There's really no cause for hope. How about that war in Iraq? Or the hurricanes in the Gulf? Or the rising price of gasoline? Or bioterrorism? The avian bird flu? The expansion of the Chinese economy?
Huh?! How about that?!
With these and countless other worries banging around our anxious minds like dried peas inside rusty tin cans, we've decided to face up to our most persistent fears. We've all spent far too long cowering under our blankies while the limbs of dark, angry trees scrape against our bedroom windows. It's time for a little courage in the face of despair. We're going to need it when things really turn ugly.
To prepare ourselves for the untold catastrophes of the future, the Alibi editorial staff asked ourselves a series of critical questions. What are we most scared of? Are these fears rational? What is the most appropriate response to a source of anxiety? Finally, is Michael Jackson really a flesh-eating extraterrestrial from Alpha Centauri?
In this special Worry Edition of the Alibi, we hope to provide you with satisfactory answers to most, if not all, of these burning questions.
Many people seem to be under the false impression that American society runs entirely on money, but this is only true on the most superficial level. Dig a little deeper and you'll soon come to the rather obvious conclusion that the reason why Americans are so obsessed with money is simply because a hefty bank account gives them a fragile illusion of safety. Wads of cash lend them a fleeting sense that they're somehow protected from the violence, pestilence, hunger and other bothers that plague our less fortunate brothers and sisters in less blessed corners of the globe.
The funny thing about this whole cultural dynamic, of course, is that for some strange reason the more money people possess—the newer their car, the bigger their house, the more guns they have in their shotgun cabinet—the more afraid they become. I personally foster a sneaking suspicion that the richest people in the world are tortured by the deepest soul-gnawing existential anxieties. After all, they have the most to lose when our economy inevitably crashes, Western Civilization gets swallowed whole by widespread tribal violence and the human race finally cannibalizes itself into extinction.
We're doomed, I tell you! Doomed! Or, at least, that's the way I often feel, especially on Mondays.
Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things, believes that the if-it-bleeds-it-leads philosophy of our crass televisual culture is one of the main causes of the anxiety that's saturated American society. Glassner believes that the masters of the mainstream media understand that the best way to provoke people into consuming their products is to scare the crap out of them with tales of crime, violence, disease and disaster, even when these things don't necessarily reflect the reality of life in America.
The Politics of Fear
Of course, our political leaders are experts at exploiting this unfortunate mass media penchant for fear-mongering. “A lot of what politicians do,” says Glassner, “is what I refer to as misdirection, which is a magician's term. If I wanted to make a coin seem to disappear from my right hand, I need to get you to look at my left hand for a moment while I get rid of the coin. Politicians use this technique to get the public's mind off of those issues and problems that the politicians are either unable or unwilling to confront-—and to keep our attention instead on those issues and problems that they are willing or able to confront.”
The best political distractions have always been the ones that terrify us the most. Modern American politics has raised this style of public manipulation to an art form. For this reason, it's really fear—even more than money—that makes this country tick.
Maybe that's all for the best. In America, if you aren't young, healthy and rich, you're expendable. And if you are young, healthy and rich, or perhaps because you're young, healthy and rich, you should still be worried, because your good fortune can change in the blink of Osama bin Laden's eye. Besides, if our lives here in America are relatively trouble-free, and even—dare we admit it?—enjoyable, death is right around the corner for all of us, and there's certainly no guarantee that it's going to be painless and quick.
Be afraid! Yes, dear readers, be very, very afraid.