Thursday, July 07, 2005

Fear Factor

Terrorist bombs in London! And the television networks immediately kick it in to overdrive, featuring round-the-clock coverage of the same shots of wounded, dazed Londoners walking around with blood on their faces, again and again and again. How many are dead? We don't know. But we'll speculate, round the clock, about the number, and we'll update the total every ten minutes, and we'll make sure to keep showing those shots of the dazed Londoners with the bloody faces.

A little over a year ago, a similar event happened in Madrid, Spain. It turned out that 192 people were killed in a series of terrorist train bombings. And it appears likely that the London bombings, tragic as they are, will not be of that scope or magnitude. Yet we didn't see round-the-clock coverage of the Madrid bombings. Our regular programming wasn't breathlessly interrupted to broadcast the faces of bloody, dazed Spaniards.

Why?

I don't know, but I have some ideas. It might have something to do with the fact that those crazy Spaniards don't look like us or sound like us. They seem more remote, more "foreign," if you will. But those English lads and lassies could almost pass for residents of God's own U.S. of A. They look like us. They sound like us, but with those charming accents. And because of that, we watch in horror. It could have been us. It has been us. The Spaniards? Well, that's too bad, but they can go back to their bullfights and they'll be okay.

A couple days ago John McCollum raised the intriguing case of one Reyna Alvarado-Carerra , a 13-year-old Hispanic girl from Norcross, Georgia who was kidnapped a couple weeks before the suddenly ubiquitous Nattalee Holloway. Ever heard of Reyna Alvarado-Carerra? Neither had I, until John brought her to my attention. She wasn't deemed newsworthy.

Again, why?

Here's a wild guess: Because she didn't inspire fear, and fear increases news ratings.

Don't get me wrong. I think what happened in London is horrible. I'm saddened and disturbed by it, and my heartfelt prayers are offered for those who suffered, and for their families. And I truly hope and pray that Nattalee Holloway will somehow be found alive, and will be reuinted with her distraught family.

But Nattalee's story is national (international?) news, and the London bombings are round-the-clock news, only because they play into our fears. And it is the job of the U.S. news media to whip up fear, because fear means viewers. It also explains why Reyna Alvarado-Carerra isn't in the news. Reyna Alvarado-Carerra doesn't look like most of the daughters of all those worried and fearful moms and dads who expectantly tune in to the latest news. It doesn't matter that her case is just as important, and just as tragic, as that of Nattalee Holloway. Reyna Alvarado-Carerra doesn't look like Miss Teen U.S.A. She has no marketability. And sadly, in a world where neatly-coiffed talking heads still rationalize their dubious trade as objective reporting, the news today is all about marketability. Merchandising and manipulating fear is big business. Have you had your dose of horror today? Just flip on your TV.

21 comments:

Andy W. Anderson, Ph.D Candidate said...

Ah, calling a spade a spade (or the media a fearmonger) can be so refreshing when someone so articulate does it.

I must say that I agree 1000% percent with what you're saying. I follow news from countries that most people have never and possibly never will hear about, and for someo of these people, the London bombings would be 1/10th of the amount of death and destruction they witness on a daily basis. Countries like Togo, the Congo, the Ivory Coast, etc. all ravaged by war and government terrorism, but who cares, who thinks about it?

God. That's about it.

I pray that others will take the time to remember the non-mainstream tragedies that would truly strike rage into our hearts if we knew the extent to which people are being abused and mistreated.

Andy

John McCollum said...

Man, this is such an important issue. I want to dig way into this and figure out what it all means for us as a community to address this issue.

I hope there's a candle to light, and not just darkness to curse.

danthress said...

Turn the media on itself.

Start a "Where is Reyna Alvarado-Carerra?" campaign. Get a permit to march. Stage it. Inform the media. Do the same thing the following week in a different neighborhood. Get all organizations of color informed. Keep pushing until we get noticed on a political level.

Get a reputation for caring for the rights of people who don't look like us.

Repeat.

John McCollum said...

I'm in.

allison said...

Fox News..."Today goes down in history as the attacks of 7/7." Hard to believe I know.

Anonymous said...

Fear sells, why? Because we the people let them get away with it. How? we buy what they sell.

The sad part is not in that, the sad part is in that there is so much good news we will never hear, via the medis anyway.

Can we stop it/ I think so. Stop buying papers, magazines and disconnect cable. A month might do it - two for sure. We could do with out them that long, can't we????

tomas said...

Thanks for your post, I share your thoughts and I'd like to add some words...

Don't forget that people dies every day in Iraq. The attacks in Spain and London are horrible, of course, but the tragedy in Iraq is much bigger and it seems to pass unnoticed. When did we become so insensitive? How can we not care? We're habituated to the war. We've been domesticated by the media, we're in some sort of mediatic trance. I'd like to shout for everyone to hear: wake up!

Anonymous said...

