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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Sunday, March 16, 2003

 
Under Siege

Calpundit highly recommends this piece by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek and it is very good. In fact, even for someone as deeply mistrustful of the Bush administration as I it is shocking to read that every single country that has had dealings with the United States in the last year (except Britain and Israel who are probably lying) has been left feeling humiliated. Yowza.

Kevin then makes the following comment:

Zakaria's observation that the most powerful nation in the world somehow feels as if it is "besieged" is a telling one. Time and again, when I try to figure out what is happening in America, I keep coming back to the palpable sense of fear that seems to envelop us. We are seemingly afraid of everything: child molesters, terrorists, street crime, sharks — in a way that is wildly out of proportion to the actual danger they present.

[…]

Our reaction to 9/11 has been the same. Instead of making use of the outpouring of support that we got in its aftermath, we have turned in on ourselves, and in the process we have changed from the flawed but generous nation that we are into a mean and paranoid country that lashes out at friends and enemies alike.


I have thought a lot about this question as well. I spent some of my grade school years in Kansas, where my father worked on the missile silos. Every single day at school we practiced diving under our desks in anticipation of a nuclear attack. When JFK was killed, the town I lived in went on nuclear alert. The assumption was that the Soviets had to be behind it.

But, I do not think there was the kind of pervasive paranoia and sense of fear that we see today. Maybe it was that many people had recent memories of war so they had a more philosophical perspective, I don’t know. Paradoxically, despite the fact that nuclear annihilation was an everyday concern, people didn’t seem to be afraid.

I think this current sense of being besieged stems in large part from the emergence over the last 10-20 years of the tabloid TV news media. In our insular society, where many people experience their community by watching the local news, the “if it bleeds it leads” directive makes people believe that they are inundated by crime and pestilence and deviant sex and everything else that a tabloid press has always used to sell advertising. I have seen polls that indicate that even when crime has gone down significantly, as it did during the late 90’s, people are still convinced that their community is drowning in crime. If you watch the 11 o’clock news here in LA, you are easily convinced that you are living in post-modern anarchy and that it is relentless and escalating even though statistics show otherwise. Fear is stimulating and stimulation is what gets people to pay attention in a sea of white noise and talking heads. It's very hard to look away.

But, there is more to it than that. We are in one of those periods in which the paranoid style in American politics has become dominant. Listen to talk radio or watch cable news, the two most explicitly political forums in the electronic media, and the paranoia is palpable. This sense of being under siege is fed daily by the likes of Rush and the rest, who mercilessly pound home to their devoted listeners the idea that they are victims of a liberal, permissive culture that is trying to undermine their values and a bloated, consuming government that is trying to steal their money. Everything they care about is in danger of being invaded, overtaken and eliminated by the political opposition. Even those who do not listen are subtly influenced by the conversation in the background. It drifts through the body politic like smoke.

Strangely then, it’s within the safety of their living rooms and their cars that the profitable message of paranoia is drummed into the minds of the free people of the United States over and over and over again. America’s insularity is the instrument of its fear.






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