Don’t be afraid

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

It’s a little weird to offer a movie commentary, particularly a year after the movie came out, but I recently saw Bowling for Columbine, and it’s got me thinking about some things in new ways. When it came out, I thought that the movie was a polemic for gun control. It may have been that, but its central theme was more along the lines of “our country runs on fear.”

Michael Moore illustrated how the news media sell us fear—we are a thousand times more likely to see a violent crime on television than we are to experience one in our own lives—but the idea goes deeper than that. Next time you are watching TV, watch the content with an eye toward analyzing the fear factor. For example, next time you see a commercial from a pharmaceutical company, examine whether the ad is selling you the benefit of a drug or emphasizing something else. I’m sure you’ve heard the child’s voice, “Daddy, I want you to dance at my wedding” or the sober announcer’s voice, “Acid reflux can cause throat cancer.” There is no drug that cures fear of death.

You see the terror quotient in just about any message. In election ads, the opposition politician is often demonized, made to appear physically monstrous, because it’s not enough to emphasize the points of rhetorical disagreement, you have to be made afraid of the individual. Recently, when the Bush Administration wanted to go to war with Iraq, it made claims of clear and present danger, which were false.

When fear is used, like sex, to get beneath a person’s thought process, people are left with two decisions: fight or flight. In our society, fighting is frowned upon, and there is nowhere to run. The frustration creates a paranoid society.

I think the only way to counteract this fear is to be aware of it. There are things to be afraid of in our society—people who want to take away your civil liberties to make you easier to control for one—but when we act with forethought rather than reactive action, we have a lot less to be worried about.