Sleep of Terror

One of the issues I have with the otherwise excellent so far The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi is the fact that she often draws on commentary from the ‘blogosphere’ to illustrate the wider societal developments she is describing quite adequately. The sheer weight of the evidence adduced from media reports makes the thesis fairly convincing anyway. The book is a review of how the events of 9/11 served as a basis for the promotion of a return to idealised domesticated femininty in the wider culture: the shock of vulnerability led to the re-assertion as virtues -among politicians, media commentators, advertisers and their clients- of manly, rugged aggressiveness and its enabling counterpoint – demurely feminine passivity.

I was thinking, though: the more common assumption, one I often make myself, is that the rather brutish nature of what appears in comment threads -racist and sexist generalisations, demagoguery, aggression- is usually a pathological expression of some sort of transgressive urge, a need to draw attention to oneself and see what the reaction is, and therefore an exaggeration of certain tendencies in the wider culture. But what if it isn’t? That is, what if what you see is in fact a glimpse of what people ‘really’ think, once their ability to express themselves is freed from the usual societal conventions? What if most people don’t really think about much at all, beyond the interrelated matters of money, status and sex, and what appears in the form of ‘extreme’ commentary is really what happens when someone who can’t stop thinking about money, status and sex has occasion to speak about politics?

So whilst it seems wrong for Susan Faludi to use the examples of ‘blogosphere’ commentary to back up the case she is making, at the same time, it seems equally wrong to suppose that, in fact, this commentary is representative of a more extreme tendency of thought than what society in general really thinks about these matters. In the absence of evidence, it could be representative of a less extreme tendency.

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