The recent media frenzy from the media about Hurrican Irene that had me living in my crawlspace for three weeks with nothing but a shotgun for company reminded me of this essay, which originally appeared in The Inner Swine V0lume 14, Issue 2, June 2008.
YOU WILL BE ATTACKED BY RABID COMMUNIST BEARS AND USED AS A TOILET BY HIPPIES
Fearmongering in Modern Media
by Jeff Somers
PIGS, unless you read this issue of The Inner Swine right now, immediately, you will be eaten in your sleep by hundreds of tiny orange spiders with green legs. I will tell you how to avoid this fate at a random moment in this zine—maybe page 34, maybe page 3, who can tell?—so you’d best study each page carefully.
Trust me, bubba, being eaten by spiders is no fucking way to go.
I don’t know why I never thought of this before:
- Step 1: Order TIS Security Chief Ken West to travel the country distributing orange spiders
- Step 2: Offer secret of avoiding horrible death in this zine
- Step 3: ????
- Step 4: Profit!
I should have thought of this years ago—after all, this is exactly what the nightly news programs do. They shout at you all night about something that’s going to kill you, and then smugly tell you that not only must you tune into their program to save yourself, but you must wait until later to do so. I mean, one second they’re shouting that a mysterious disease is turning people into a warm puddle of burnt-umber-colored goo, and then they’re telling you to wait 3 hours before finding out the details. Genius!
This isn’t surprising or unusual, because we live in a Culture of Fear, don’t we? I mean, we’re being consistently and systematically terrified by media, government, and, shit, our neighbors. My own family, god love ’em, like to regale me with warnings about thieves, con artists, explosion threats, and radiation. I used to argue. A few years ago my family was always warning me about car thieves and imploring me to use one of those Club anti-theft devices. I argued back, citing clear evidence that such devices added mere seconds to a professional thief’s time. Then my car got stolen. Twice. Within a few months.
I stopped arguing. I’m still not convinced that the Club would have saved me, but clearly I’d lost my credibility.
Now, I’m not the first jackass to notice this and start bloviating about it, but the thing about our Culture of Fear that makes it interesting is that it isn’t a conspiracy, it isn’t the Illuminati frightening us into buying cars and voting for monkey-brained morons—it’s our nature. It’s who we are. We are human. We are morons. We are terrified.
NOTHING TO FEAR BUT EVERYTHING
You see, we’re pretty much programmed to be terrified; it’s no conspiracy. I mean, think about it: human history—as much of it as we’ve bothered to record, at least—has pretty much been guided by sheer terror. Terror of the wilderness—thus we have created paved and fenced enclaves in which to huddle. Terror of each other—thus we have created complex mythologies about The Others who always wish to kill, rape, and steal from us. Terror of ourselves, and thus we are constantly attempting to hide our imperfections, which remind us of our decaying, treacherous bodies. Just about every aspect of our modern existence is attributable to fear.
Think about it. Think about the money and resources we pour into the police, the military. Think about the money and resources we pour into trying to cure the various deaths we have hanging over our heads. Think of the gated communities and all the little things we carry around with us to ensure we won’t be beaten, raped, robbed, or kidnapped. Most of our fictions are about Terrible Things Happening to People Just Like Us. Ask most people in this world what they’re afraid of, and they might not have too many examples on the tips of their tongues—but examine the lives they’re leading and all you’ll see is fear. They have alarms on their homes and vehicles. They wear their seatbelts. They eat healthy and run 10 miles a day. They lock their doors at night and don’t walk alone in certain parts of the world. Every decision they make, more or less, is predicated on fear of something.
Now, I’m no exception, and I don’t argue that this is a bad thing. Me, I’m terrified of everything, and I firmly believe our terror is the main reason we’re still around these days as a race. If you think about it, a more complacent race of creatures would have died off eons ago, victims of various bravado-laced incidents with wild animals, radioactive meteorites, and ignored pustules that ended up eating their bodies entire. Fear is a primary self-preservation mechanism—far from being the invention of the Illuminati who seek to control you, it’s pretty much just the hard-wired way we look at things.
The main reason fear persists as such a powerful force in our lives despite the supposedly calming influence of civilization is simple: We’re all unalterably alone and isolated, no matter what else we might do. The old saw still stands: You come into this world naked and alone, and that’s exactly how you’re going to leave it.
A lot of fear, after all, stems from the unknown: We don’t know what to expect from a place, so we fear it. We’ve never spent time with a certain group of people, so we imagine all sorts of horrible behaviors. Not knowing things makes us ignorant and afraid—that’s pretty clear. Imagine, for example, the difference in your reaction if you’re blindfolded, driven around, and released in a strange, unknown area at night versus being released in your own backyard. Familiarity breeds security. When I wake up in the morning to find TIS Staff Artist Jeof Vita looming over my bed with an expression of blank rage, holding a baseball bat, I relax immediately because I know Jeof Vita. Replace Jeof with, say, Jason Vorhees from those horror movies, and I would be paralyzed in fear. Instead of paralyzed by liquor as I actually am.
So there’s the problem: We fear the unknown, but because we’re alone and separate beings we can’t easily pass information on. If we could join minds with everyone in the cosmos we’d know, for example, whether the neighborhood we’ve just been dropped in was a safe one or not, and our fear would be scaled to our knowledge. Since we lack the ability to glean such things from each other without laborious stuff like travel, conversation, and research, we remain largely ignorant of the world around us, and thus terrified of the vast unknown quantity that the world is.
So, when I’m sitting at home watching the local news and every report is about a) some bad people who will come to your house and kill you, b) some terrible disease being spread through the food supply, or the drinking water, or perhaps the very air we breathe, c) some foreign country that is going to build a terrible bomb and mail it off to New York, wiping out the Eastern Seaboard, or d) how kids today are carjacking, dope-smoking hooligans who will destroy your valuable property while mocking you mercilessly—well, something resonates in me, and I sit up straight and pay attention. Because who the fuck knows—it might be fucking true. I mean, you can try and be cool and shrug it off as the media’s desperate attempts to trick you into watching their crappy, manipulative, uninformative news programs . . . but how can you be sure?
You can’t. Such is the human condition. We are creatures of fear. And thus you have war, and racism, and rape, and Britney Spears singles.
Naturally, I have no idea what to do with this sort of wisdom. This is serious, shaman-levels of wisdom here. I should have a cult following me, fetching me bourbons and donating their life savings to me. Where is my cult? I lay down this sort of extreme amazing wisdom on a quarterly basis, and I’m lucky to have three or four aging and liverish Helper Monkeys at my beck and call. I repeat: Where’s my cult?