Melodramatic Po liti cal Discourse
One story line about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Penta-
gon on September 11, 2001, became particularly infl uential in American po-
liti cal discourse. It went something like this: On a clear and cloudless Tues-
day at the dawn of the new millennium, the United States lost its innocence
in a horrifying attack. Moms and dads, friends and neighbors, black Amer-
icans and white Americans began the day going about their usual business:
making breakfast, kissing loved ones good- bye, heading to work. Unbe-
knownst to them a small group of evil men, bent on destroying freedom,
were initiating a terrible plan. Th ey hijacked commercial airplanes and fl ew
them into two of the most prominent symbols of American freedom and
power, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Th ousands of people
died and lost loved ones. Th e entire nation was overwhelmed by the vio-
lence, and all Americans suff ered in some way as its victims. Th e spectacle
of destruction certifi ed the irrationality and evil of the attackers at the same
time that it confi rmed the nation’s virtue. Aft er the attacks, Americans
joined together with a clear moral imperative to eradicate terrorism from
the world order and to fi ght for the nation’s, indeed all of civilization’s, im-
periled freedom. Americans were compelled to launch a war on terror.
While citizens were enjoined to go about the ordinary business of their
daily lives, state agencies in partnership with contracted multinational cor-
porations were tasked with mobilizing military interventions in key na-
tions, expanding institutions of national security, and detaining individuals
introduction
MELODRAMA AND THE POLITICS OF FREEDOM
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