Stiffed first. I was probably in first grade when Backlash came out. So when I was hearing about Faludi, largely from Dona, C.I. and Ava, I decided to start with Stiffed. It was a rough read and I almost didn't read Backlash as a result. I mentioned my problems with it to Dona and she begged me to just read two pages of Backlash. I read the two and continued through the book. Like Backlash, The Terror Dream is a pleasure to read.

Jim: Wally noted ahead of time he wanted to talk about chapter one.

Wally: Right. That's "We're At War Sweetheart." I was actually talking to Ruth about that chapter and she said the point I was planning to make was one Philip Maldari also made last Wednesday on KPFA's The Morning Show when he interviewed Faludi. It's that, reading it, you really pick up on the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in terms of the press. I'm not sure how much that registered at the time for me and how much I had forgotten. It's over six years ago and what was I, in junior high, starting high school? But this is a really important chapter. In fact, if someone was to pull a chapter as a stand alone to include as an essay, this would probably be the one to go with. I was just starting the book when Rebecca's post about Sherry's e-mail went up and I really agree with the points Sherry was making.

Jim: Which was? I read Rebecca's post and we'd hoped to a piece on that but probably won't have time so just explain Sherry's point.

Wally: Basically that the book really makes you appreciate what Ava and C.I. have been doing here with their TV commentaries. Not a great deal's changed, I'd argue, in terms of the media -- news or programming -- since 9-11 and reading chapter one and Rebecca's post made me really grasp why people have responded to Ava and C.I.'s work. They really have been doing something that's not been everywhere. There was a major shift, media and White House led, and the country's still not recovered from it.

Dona: For those participating by phone or reading this rush transcript, I'll note that Ava and C.I. are wanting the discussion to move on -- it's physically obvious -- so I'll just note that Sherry also e-mailed this site and wanted to suggest readers especially refer to "TV: Aftermath leaves an aftertaste."

Ava: While everyone's kind words are appreciated, let's get back to the book. Kat actually had a problem so let's go to that.

Kat: Right. The humor's there. It's a brilliant book. I do regret that it's not at least 400 pages. I think some things need further exploration. I'm not saying Faludi doesn't make her points because I think she does and I think she backs them up. I just feel there is a great deal more to say. Not out of "in fairness" but in terms of pursuing topics further. Backlash was a kick-ass book and it wasn't afraid to provide names. I don't know that The Terror Dream is, I think it just doesn't have enough pages.

Cedric: Such as the reduction of women at The Nation. That's an important point and in Backlash it would have been explored further. It's a sentence or two in this book. It's not a minor thing and more pages might have allowed it to be further developed. That's not a minor point. I get books from C.I. all the time. I'll call and ask, "What's the story with" whatever and C.I. will explain on the phone and then, a few days later, a book shipment arrives. I love to read so I always enjoy the books but the two that really surprised me, surprised me by how much I loved them, were Backlash and Gloria Steinem's Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. I would place both on my all time favorites list -- that's a list of non-fiction and fiction books, they'd make it because they are so brilliant and so brave. So that's my only negative on the book -- that The Terror Dream doesn't have more pages because as much as is explored, a great deal is just touched on. I also agree with Wally's comments about chapter one but would add that my favorite chapter was the fifth one, "Nesting Nation."

Betty: That struck me as the take no prisoners chapter and it was also my favorite. And I just want to toss something out for people, whether they read the book or not, to think about: Why is Oprah so obsessed with repeatedly covering these supposed marriage crisis? Why does Oprah, an unmarried woman with no children, repeatedly go to the well on backlash topics?

Ty: Maybe because her audience is primarily White woman who do not work outside the home?

Betty: Exactly.

Ty: And I think that's a point that comes through in the book, how there's not much we can look at in the media with pride. Whether it's Oprah or an outlet that's not supposedly geared primarily for women, pretty much every outlet has engaged in the nonsense. And the nonsense, just to be clear, is that we all need to worship the White male. The straight White male.

Kat: I'd agree with that. That was what happened after 9-11. And some authors of new book should be forced to read this book before they scribble another word -- especially if they are women -- about 'the brotherhood'. This comes through in the first chapter as well and is what Wally's talking about, the worship of the White straight male and the need to reduce others in order to set them up as heroes.

Elaine: And that's true in the news narratives of 9-11, of the attacks and the responses themselves. Women who acted on the flights are not celebrated by the news, women who acted in the aftermath are not celebrated. The only bravery the press wanted to see was White straight male. We need to keep "straight" in there because one thing that more pages would have allowed for was for Faludi to address the build up and then disappearance of Mark Bingham. I remember calling C.I. that evening, 9-11, and asking, "What's the deal with Bingham?" We'd heard about him all day and a slide was beginning. C.I. explained he was gay. He would quickly be reduced in the narrative -- except when outright erased from the narrative. I called an ex-boyfriend either the next day or the day after that to complain -- he's a news producer at a network -- and was basically told America doesn't need to be divided by gay and straight at this time. But they, the news outlets, were doing just that. They were dividing up men and women, as Faludi documents so well in the book, by whom they elected to emphasize and they were also dividing up other aspects because when you reduce one of the 'heroes' you've created due to his sexuality, then you are the one making the divisions.

