A Culture of Fear and Ill-Founded Fears (Glassner)

Fear is an emotion that overlaps with worry and anxiety. As humans, we all struggle with these things. None of us have made it this far through life without some worry, fear, or anxiety. But sometimes these things can grow in a person’s life and affect him or her every day. Some people are deeply and seriously afraid of all sorts of things, from car accidents to plane crashes, from dog attacks to salmonella in their chicken salad.

There are various reasons why we all have various fears. One reason people have so many fears can be traced to the news media (which is related to social media). The media’s excessive focus on shocking things often give rise to fear in viewer’s hearts and minds. When a person constantly reads about or watches news coverage on murder, riots, beatings, abductions, crashes, natural disasters, and sicknesses, he or she can quickly become overwhelmed with scary news and it results in much fear, panic, anxiety, and stress.

Speaking of this topic, I was recently re-reading parts of a book I got a few years ago: The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner. Although it’s not a Christian book, and although I don’t agree with it all, The Culture of Fear is a good resource to help us wrestle with our own fears, which are sometimes (or often?) ill-founded and unjustified. Here are a few quotes from the intro:

Disproportionate coverage in the news media plainly has effects on readers and viewers. When Esther Madriz, a professor at Hunter College, interviewed women in New York City about their fears of crime they frequently responded with the phrase, ‘I saw it in the news.’ The interviewees identified the news media as both the source of their fears and the reason they believed those fears were valid. Asked in a national poll why they believe the country has a serious crime problem, 76 percent of people cited stories they had seen in the media. Only 22 percent cited personal experience.

…Television news programs survive on scares. On local newscasts, where producers live by the dictum ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ drug, crime, and disaster stories make up most of the news portion of the broadcasts. Evening newscasts on the major networks are somewhat less bloody, but between 1990 and 1998, when the nation’s murder rate declined by 20 percent, the number of murder stories on network newscasts increased 600 percent (not counting stories about O. J. Simpson).

…The short answer to why Americans harbor so many misbegotten fears is that immense power and money await those who tap into our moral insecurities and supply us with symbolic substitutes. This book provides the longer answer by identifying the actual vendors of our fears, their marketing methods, and incentives the rest of us must buy into.”

From a Christian perspective, we want to take seriously the commands in Scripture to fight sinful fear and anxiety (Ps 46:2, Is 44:8, Mt 6:25ff, Lk 12:22ff, Phil 4:6, etc.). We are prone to fear, worry, and anxiety, which is one reason there’s a repeated call in Scripture: do not be afraid! God is sovereign. Relax!

One way to kill some of our fears and worries is to learn that they are groundless and have no real basis. You don’t have to worry about your daughter being poisoned by halloween candy, nor do you need to stress out that your son might get hit by lightning if he leans out the door during a storm. Don’t lose sleep worrying that your husband’s phone battery will explode in his pocket or that your mailman will arrive at your door tomorrow with an automatic weapon. Etc. Etc.!

The above quotes are found in the introduction of the first edition of The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner (1999). I’ve linked to the 2018 updated version of the book.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015