Monday, February 16, 2009

Nasty Post V: The Manufacture Of Fear

Much of this is familiar to those of you who remember the events unfolding after the massacres of 9/11/2001. What you do to create a PTSD in all viewers is something like was done then: Keep showing the people plummeting to their deaths over and over again.

And the result was an almost whole country with a mental condition not unlike PTSD. Just think of Christopher Hitchens and how his writings changed to see what I mean.

This links to the way airplane crashes receive an odd treatment in the press. The focus is on the almost death-porn way of covering the accidents, on the grief of the relatives of the victims and on these mumbo-jumbo type stories:

Local family planned to be on flight 3407

Passenger Missed Connection to Doomed Continental Flight 3407 That Killed 50
Paul Twaragowski: 'For Whatever Reason, I Wasn't Meant to Be on There'

You do realize that every day we all make choices that end up leaving us alive at the end of the day? That random horrible events might have happened to us today? I could have crossed some other street today than the one I did, I could have been hit by a car that might have been there. The roof could have collapsed on me.

I also have missed quite a few connecting flights in my life. It's true that none of them crashed later, but they could have.

Sigh. I'm not quite as grumpy as this. But I'm angry at the journalists going for the lowest common denominator or the largest possible sales, for not only approving the illogical reactions of their audiences but for amplifying and perpetuating them. For manufacturing fear.

Sure, we humans want to feel more in control of our lives than we actually are, and there's something mesmerizing about a large accident, some odd need in us not to look away, some belief that by studying its horrors that kind of an accident will never happen to us.

But much of the coverage doesn't give us more facts. It strengthens our biases to be especially afraid of certain risks only and not others, even if the latter actually are objectively more serious ones. Note that we don't get these write-ups about car accident deaths, even though those are many and kill loads of people every year. They are not large enough, as single accidents (except for a few bus accidents), and in any case we are somehow used to the risk of death on the roads. But in the air! That's a totally different matter.