Ty: And Elaine's making such a wonderful point that goes to the book. And it goes to how much work went into creating this myth of the return of John Wayne. You had to strip away reality to do that. And Faludi has some very astute criticism of the coverage of some the media turned into heroes.

Mike: Right. Women had to be stripped of their credit, Bingham had to be stripped of his. We were supposed to all rally together but we weren't all represented. What was represented was a White, straight, man and we were supposed to rally around that. In her later sections, talking about the rise of the captivity narratives, Faludi will explain how this myth has been used repeatedly.

Kat: Which goes back to a point Elaine's made repeatedly about the sixties and how much time was wasted reassuring male 'leaders' of how great they were to get them ready to go onstage and deliver a speech or whatever. And watching some of them today go to 'brotherhood' nonsense and reduce women -- such as claiming that the draft is the reason everyone protested Vietnam because 'we' all had to go through an invasive physical -- makes you question whether the work that went into propping up their egos was worth it in the short term or the long term?

Dona: Rebecca had a great response to that which I want to note. She's referring to women with "we" at the beginning: "but we did make up easily half of the peace movement, women did. and this nonsense that a draft was what caused campus action because 'students' were afraid of being drafted or because 'students' had to go through an invasive medical visit (the military's physical) is crap. that's not reality. and don't talk to me about an invasive medical visit if you haven't ever had to pull up your legs and use those damn stirrups."

Mike: And that's what the nonsense Faludi's addressing deals with. "We" becomes male in the portrayals. We are supposed to rally around a non-universal "we" which isn't even accurate because a lot of people get erased to create the mythical "we."

Jess: And get created. Faludi's also addressing how to create the heroes they had to create the audience and supposedly -- though no facts ever bore this out -- women were responding to 9-11 with marriage and motherhood. Betty had her youngest child before 9-11.

Betty: Yes, I did. And 9-11 didn't make me say, "Oh, Lordy, let me get pregnant again!" I'm in Georgia, far from New York City or the Pentagon. But my reaction wasn't one of helpless or fear. My reaction, and this is a common reaction in the Black community, was one of "I'm surprised it took this long." Meaning that after all the little wars and attacks the US government has launched, I was just surprised that it took this long for the rage to be unleashed and directed back at the US on our own soil. Now my oldest, my son, I have two sons and my daughter is the baby, came back from school and day care noting that some of the White kids were in an uproar. I asked him how he felt -- the other two were too young to know about it -- and his attitude was along the lines of my own. Again, for Black people, this wasn't an uncommon reaction. I would say that results from the fact that, sorry Barack Obama, there are two Americas and there are three and four and five and . . . The point is, for Black people, we've experienced brutality historically in this country. Brutality aimed as us isn't a surprise. The panic that's being documented in The Terror Dream, I don't know if most will pick up on this, is basically White people and White outlets. That's not a criticism because Faludi's talking about the myths and lies the mainstream sold and the mainstream is predominately White. White and Oprah who speaks to White people. But the reaction in my community was different as it was in many communities of color and in many White communities that the mainstream elected to ignore. Rebecca's the only one of us who's become a parent since 9-11. I guess if you string out six years as "aftermath," someone could point to her.

Rebecca: Exactly. 9-11 happened and my response was to get pregnant. I was doing my part. I'm joking by the way. I've actually been pregnant multiple times since 9-11 but I only was able to carry one to term and gave birth this spring. Despite the fact that I have regularly tried to get pregnant, in my marriages and out, my response on 9-11 or in the days after wasn't, "Oh, let me get pregnant!" My personal experience in public relations made me see that time after being used by various corporations and business to hop onto 9-11 and attempt to use it as a marketing ploy. That's really disgusting and it's surprising that it wasn't called out for such in real time.

Cedric: Well, and Rebecca and I have talked about this and Wally and I have talked about this, I think it goes to the press seeing themselves not as an independent body but as part of the establishment and seeing their role as not informing but managing the population. I think that point comes through in the examples that Faludi is providing and, certainly, The New York Times hops on any train to call for women to stop working. It appears to be an ingrained obsession with them at this point.

Wally: And what we were being managed into was fear. That's the point of The Terror Dream and it's really a shock to read some of it and think back to those times. Bully Boy was preaching fear, no question. But the press elected to hop onto the "Buy duct tape to seal your windows!" and other nonsense. That seems so long ago now but it really wasn't all that long ago.

