The Culture of Fear

It’s 5 AM and I’m awake in a cold sweat. Someone was just at my door trying to force his way in. I was sure that if he did get in he would kill me. He was talking as if he knew a lot about me, but I had no idea who he was. I was afraid to look through the peephole in case he shot me through the eye.

How did it come to this?

Entertainment is Brainwashing

I’d spent the evening before doing something I enjoy for relaxation at the end of my day. I’d watched three hours of a BBC TV drama series called Luther. It’s a new series for me. I like the characters, the acting is fantastic, the stories are well written and it is well produced. I’m hooked.

It provides an immersive experience that takes my mind off the many things I have to be thinking about at the moment. I prefer high-drama TV series over other genres because I find them more engaging, more immersive, more of an escape.

That and a glass of Jack Daniel’s makes for a great night home alone for an introvert like me to get my mind off everything else.

So, how did I come to dream about a bad guy at my door who wanted to kill me? Three hours immersed in a TV series about a cop who investigates serial killers, in graphic detail, with realistic plots and believable characters will do that to the subconscious mind.

I mean really Mark!? After all the work I do to maintain my wellbeing, I’ll spend three hours brainwashing my subconscious into believing that the world is full of bad guys who are out to get me.

And I call that entertainment. (Along with most of the rest of the world.)

Fear is an Analgesic

Entertainment is full of violence, twisted characters, people and things to fear. It’s not stuff we’d want in our real lives, so why do we flock to it for escapism?

The simple fact is that fear acts as an analgesic, a painkiller. When we’re feeling peaks of fear we cannot feel sadness, loneliness, loss, boredom, heartache, betrayal… you name it. We cannot feel anything except fear.

So a dose of the fear-induced neurotransmitters delivered direct to our subconscious through a scary movie or twisted TV series plot is a great way to numb any emotional discomforts we might be feeling, or, even more-so, which we aren’t feeling and want to continue not feeling.

It’s not good for our health, wellbeing, relationships, trust in other people, appreciation for the world or anything else… but hey, who cares.

News Isn’t News

Most broadcast news is designed to accomplish the same thing. It’s designed to give us peaks of fear, worry, anger, (and sometimes pity) for other people so we don’t have to feel anything for ourselves except emotion-numbing fear. It’s another form of escapism in the guise of ‘staying current’ with what’s going on in the world.

Years ago I realized that every time I watched TV news I ended up feeling more stressed, less trusting of people, more worried about the future and generally unhappier. In some sense I was getting informed, but I was getting informed that the world is a dangerous place filled with bad people who are out to do me (or my nation, race, religious group) harm.

I stopped watching broadcast news completely.

When I’m exposed to broadcast news at airports, I try to put the big screen TVs out of eyesight, get as far away from the speakers as and I can, and put something else into my ears through my headphones.

That’s not to say that I’m not aware of what’s going on in the world

I keep current by reading the New York Times every day and when abroad I sometimes find a thoughtful local paper to read. But I never, ever watch broadcast news.

I’m aware of the shootings in Newton, Connecticut four days ago, but I’m pleased to say that I have not seen a single video or piece of news footage about the event. I do care deeply about the event and about the social and political environment that made it possible. I’m adamantly in favor of strict gun control, but I don’t need images of terrified children seared into my brain in order to know that. I don’t need images of death and terror to inform my thinking on the subject.

Nor do I need daily images of death and doom to be safe. I’ve spent the last two years traveling the world. I’ve spent time in some of the richest and some of the poorest countries. I’ve spent six months living in a country with the eighth highest murder rate in the world. I’ve spent plenty of time in regions where a well-dressed white guy is an inviting target for thieves. And I have never once been robbed or attacked.

It’s entirely possible to be well-informed, aware of what’s going on and to keep oneself safe without keeping oneself fearful and anxious.

Real Life is Different From the News

I have experienced a mass shooting first-hand. I had just started work at Edgewater Technology in December 2000 and I was two hours into my new employee training when one of my new colleagues came into the office and shot and killed seven of my new co-workers. I ran for my life, quite literally, and spend the rest of the day in a church across the street with a bunch of people I didn’t know yet, while they figured out who was dead and who was alive.

That was a truly terrifying and traumatizing experience.

I sought lots of help to work through the trauma and used my body-centered healing resources to get the trauma not only out of my mind but also out of my body. It took six months of work, but I did completely release the trauma.

I did get back to the point where I basically trust people and I assume the best from them. That’s just the way I’d prefer to live my life.

That’s the important thing. Rather than taking that event, and the daily drivel of “news” entertainment as reason to stop trusting people and be fearful in the world, I would rather get myself back to the point that I can be trusting of people while still living safely in the real world.

Be informed. Advocate for change. Advocate for gun control and better mental health services. But there’s no need to live life in fear and anxiety.

Entertainment Choices

After watching a few seasons of Prison Break a few months ago, I swore off watching entertainment that seeped into my subconscious and left me with beliefs, feelings and dreams that are not consistent with the kind of life experience I want. I dabbled back into Luther out of boredom. Five episodes in, I’m swearing off that series and going back to the more boring, more soppy shows that don’t give me nightmares.

And I’m going to continue with my practice of getting out there and seeking out new friends while I travel rather than staying in my hotel room getting brainwashed with thoughts and images that don’t serve me.

For a more in depth look at this topic, read The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner.

It’s 6:30 AM. I’m going back to bed.

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


  1. ttlead says

    very insightful article. I find the title especially approrpiate with the violence we have all read about, heard about, or seen. We are truly in a culture (or society) of fear. You words are very powerful. Thank you for sharing.
    Brian Bercury