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April 26, 2004


The Culture Of Fear

At the risk of sounding like a total nerd, I spent the weekend glued to C-SPAN 2痴 coverage of the L.A. Times Festival of Books. There were many interesting panels this year, but Manufacturing Fear: American Culture Today was a real standout.

The panel was moderated by sociologist Barry Glassner, author of the terrific book The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things. Glassner (who you may remember from Bowling for Columbine) asks why Americans fear crime and violence rather than societal problems such as poverty and ignorance that cause them. The Culture of Fear was published shortly before 9/11, and I was interested to see if Glassner痴 views had changed. As it turns out, the heightened hysteria of our media and government since then has only proven his previous ideas correct.

Other panelists included:
Michael Ignatieff, The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror
Michael Shermer, The Science of Good & Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health*

I haven稚 been able to locate a transcript of the panel to link, so I値l give a general summary. Although all these authors have written on a broad diversity of topics including medical ethics, terrorism, media, and politics, they largely came to the same conclusion. Fear, the consensus seemed to be, is based largely on misinformation. All the speakers focused a great deal on responsibility � both the scholar and journalist痴 responsibility to provide factual information, and the citizen痴 responsibility to seek it out.

Fear can be combated with reasoned thought and accurate facts. Rather than believe what you hear from the media, the government, or your mother,** seek out the objective truth yourself. Go to the original sources. Double-check facts. Our current administration has been remarkably effective at scaring the pants off everyone with their vague references to 努e� and 鍍hey� and 鍍hreats�. Before you cancel your vacation plans and buy a gun, look for the truth. As Ignatieff mentioned, your most realistic fear about getting on a plane is probably being forced to watch Mona Lisa Smile.

Ignatieff also made the excellent point that our government was created with a series of checks and balances so that no one person or branch could have absolute authority. So, why only trust one source to give us the facts we need to make an informed decision?

More people are talking openly about fear. Air America痴 Unfiltered, hosted by Chuck D. and Liz Winstead, featured a segment last week asking listeners to call in about what makes them afraid, and what they do to combat that fear. The freewheeling discussion ranged from terrorism to falling elevators, but I found it encouraging that this is becoming a topic of discussion. After all, anyone who watches scary movies knows that the best way to combat fear is to confront it.

For more fear: AMC has started showing scary movies on Friday nights, and has been working plenty of horror into the schedule. They Live is in deliciously high rotation.

For more Nerd Television: This Sunday night Brian Lamb hosts author Eric Lax on Booknotes, discussing Lax痴 book on the discovery of penicillin. The Booknotes rebroadcast on C-SPAN 2 features Michael Kinsley, formerly of The New Republic.

* Campos� book on America痴 diseased relationship with dieting deserves a post of its own, which I値l try to get to later this week. In the meantime, I refer you to this detailed review in The Guardian
** with the exception of Amy痴 Robot, which provides only completely factual and objective information.

categories: Books, Media, Politics
posted by Emily at 12:49 PM | #