Wake up - very well put!
Yes we, as a whole do need to wake up.
Another point could be made, as bad as the Iraq situation is, know that thousands more die each day on our highways. These are people who are not toting guns, with flak vests and helmets, and watching out for trouble. These are people and children just going to Grandma's, the store, school........ Now ther's a war to wage - - End Highway deaths!

danthress said...

uhh, right...

but this here is a thread about racism

John McCollum said...

Highway deaths. Yeah. Tragic, but not unjust.

Unfortunate, but not outrageous.

Not a moral issue, unless I'm looking at it wrong.

Anonymous said...

Of course it is a moral issue.
Morality is change for the better.

That was not my point however. The objection so many make for the war is that people are dying. Rightly so!

In perspective, so many more are dying, in avoidable ways. Man has a lot of learning to do. Eliminating war, and it's causes, is a big one. Living in harmony with nature is a big one. Learing to grow food in a way that does not poison people is a big one. It goes on and on, yet it is the "politicaly correct' causes we hear so much about. It is the quagmire of politics as usual that is killing all of us. Killing us by distracting from the simple fixes that can save so many.

Anonymous said...

I would say 45,000 highway deaths per year certainly is outrageous.
The last two wars combined have not approached that number. (U.S. casualities)

John McCollum said...

Um, is this the same Anonymous who posts on my blog?

Andy Whitman said...

Just as a note, I don't respond to anonymous comments. Anonymous or Anonymouses, I'll be happy to respond if you identify yourself/yourselves. Otherwise, I tend to think of anonymous comments as electronic graffiti. If you have an opinion, I'd like to think that you'd be willing to back it up by telling me who holds it. I hope you'll prove me right.

John McCollum said...

Anon,

I guess I need to restrain myself, since I tend to get angrier when people comment anonymously. But I think that comparing highway deaths -- which are the result of individual acts of carelessness on a large scale -- and war deaths is ridiculous.

The point isn't that lots of people are dying in war, the point is that someone is killing them. Intentionally.

Mass transit is inevitable. Mass murder isn't. It's an apples to socket wrenches comparison.

Anonymous said...

Hi, point well taken.
I do not have a blog, so that identity is not there.
As for may name, it's Gary, but who is that?
My point, needs no reply, but it was not comparing war death to accidents, some of which are not.
My point is the boxing, tagging of this kind or that kind of death is a political game.
I am against it all, no politics in that!

Gary

amy paxton said...

Andy,
Oh SO true and THANK you for posting this.
John,
I wouldn't bother trying to explain the difference between car collisions and war-related deaths to "Anon." Save the wear on your keyboard.
Dan,
While the media could never cover each individual case of tragedy equally, (and obviously does NOT), I think you are right on with your idea about trying to bring exposure to stories that have little to no coverage at all. We all have to start somewhere and it sounds like many of you have already.

Anonymous said...

My only desire is to shed a little light on the politics of death.
I shed some light on the quagmire of politics so that someone might think a little dirrerently.
Amy missed my point, I guess most did. Said my piece, would like you all to think about it a little for me, heck for yourselves!
No John, I have not commented on your blog.

Gary
Bye now.........

brian estabrook said...

The media is certainly in the business of promoting fear.

It's not going to change, though.

Why, you ask?

Because the ratings are GOD.

The way to get ratings?

You have to promote something that causes people to keep coming back for more - You have to be relevent, interesting and show the news from an angle that attracts people, not necessarily the angle that shows the whole or even partial truth.

The best way to do this is to scare people. Then, they have to keep coming back.. because they're transfixed by the BTK killer, who could be THEIR next door neighbor.. because they can't look away from Chandra Levy, who could have been their daughter/wife/child/friend..

No matter that the real news is happening in Darfur,
Sudan.. Or Phnom Phen, Cambodia.. Or and AIDS crises in Africa.. Or a famine/malaria epidemic in South America..

Those things aren't close/real enough to cause the fear they need to promote in order to keep ratings up - but that beautiful 10 year-old blond hair/blue-eyed white girl from Indiana who hasn't been seen in 4 days? That'll keep 'em hooked. After all, it could've been their daughter.

Everything is based on the almighty dollar - In television/media, the almighty dollar is translated into ratings, viewership, huge issue prints, number of subscribers, etc..

Not sure that we can change something that deeply entrenched, but we can surely spread a little light on the situations that don't recieve any notice.. We can surely open the door and let people into what is truly happening in different situations, and not just what FOXNEWS says..

Just my thoughts.

I'm in, though, if we're doing the march/campaign that Dan Thress brought up..

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to drop a thought here.
Remember the saying "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself".
There is a lot of truth to that. The reason is that fear focuses mass consciouness on the bad. That is a problem. We need to focus mass consciousness on the good stuff, to improve life, to grow in positive ways.
Look for the good people. Your eyes will be up in hope, not down in........you know.

Seth said...

Andy-I'm back.

I'm reading a book called 'War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits are Spinning us to Death.'

I'll keep you posted on it, I think it deals with many issues you're discussing here.