Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph. Later that year, an Indonesia AirAsia flight crashed into the ocean, killing all on board. Less than a year later, people were murdered when a pilot intentionally crashed a Germanwings jet into the French Alps. But truth be told, the risk of flight is actually quite small. The risk of being involved in a crash that results in deaths is just 1 in 3.
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Shelves: cyberculture , crime , politics , gender , american-history This review is about fear. Specifically, about stupid fears. Those are not realistic concerns about ill health, economic stress, or living in a war zone. It was good fodder for my ongoing critique of tv news.
Education needs to step up to help mitigate these stupid fears. Glassner wrote his book in the s, so the first edition is very much an artifact of the time, with the pre-dot-bomb web being new-ish and exciting and the Clintons-Gingrich push for mass incarceration. Some of the fears he addresses are outdated now, like pre panics over air safety. Otherwise, Culture of Fear feels very current.
These are stories told in defiance of statistics, bits of horror pried loose from a less horrific context to win eyeballs and to sell ads. Glassner offers a battery of reasons why we should be concerned about such fake fears.
For one, some can lead to very real harm, as when fake medical panics, like the very stupid anti-vax movement, lead to real world sickness For another, they serve as distractions from closely related issues, as when we learn more about people going postal and less about workplace safety Similarly, Glassner sees the protracted debates over a so-far unproven Gulf War Syndrome as drawing attention from criticizing the conduct of the first Gulf War itself Such fears can fruitlessly draw down political energies, as when government and corporate time was spend exploring hypothetical air safety issues when they could have gone to mitigating the far, far more dangerous, and very real, death, injury, and damage causes by car crashes They can also lead to bad policy, as when the hilariously stupid TIME magazine cyberporn panic helped drive the equally stupid Communications Decency Act The cumulative effects of being immersed in stupid fears can help convince us we live in a world more terrifying than it really is, what some researchers have called mean world syndrome This can lead to deranged politics, as when Trump builds a presidency on largely fantastical fears of immigrants committing crimes.
Mean world can also feed on itself; some people may become so scared they spend more time at home watching tv news, which then terrorizes them even more The storytelling aspect interests me. Culture of Fear argues that media and political fear-mongering teaches consumers and voters to see problems in terms of stories about heroic individuals, rather than about social or political factors. The contexts get set aside, replaced with more relatable tales of villainous criminals and virtuous victims, which Glassner calls "neurologizing social problems" There is also a curious, quietly conservative politics of the family involved.
Such fears emphasize stranger danger , which is actually statistically very rare. Instead, they minimize the far more likely source of harm most American face: our family members On top of those problems, many of these mongered fears can further anti-black racism. Throughout Culture of Fear the author reminds us how many of these narratives turn on scary black men threatening good white people, usually women.
Chapter 5 is all about how media and politicians create black men as figures of terror. Glassner adds some interesting points about why these particular fears are so popular. One is the way fake fears reveal cultural anxieties, much as horror stories do Another is the idea that, for journalism, media leaders can shape content based on their own worldview, or: "news is what happens to your editors. Hence, for example, the appeal of stories about air travel, since those demographics are more likely to fly.
Hence the focus on suburban terror, since these populations are more likely to live there. It sees s-era stories of pedophile priests as overblown, which misses the way clerical sex abuse actually became a very established and significant fact 35ff.
He takes care throughout the book to note when journalists actually reverse course and either share information about realistic fears, or instead critique stupid fear-mongering from politicians and other media outlets xxx, for example. I find all too few examples of this laudable style. Glassner went on to issue a second edition in , which showed these fake fears persisting and getting worse. Since several new dreads appeared, including fears of mold and environmental illnesses Is the culture of fear likely to continue?
I fear see what I did there that it will, at least in the United States. Our politics clearly adore fear, notably from the Trump administration and its emphasis on immigrant-driven carnage.
Our news media continue to worship at the altar of "if it bleeds, it leads. Right away I found a splendidly shrieking example right on their front page: Please note that that screen capture is of the entire first screen, from side to side, eating up every pixel of that extremely valuable real estate. Of all the stories CNN could purvey, from climate change to AI, they choose another outlier, a Gothic tale that has little to do with lived reality.
Impressed by this, I scrolled down the CNN main page, thinking that "below the fold" might appear actual news. Instead, the second screen carried on with the parent-killing first: Suspects, media, even ghosts. Remember that CNN is the opposite of a fringe news service. It is, putatively, the sober center. And it simply adores scaring the hell out of us. Other trends will intersect with and amplify it. Personalization, for example, should help target our fears more precisely, aided by AI.
What does the likelihood of even more stupid fear-mongering mean for education? It simply means, as I said years ago , we have to teach people to resist this stuff. In our quest to teach digital literacy we should encourage students - of all ages - to avoid tv news, or to sample it judiciously, with great skepticism. We should assist them in recognizing when politicians fire up fear campaigns based on poor facts.
Many educators already do some form of this. Social media and mobile devices are far sexier than tv news. The renaissance in tv storytelling has cast the entire television enterprise in a better light, I think. And Americans do have this habit of romanticizing old technology in the face of the new. It takes some effort to remember to subject it to scrutiny. And when it comes to politics, well, politicians peddle terror because it often works. If Glassner is right about the negative impacts of such fear - the misdirection of resources, the creation of bad policy, the encouragement of mean world syndrome, the furtherance of racism - the promulgation of real damage - then educators need to take steps to instill a critical stance among students that dismantles the structures of stupid fears.
The Culture of Fear
BY Meg Sullivan June 7, In his research, Barry Glassner found that no amount of debunking can wipeout a fear — no matter how unrealistic — as long as someone can find a way to profit from it. One danger of fearing the wrong things, says Glassner, is that legitimate concerns get trivialized. Photo by Irene Fertik Schoolyard shootouts. Pedophiles in cyberspace.
A Sociologist Explores the ‘Culture of Fear’