American Popular Culture in the Era of Terror
Falling Skies, Dark Knights Rising, and Collapsing Cultures
by Jesse Kavadlo
September 2015, 218pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-3562-9
$53, £40, 46€, A72
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-3563-6
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

What do superheroes, monsters, vampires, the apocalypse, and the events of September 11 have in common?

Bringing together the most popular genres of the 21st century, this book argues that Americans have entered a new era of narrative dominated by the fear—and wish fulfillment—of the breakdown of authority and terror itself.

Bringing together disparate and popular genres of the 21st century, American Popular Culture in the Era of Terror: Falling Skies, Dark Knights Rising, and Collapsing Cultures argues that popular culture has been preoccupied by fantasies and narratives dominated by the anxiety —and, strangely, the wish fulfillment—that comes from the breakdowns of morality, family, law and order, and storytelling itself. From aging superheroes to young adult dystopias, heroic killers to lustrous vampires, the figures of our fiction, film, and television again and again reveal and revel in the imagery of terror. Kavadlo’s single-author, thesis-driven book makes the case that many of the novels and films about September 11, 2001, have been about much more than terrorism alone, while popular stories that may not seem related to September 11 are deeply connected to it.

The book examines New York novels written in response to September 11 along with the anti-heroes of television and the resurgence of zombies and vampires in film and fiction to draw a correlation between Kavadlo’s “Era of Terror” and the events of September 11, 2001. Geared toward college students, graduate students, and academics interested in popular culture, the book connects multiple topics to appeal to a wide audience.


  • Provides an interesting new framework in which to examine popular culture
  • Examines films, television shows, and primary texts such as novels for evidence of cultural anxiety and a preoccupation with terror
  • Offers insightful and original interpretations of primary texts
  • Suggests possible conclusions about cultural anxiety regarding breakdowns of tradition and authority
Jesse Kavadlo, PhD, is professor of English at Maryville University of St. Louis. He is the author of Don DeLillo: Balance at the Edge of Belief and coeditor of Michael Chabon's America: Magical Words, Secret Worlds, and Sacred Spaces. Kavadlo is also president of the Don DeLillo Society.


Fred E.H. Schroeder Paper Award —Popular Culture Studies Journal, October 8, 2015

Best Single Work by One or More Authors Honorable Mention —Midwest Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, October 6, 2016


"Kavadlo’s chapters are well-written and thoughtful. I have used some of these chapters in media criticism classes. . . . . This is an engaging critical analysis of American culture in the wake of terrorism and 9/11. It not only adds much to the scholarly discussion surrounding terror in our cultural narratives and cultural consciousness, but it is also a book that could add a lot to classroom discussions pertaining to the pervasiveness of American representations of terror, alternative narrative structures in television, or how culture affects popular culture narratives. His writing is accessible enough for undergraduate students while complex and thorough enough for any graduate student or advanced scholar."—The Popular Culture Studies Journal, October 10, 2016

"Writing about the 'era of terror,' Jesse Kavadlo strikes just the right note: the abortive rhyme of that phrase seems to promise the comfort of periodization yet leaves an aural residue of disquiet. His mind well-stocked, his eye attentive to significant detail and big picture alike, the author explores a satisfying range of texts—those grappling directly with the horror of 9/11, as well as those imbued with a dread traceable to that climacteric. Featuring substantial consideration of such disparate yet related material as the Lost television series and the Hunger Games and Twilight books and movies, not to mention the Dark Knight trilogy and the fictions of Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Chuck Palahniuk, Kavadlo’s study of the 9/11 legacy in our popular and literary culture is not only wide-ranging—it is informed, entertaining, insightful, learned, and highly, highly readable."—David Cowart, Louise Fry Scudder Professor of English and Humanities, University of South Carolina

"Jesse Kavadlo’s masterful study of post-9/11 terror exposes the deep fear and anguish at the heart of contemporary popular culture. With spellbinding writing and broad research, Kavadlo shows us the links between terror and the fear of a dystopian future. This is cultural criticism at its finest—reaching meaningfully into the past to chart a pathway for the future."—Bob Batchelor, Author of Gatsby: The Cultural History of the Great American Novel

Skillful and smart, this book is both an accessible and welcome addition to the literature on post-9/11 media and culture. One of the few books to seamlessly discuss trends across novels, comics, film, television, and other popular culture, Kavadlo deftly engages what it means to live in a world that has been indelibly changed, and is constantly attempting to work through those changes in ways that we don’t always expect."—Dr. Ted Gournelos, Assistant Professor of Communication, Rollins College

"An important addition to post-9/11 popular culture studies, this excellent study will be beneficial to scholars and classrooms in a range of disciplines. The insights are necessary and valuable, the examples from popular culture are interesting and wide-ranging, and the conclusions are original and illuminating. It is certain to stimulate reflection and lively discussion on the rhetoric of terror in media and literature."—Kathleen M. Turner, assistant professor, Aurora University; executive secretary, Midwest Popular Culture Association
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