- Paperback: 360 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; 10th Revised ed. edition (Jan. 5 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465003362
- ISBN-13: 978-0465003365
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 21 cm
- Shipping Weight: 363 g
- Average Customer Review: 86 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #58,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage, & So Much More Paperback – Jan 5 2010
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"Glassner has written a gutsy exposé of one of the most widespread delusions of our time: misplaced fear."
―Los Angeles Times
"A sobering examination."―Washington Post Book World
"[The Culture of Fear] ought to be part of every savvy media-watcher's toolbox."―American Prospect
"[Glassner is] a master at the art of dissecting research."―New York Times
"We become what we behold. And what we behold in our public media is an America more terrifying than it actually is. Combining meticulous scholarship with a winning prose style, Barry Glassner shows how and why our media are scaring us to death. The book is a calming as it is serious, and offers a sound intellectual alternative to Prozac."―Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death
"The Culture of Fear uses strong data and careful reasoning to calm everybody down."―Amitai Etzioni, author of The Limits of Privacy
"One of the most important sociological books you'll read this year, and certainly the most reassuring."―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Barry Glassner is a professor of sociology at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Glassner previously held posts at Syracuse University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Southern California. He received his PhD from Washington University in St. Louis and is the author of The Gospel of Food. Glassner lives in Portland, Oregon.
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As you can expect, Glassner's top culprits are corporations and the media. Guess what - there's money to be made from public panics and that's when the corporations move in. Pharmaceutical companies won't bother to tell you that the "epidemic" of depression in America has little or no scientific evidence to back it up, when they can make handsome profits selling the associated drugs. Meanwhile, in the media's obsession with advertising dollars, they are duped to play along with that trend uncritically. Also, ratings points are gained by bombarding the public with scare tactics about how everything is such a threat to their well-being. But we find that these tactics almost always involve isolated incidents that are portrayed as trends with dire consequences to all of society, plus "expert" testimony that is really personal anecdotes from propagandists and self-appointed moral watchdogs.
Above Glassner's treatment of those phenomena, he has an even better big-picture theory. Media and public fascination with insignificant and nonexistent threats allow us to evade painful examination of real root causes and social problems. For example, the media jumped all over Gulf War Syndrome, which has never been proven scientifically, to criticize the military establishment, after being too scared to criticize the actual war. We are obsessed with minor teenage drug use and crime so we don't have to face the deeper social conditions that lead to those outcomes, especially poverty and inequality. In this book Glassner does a terrific job explaining why Americans will always obsess over the symptoms while pretending that the underlying diseases don't exist.
Glassner explains how the media ignores statistics and common sense in order to fill the airwaves and the printed word with scare tactics. He explains how the media, influenced by political groups and human interest stories, ignore the big picture and focus on anecdotal evidence in order to sell their fear. He provides many examples of this, from airplane crashes to vaccines, and explains how these unfounded fears come about. He carefully uses both concrete evidence and statistics to prove the media wrong, and explains why and how the media choose to report the way they do.
Unfortunately, for people like me who already agree with him, it doesn't provide much new information. Also, when he talks of the media, he talks of the supply side. He rarely mentions the demand side. Why is such media is actually being watched, and why are consumers falling for this, hook, line, and sinker?
Finally, the writing style is not altogether fluid. It's hard to describe, but it's not a real page turner.
All in all, it's a good book. It'll either confirm what you already know, or be an eye opener.
Whites are the majority of drug users in this country yet blacks are the majority in prison for this offense. As crime (including drug use) has been going down, public fear, at least of street crime, has been going up. Most people get their information about crime not from direct experience but from the mass media in its various forms. More people are being jailed and most politicians have advocated boot camps, trying kids as adults, hiring more police officers and building more prisons. These things have no affect on crime but politicians are rewarded with campaign contributions from companies involved in prison building and other crime-related industries, police officers unions looking to add more officers and voters scared out of their wits but glad to vote for people who promise to allay their fears.
Single mothers, most of the time, come from poor households. They have little incentive, given the bleak prospects of their lives and neighborhoods, to avoid behavior which gets them pregnant. They have small access to successful educational and employment opportunities before they get pregnant and it does not change after it. They are more likely to be underemployed, have to work two or three jobs and so on. Their children are likely to have access to far less adequate health care and education. But single moms tend to engage in less self-destructive behavior than do their childless peers. And their children do not turn out appreaciably different than children from two parent households at the same income level.
People have far more trouble with addictions to alcohol, tabacco and perscription drugs yet the media focuses primarily on the problem of illegal drugs.
The vast majority of perpetrators of anti-semtic acts as well as hate crimes, particularly on college campuses. Yet the media has elevated such obscure cranks as the late Khalil Mohahmmed, whom they claimed was a popular speaker among African American college students, to prominent status. Mohammed, of course, was African American as is Louis Farrakhan. The media have engaged in no comparable focus on white anti-semites among various right wing causes.
It is estimated that 40 percent of nursing home patients are malnourished. Yet the media concentrates all their attention on instances of assault and robbery by nursing home workers. These workers tend to grossly underpaid for a very stressful job.
He examines other bugaboos. Most of the people who get assaulted or killed on the job are policemen, security gaurds and taxi drivers. Yet the media at one point was caught up in a scare about people who are at risk of wantonly murdering their coworkers. Yet about 5,000 people die and 7 million people are injured on the job in a year, many of them under 18. The media devote scant attention of the oversight problems of OSHA.
He has theories as to why these bugaboos catch on so easily. For instance, there is no conclusive evidence that Gulf war syndrome was caused by exposure to chemical and biological materials or whatever. Yet people, at least journalists who should no better, prefer to avoid the abominable conditions under which many of the soldiers lived in Saudi Arabia, with restricted movement and unable to see their families. They were very ill at ease, which is to say they were much susceptible to all sorts of diseases or sicknesses or mental problems. People also don't want to contradict the picture of that war which killed and the effects of which still kills tens of thousands of Iraqis from the lack of repair to civillian infrastructure and access to basic life necessities, all for the purpose of rescuing the tyrants in Kuwait who had been driven out by the tyrant Saddam Hussein.
He also has some other interesting cases of bogus or mostly bogus scares: children abandoning their elderly parents, breast implants causing cancer and other diseases (which he says is one of the few legitimate excuses for tort reform), people poisoning the haloween candy they give to children, middle and upper class use of heroin, road rage, political correctness destroying traditional values on campus (my favorite) and, perhaps of some interest given current times, airplane crashes and hazardous conditions on them.
Clearly alot of people have a vested interest in avoiding real problems. The solution is to avoid the problem, often focusing on society's powerless and "superfluous" elements like minorities, single and welfare mothers, black crack cocaine users (instead of mostly white powder cocaine users), et. al.
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