Thursday, September 17, 2009
American Media: Feeding the Fear
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from 9/11, nothing quite sells like fear. The fear that this horrible tragedy generated led us into a fabricated war with Iraq, the sacrifice of our personal rights and freedoms with the Patriot Act, the isolating hatred of an otherwise peaceful religious group, and consumption; buying useless products we didn’t need, we bought our way into a false sense of security.
And how does one spread fear the fastest? Through the media, of course! With lightning quick precision and the invention of the internet and internet-access cell phones, we can receive up to the minute news stories at home, work, and even on the toilet for you potty-texters and chatters. The media has been the best device any politician or corporation with an agenda could possibly ask for.
It’s obvious what agendas corporations push: making money, selling products, achieving some self-serving means. And, nothing sells quite like fear. When the world was on the brink of Y2K, people flew into an all-encompassing panic, rushing to the local stores, buying in gross, preparing for Armageddon. After 9/11, the sales of guns, security systems, even pepper spray increased significantly, and products like biohazard suits, gas masks, gloves and boots were flying off the shelves. Even today, we have been frightened and guilted into consumption for a “greener” world. Horrific images of global warming have been burned into our retinas: melting ice caps, surging oceans, dead polar bears, a future of fire and brimstone. These images have pushed Americans into an entirely new expensive market of hybrid cars, biodegradable products, organic clothing, and efficient (albeit poisonous) lighting.
Never mind the fact that technical companies had the Y2K bug under control, or that we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on security products and anti-terrorism gadgets to defend ourselves against terrorists with simple box cutters. Never mind the fact that, despite popular beliefs, only roughly 50% of scientists believe there’s a link between pollution and global warming (all the planets in the solar system are increasing in temperature, and I didn’t see ET up there with a Hummer). Don’t get me wrong, pollution is a serious matter, but is it fair to sell these outrageously priced products on environmental hysteria? Remember, if there’s something to be scared of, there’s money to be made.
Likewise, political groups have their agendas, and nothing could illustrate this better than the last eight years of Bush’s administration. With Americans still aching, devastated and angry over the 9/11 attacks, we were vulnerable and emotional. Rational thinking had flown out the window and Bush took full advantage. Throughout the day of 9/11, the news media aired repeated showings of middle easterners and Muslims celebrating the attacks on the World Trade Centers: dancing in the streets, throwing candies to children, firing guns in celebration. But it was only one video, of one town. This was not the world-wide reaction Muslims had to our tragedy. Unfortunately we never saw the Muslims who held memorials, lit candles, and cried for the victims of our country. Of course we wouldn’t. When America is about to go to war with religious extremists, we certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone from that religion showing compassion or kindness, or any signs of peace.
Supported by the building hatred toward Muslims, false reports of terrorists and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq riled Americans enough to fully support a full-scale attack on the harmless country, a country Bush had truly planned to invade before he took office. When support of the war began to wane, scare tactics such as new threats of attack, new weaponry, and a lovely color-coded chart were introduced. Playing the American people like a fiddle, once we started to settle down and feel a bit safer in our homes and country, the color code rose to yellow or orange, though intelligence never supported the claims of risk. An official who worked for the Homeland Security Department recently admitted he was pressured to raise the color code when no risks were being reported. Fear of terrorists equaled support for the war. Focus on the war allowed Bush to work on gaining control of oil and natural gas lines without much notice.
Sensationalism, misinformation, and complete fabrications have overtaken our media sources, from television, newspapers, and computer screens, it’s hard to find a report that hasn’t been exaggerated or made up. The problem with this is the obvious abuse of power and trust the media is exercising. With limited sources of information and most if not all controlled by some force (conservatism, liberalism, corporate America), the American people have no choice in what they’re shown, and most media outlets have little choice in what they show. Under the Bush administration, the freedom of the press gave way to government restrictions on war coverage, with news sources falsely reporting successes and a nationwide ban on images of dead soldiers returning home. Likewise, the American people have placed an immeasurable amount of trust in news outlets, expecting the cold hard truth, nothing more, nothing less. Many blindly take information presented to them as pure fact, and why shouldn’t they? It’s the news, not reality television! Their job is to present information, not provide entertainment! It’s not about ratings…right?
While we would like to think news shows are independently run and just there as a source of information, these shows run on ratings and compete with one another. Studies have shown that the more dramatic stories seem, the more people watch. And let’s be real here, we like drama. We like excitement; we’re more likely to watch a story on a shoot-out than a local church fundraiser. Unfortunately, the more drama we like to see, the more fearful we become. Even though we want to see that shoot-out, we suddenly have the image of lurking evil embedded in our minds. Because we’re too bored to see that church fundraiser story, we’re more likely to forget there are still a lot of good people helping one another in this world.
Why can’t the media act more responsibly toward the public that relies on them so much for truth? Like any other business they are slaves to money, ratings, and the need to survive as a corporation. Since we can’t rely on the news and can’t expect an independent news source with a conscience to surface any time soon, it is our responsibility to receive the news responsibly. It is our job to question: What are they trying to make me afraid of? Why? And who will gain what if I allow myself to be manipulated with fear?
Recognizing that sensationalism and lies are an automatic part of the media and being more objective with the stories they present, we will be able to regain control of our perceptions of this world and our own existence within it. Feelings of fear and insecurity will not completely disappear, but why should we let politicians and corporations decide for us when to be afraid?