Ava: The hysteria went hand in hand with the worship of the male and the 'brotherhood' and all the other nonsense. We were encouraged to live in fear and to look outside of ourselves -- I think this was true for a lot of White straight males as well -- for strength. The reality is that on 9-12, people got up and went on living. Some were mourning very personal losses, some were mourning a national loss, but everyone summoned their strength. They didn't need a coach or John Wayne on the horizon to do that. I think that, more than anything else, laid the foundation that revealed the lies being told of feminism is to blame or women need to stay at home or any of the other nonsense because we saw with our own eyes that life went on.

Jim: And if there's another terror attack?

Ava: It's very likely there will be. That was part of our point, C.I. and my point, in the TV commentary Dona was talking about earlier. Don't look for a hero, be your own. Don't stand on the sidelines or be pushed to the sidelines. One thing that has changed is that if it happens while Bully Boy occupies the White House, he will be called out this time. There will be no rallying around him. He's had six years and any attack reflects on him. Reflects on the press created John Wayne myth of the Bully Boy. He'll be called out -- even if the press refuses to do so -- and it will be a lot harder for the press to set a 'strong man'.

Jim: We're winding down now. Dona and I found something we wanted to read and get a response to. "Backlash by Susan Faludi. Stiffed was not a bad book, it was a very good book, but Backlash was one of those books that shocks because it's so brilliant. If I had the time, I'd be re-reading it right now. It's ground breaking, it's funny, it's (sadly) still pertinent today. If you haven't read it but are thinking about picking it up, don't let the size of the book intimidate you. You can pick a chapter at random and start reading."

C.I.: Either Ava and I wrote that or I wrote it. I recognize the rhythm.

Jim: It's you. You were filling in for Kat at her site when she had to go Ireland. Community member Shirley had suggested you write about books and you were writing about important books that were published before Bully Boy began occupying the White House. Jess stressed Stiffed because he had a really luke warm reaction to that book. You and Ava had noted, I think when you called us from the road Tuesday, that you'd probably draw a clear line between The Terror Dream and Stiffed and Dona and I thought it would be good to explain why.

C.I.: Well I liked Stiffed. I wrote the above during CODEPINK's Troops Home Now Fast.

Jim: Are you saying you'd word it differently today?

C.I.: No, just trying to (a) work in a link for CODEPINK and (b) note that action. Ava, Kat and I were on the road last week and this week, speaking about Iraq to college students, high school students, women's groups and a few labor groups. From time to time one person would bring up The Terror Dream, someone reading it and enjoying it as will most who pick up the book. But the reaction, especially among women's groups, was one of, "I put time in on Stiffed." There was a sense that they weren't up for another book like that. I happen to like Stiffed. It's flawed. And Ava and I had noted two flaws. But there was a woman who reacted strongly to it being brought up the Tuesday we called, her reaction was that after Stiffed she really wasn't planning on ever reading Faludi again. So I asked her what would get her interested enough to pick up The Terror Dream and she replied, "Someone swearing to me that it wasn't anything like Stiffed." It's not like that book at all. And that reaction popped up repeatedly. So Ava and I had decided that was a point that we needed to hit and hit early in the book discussion. Stiffed was a bestselling book. There are people who love it. But there are also people who were very disappointed in it. If you're trying to figure out whether to read the book or not and worried about which other book by Faludi The Terror Dream is more like, the book it's more like is Backlash. It's got the humor, the strong observations. At it's weakest, and that's what Ava and I were both emphasizing in our examples, Stiffed didn't penetrate, it described and sometimes described from a great distance. Backlash had an immediacy because it was up close. That immedicay is to be found in The Terror Dream.

Jim: We all recommend the book highly. Even Dona. Do you want to talk about that?

Dona: I'll just note that one of the quoted is someone I know and it's interesting how, in the book, she's the voice for women when many women my age know a different angle on her. I would describe that woman as a chicken and a liar and note that when she spoke to a group of us at my old college campus in NYC, she got confronted over her sexism and attempted to deny it but said she'd think further about it. She encouraged us to ask her about it 'later' and gave out her e-mail address. Ten other female students and I did just that in 2005, approximately three months later, and she still had nothing to say because she needed "more time." I think she's a pig but even with that aspect of her not being presented, I still loved Faludi's book, though I did skim the pages where the pig appeared. The pig, by the way, will know who she is, she regularly reads this site and a few months back wrote to ask, "Are you the same Dona?" I wrote back, "I need more time to think about that answer." Whether she got the joke or not, that's the only reply she'll get. So even with that woman appearing in the book, I still recommend it strongly.

Jim: Dona really hates that woman so if she's still recommending Faludi's book, despite that woman popping up in it, it's a book you need to read. Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream : Fear and Fantasy in Post 9/11 America is available in bookstores and at your local libraries. Pick it up.

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