Fear in the marketplace

I started reading a new author yesterday, Nicola Griffith’s, Always, a tale told in classic noir style, the hero viewing the world for my eyes.  At one point, she has a need to quote Andrea Dworkin:

“We are taught systematically to be afraid.  We are taught to be afraid so that we will not be able to act, so that we will be passive, so that we will be women…”

Don’t worry men you are taught the same thing and for the same purpose.

“the information we get, every day, from TV and newspapers and online, is all about the rapes that are completed, the lives lost, the pain suffered — preferably with blood and body parts and panicky eyewitness accounts.  Why? Because that’s what get an audience, and the bigger the audience, the more media can charge for their commercials.  More than eighty percent of us spend our lives afraid because that helps soap makers and computer manufacturers sell product.”

One of the most popularized strategies of the 80’s “War on Drugs” is the scared straight method.  Take a group of potential users to a hospital or a jail to see the end result of drug usage, and, so the story goes, they see what there is to be afraid of and thus change their evil ways.  Last year, over 870,000 people were sent to jail in America for drug related crimes.  Adding their lives to the 70% of the prison population that were already there for the same type of crime.  But I bet a lot of commercial time accompanied the TV showing of this strategy.  Today, you can see its progeny in the spate of Cops, Jail, Coroner, and Law and Order shows that clog the cable system networks. 

These days, though, the fear and purchasing power of these show may be on the wane.  Too much of a good thing?  Maybe.  But I think fear of something else may be pushing its way to the surface.  Right now what is selling TV and newspapers, and even here online, is the fear of a Recession or even worse a long term economic Depression.

The imagination is a powerful thing.  Feeding it with the news that sells is the purpose of our advertising.  But, and this is a big But, being scared straight into supporting an increasing and ongoing trillion dollar debt-laced budget, that’s just foolish.  We need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves to use our fears to Think Straight about what the true nature of our economy and our part in it is.

Here are some questions that might help frame our answers:

  • Where do we live and how close are we to the work we do?
  • How often do we use alternative forms of transportation?
  • What active part do we play in deciding what is happening in our own neighborhood?
  • What is happening in our neighborhood that contributes to a sustainable life?
  • How often do we participate in local government?
  • What are the political forces at work in our local economy?
  • What are the long range plans for our local economy?
  • What are the real problems that face our local economy:  job loss, business failures, not enough affordable housing, air pollution, increased utility costs, education system breakdowns ?

If we think straight about the answers to these questions, I believe we will see that there is much we can do and much to be worried about, but if being afraid is the result, it is the wrong one.




  1. The media thrives on fear: SARS, bird flu, mad axe murderer, hurricanes, is a terrorist living next to you? Sex and fear sell. Mix them together and it’s almost guaranteed to bring in the $$. Thanks for the shout-out on the book.

  2. rhbee said

    Nicola, Thanks for dropping by. I am enjoying this first read of one of your books immensely. I am half way through and I’ve already started reading parts to, Terr, my partner and wife. I love finding writers serendipitously and discovering that they have already written other works that I can read too. Something in the way you tell your story reminds me of the LA writer, Joseph Hansen. I am with Socrates by the way. Thanks!

  3. My pleasure. I hope Terr is enjoying it as much as you /grin/.

    You know, I keep meaning to read Joseph Hansen. Perhaps it’s time I finally got around to it.

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