ABSTRACT

If you read your glossy magazines after the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in April ’95, you will remember seeing on the cover of Time a photo of the alleged perpetrator-blond-haired, blue-eyed white guy Timothy McVeigh. You would have also noticed the caption emblazoned in the lower left-hand corner of the photo, which read in block letters: “THE FACE OF TERROR.” Inside the magazine, you would have read how “a sense of guilty introspection swept the country when the FBI released the sketches of the suspects, distinctly Caucasian John Does one and two.”1 The “terror” at issue in Time and on its cover is twofold, I think: most obviously, there is the “terror” of the bombing itself. People died. The news displayed the carnage in sometimes graphic detail. Other people felt terri­ fied. But there is a secondary terror at work here as well, a terror that draws a bead on whiteness itself and its apparent coconspirator, masculinity, in a more revealing way. WASP masculinity is here tagged by the magazine with a “distinction” the news typically locates elsewhere. For an “introspective” white majority (conceived as the “nation” ), Time places an assumedly benign and banal-looking white male face into terrifying proximity with everything WASPishness is purportedly not: noticeable, peculiar, divisive. In marking McVeigh’s indifferent white face with its newly discovered

“terror,” a “nation” of readers experienced, I suspect, a kind of chiasmatic reflective gaze, looking both at themselves and at somebody different.