Culture of fear

a presentation I did last year:

Hail to the Thief” is the name of Radiohead’s latest album. It is not a perfect pop record. It is not something you play at most parties. But it is a record that perfectly reflects the state of the world as it is today.

Songwriter Thom Yorke, says the thief in the name refers to:

“forces that aren’t necessarily human, forces that are creating this climate of fear. … certain people are able to inflict incredible pain on others… They’re taking people’s souls from them before they’re even dead. I was just overcome with all this fear and darkness. And that fear is the ‘thief.’”

Fear is the new F word of our generation. Fuck is no longer cool. Fear, however, is a present phenomenon. Through the media, the culture of fear has become a predominant framework in which we look at issues today. This fear machine tells us that all is not well. Danger is everywhere and that visible and invisible forces are ever waiting, to devour and to destroy. The culture of fear tells us to trust and empower our Government fully if we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The culture of fear tells us to open our wallets to the fear merchants of Corporations or life will be miserable. The culture of fear demands that we use the mass media solely to navigate a world that is increasingly dangerous and out of control.

It’s true that after September 11, the world does look a lot bleaker and grimmer. Turn on the news and you have enough fears to last a lifetime. Wars. Terrorism. Unemployment. Wage cuts. Epidemics. Cancer. Senseless crimes. These are serious concerns. The question we need to ask is that: has the news media been reporting the news fairly, completely and without bias? We believe that a culture of fear exists in the media. We believe that the news media uses sensationalism, selective reporting, omission of facts, disproportionate coverage, media silence to generate problems and make things look worse than they seem. The public, in fear and trembling, will then turn to the governments, the corporations, and the media themselves for solutions. But salvation comes at a price. It will cost you your freedom, your integrity and the ability to do the right thing.

I first came across the culture of fear in a documentary called “Bowling for Columbine”.

Bowling for Columbine looks at gun violence in the United States. Here are some figures for comparison.

(Refer to PowerPoint)

Michael Moore, the director, blames the U.S media for propagating a culture of fear. Although violent crime has gone down 20%, news coverage of those crimes have gone up 600%. The media distorts the facts and sensationalize the news. Indeed, good news is just plain uninteresting. Instead of reporting just the facts, the news media is geared towards entertainment, voyeurism, and oversimplified solutions. It’s sexy to report about the black man who robs, rapes, loots and pillage the white woman and her child. It’s sexy to report about 2 teenagers who listens to Marilyn Manson and therefore guns down their schoolmates. But it’s not sexy for the media to report that black people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. It’s not sexy for them to report that the majority of the young who listen to loud, angry music get on by with very normal lives. It’s sexy to report what is simple, dogmatic and absolute. It’s not sexy to report what is complex, hypothetical and relative.

With horrifying and sensational headlines, people are terrified. Divorced from the actual reality, they perceived danger to be everywhere.

(play Manson video)

“You’re watching the news. You’re being pumped full of fear. There are floods, there’s AIDS, there’s murder. Cut to commercial. Buy the Acura, buy the Colgate. If you have bad breath, they’re not going to talk to you. If you have pimples, the girl’s not going to [Audio Deleted] you.

And it’s just this — it’s a campaign of fear and consumption. And that’s what I think it’s all based on, is the whole idea that, keep everyone afraid and they’ll consume.”

Therefore, frightened people buy guns. And guns often fall in the wrong hands. Just like the fateful day at the Columbine High School.

The culture of fear allows powerful corporations and governments to set agendas through the media. High awareness of crime benefits the very powerful gun industry and the prison-industrial complex. Health crisis benefits the powerful pharmaceutical and medical research companies.

Fear of terrorism has resurrected the arms industry. Fear of terrorism has allowed governments to enact powerful, draconian laws that threaten our civil liberties.

Hence, corporations and governments often exaggerate “crisis” or invent them, ultimately benefiting themselves. More often than not, the media cooperates since crisis always leads to higher viewership and readership. Thus, the false prophets of media, corporations and governments work through the culture of fear to sell papers, products and policies – and it does so very well.

The culture of fear works because fear is such a powerful emotion. It can cloud our judgment and make us irrational. Like Metallica says, “it’s hard to see clear, is it me, is it fear?” Fear can become so dominant that other perspectives lose out. Fear of crime makes a frightened public cry out for more protection and more justice. But experts will tell you the most effective way to combat crime is to reduce poverty and improve education. But Americans spent billions of dollars on guns and prisons when they should be spending on housing and schools.

The culture of fear is not just an American phenomenon. My esteemed teammates will share you with their greatest fears in this trying time. Indeed, today, we face great challenges as a nation. Let us be seriously concerned with these issues. Let us look at these issues in the eye and deal with them. Let us not be overcome with anxiety and let us not be paralyzed by fear.

Above all, let us, with an informed mind and self-belief, do the right thing.


4 thoughts on “Culture of fear

  1. Ah yes. I remember this one. One of the few things I actually do remember from class. That and Baudrillard!

    Well you were always an inspiration in class, I always thought to myself as I nodded off, “Why can’t I be more like Isaiah? Insightful! Intelligent! Interactive!”

    You really deserved everything you got. I’m more than happy with my Degree with Merit, which came as a shock actually, but hey, im not complaining!

    Anyway, keep up the blogging, I’ve always enjoyed your point of view. 🙂


  2. Dear Ah Hock,

    Funny. I felt the same way.

    Why can’t I be more like Adrian? Alluring! Attractive! Aristocratic!

    Anyhow, thanks for visiting and remember to tell all your new Aussie friends to visit my blog.

    Shamelessly yours,



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