Literary analysis of the culture of fear of Barry Glassner
Crippling, unfounded fears take hold of the lives of American citizens on a daily basis, at least as Barry Glassner portrays the everyday American life in his book The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the False Stuff. The book depicts a number of situations that lead the American people to conclude that their lives and livelihoods were in serious trouble without any validated evidence. In addition, Glassner blames these unfounded fears on fear mongers trying to manipulate whether and how the American people feel. At first glance, it appears that his motivation behind this book is to make Americans aware of their misplaced fears but a further examination shows the clear bias that Barry Glassner has against news reporters, journalist, network TV stations, politicians and advocacy groups alike. He goes on to explain that the fears presented to us through the media are to increase funding for political campaigns, medical research and other agendas by high dollar corporations. It seems that he may be solely trying to blame the epidemic of paranoia on the media outlets, however, he does address other reasons why Americans may be so susceptible to believing such allegations.
According to Glassner, a large amount of people fall for these sensationalized news stories because they justify their own personal discomforts. He goes on to state that societal fears stemming from rare, violent incidents are commonly due to our own prejudice and projections of ourselves or our fears. One would think that Glassner may very well believe that the American people share equal responsibility for their own paranoia. However, his stance always regresses back to the assumption of American fears being fueled by fear mongering acts of the media.
Several methods of fear mongering by the news media outlet are explored throughout the entire book. Fact substitution and statistical over exaggeration are amongst the most utilized tactics by journalist, news reporters, advocacy groups and politicians. Diversion is another tactic used to push the agenda of certain groups of people or corporations. Glassner goes as far as presenting a formula that can be used to identify fear mongering tactics. Fear mongering stories presented by the media usually consist of poignant anecdotes, over exaggerated statistics, isolated incidents presented as trends and/or dangerous depictions of entire groups of people.
To further push his ideas of mainstream media being nothing more than fear mongers, he goes on to address certain irrational fears in America over the past couple of decades while revealing the true nature behind these incidents. One of the first topics Glassner addresses is breast cancer. During the push for breast cancer awareness, he reports that media outlets continuously gave false statistical data, aimed to scare women into being more aggressive with breast cancer screenings and check-ups. Women over the age of forty were led to believe they had a 1 in 10 risk when true figures stated the risk was 1 in 250.
Another compelling example of media grossly exaggerating statistics was the discussion of air plane safety. The examples from USAir and ValuJet crashes shed light on media using false information to demonize cheaper, smaller airlines. Many experts have come out and proclaimed that studies have shown that major airlines are no safer than smaller airlines, however, journalist still use one off incidents that resulted in plane crashes and loss of lives amongst passengers to justify their safety claims.
Glassner points out that these reports rarely result in positive actions being taken to prevent further tragedies from happening. Instead, they add to the stigma and fears of individuals resulting in more damage being done. For example, a survey found that even though media pushed for women to become more active with breast cancer screening, many women avoided check-ups due to this fear. Fear rendered them paralyzed from seeking check-ups, which greatly increases their risks of battling cancer in the later stages, when prognosis is usually much grimmer than early diagnosis.
It’s common knowledge that news coverage is greatly selective but The Culture of Fear did open my eyes to many facts, that I myself, am guilty of believing. It is a little disheartening to learn that many of the “facts” I assumed were true, were grossly exaggerated by media outlets that I once trusted. Reading this book has made me analyze the relationship of media outlets, politicians and corporations. I’ve always been privy to the fact that corporations and the government have worked side by side to push certain agendas, but I always thought of media groups as unbiased reporters to notify the American people on issues that may directly or indirectly impact our lives.
Glassner brought up many compelling facts to support his theory of overzealous news outlets portraying “alternative facts.” I do agree with the author in the sense that the media needs to be more responsible in the way they relay relevant news to the masses but I also feel that the book became a little redundant. The book was a mere historical timeline of when and how the media lied rather than an analysis of why unwarranted fears amongst the American people are so prevalent. I believe The Culture of Fear would have had a different effect if it addressed the American psyche in relation to anxieties and fears.
Glassner, Barry. The Culture of Fear: The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of theWrong Things. Basic Books, 1999.