Thursday, September 29, 2005


Pity about courage, confidence, boldness, resolution, peace of mind etc

Fear is fast becoming a caricature of itself. It is no longer simply an emotion or a response to the perception of threat. It has become a cultural idiom through which we signal a sense of unease about our place in the world.

Popular culture encourages an expansive, alarmist imagination through providing the public with a steady diet of fearful programmes about impending calamities - man-made and natural. Now even so-called high culture cannot resist the temptation of promoting fear: a new exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York has the theme of 'The perils of modern living'. Fear is also the theme that dominates the Eighth Contemporary Art Biennial of Lyon. Natasha Edwards writes about the 'art of fear' that haunts this important exhibition of contemporary European art. But the more we cultivate a twenty-first century sensibility of anxiety, the more we can lose sight of the fact that fear today is very different to the experience of the past.

Throughout history human beings have had to deal with the emotion of fear. But the way we fear and what we fear changes all the time. During the past 2,000 years we mainly feared supernatural forces. In medieval times volcanic eruptions and solar eclipses were a special focus of fear since they were interpreted as symptoms of divine retribution. In Victorian times many people's fears were focused on unemployment.

Today, however, we appear to fear just about everything. One reason why we fear so much is because life is dominated by competing groups of fear entrepreneurs who promote their cause, stake their claims, or sell their products through fear. Politicians, the media, businesses, environmental organisations, public health officials and advocacy groups are continually warning us about something new to fear.

The activities of these fear entrepreneurs serves to transform our anxieties about life into tangible fears. Every major event becomes the focus for competing claims about what you need to fear. Take the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is not bad enough that we have to worry about the destructive consequence of this terrible catastrophe: according to some fear entrepreneurs, there is more to come. They claim that global warming will turn disasters like Katrina into normal events. Free-market ideologues blame 'Big Bureaucracy' for the mismanagement of the rescue operation. Critics of President George W Bush point the finger at the war in Iraq. And Bush blames local government. In the meantime, some contend that New Orleans represents God's punishment for human sin, while others suggest that the whole event is driven by a hidden conspiracy against the black race.

The fierce competition between alarmist fear entrepreneurs helps consolidate a climate of intense mistrust. Is it any surprise that many African Americans believe that the Bush administration sought to save New Orleans' white districts by flooding black neighbourhoods, through deliberately engineering the levee breaks?

The catastrophe that wreaked havoc in Louisiana was also a test of our humanity. But sadly we were encouraged to interpret the event in the worst possible terms. Most of the stories about rape, looting, gang killings and other forms of anti-social behaviour turned out to be just that - stories. But for a while we became distracted from empathising with our fellow human beings as we feared for the breakdown of civilisation.

It is not simply the big events like Katrina that are subjected to competing claims on the fear market. Imagine that you are a parent. For years you have been told that sunshine represents a mortal danger to your child, and that you must protect them from skin cancer by minimising their exposure to the sun. Then, this summer, a report is published that raises concerns about the rise of vitamin E deficiency among children who have been far too protected from the sun. So what do you do? The fact is that a growing range of human experience - from natural disasters to children's lives in the outdoors - is now interpreted through competing claims about fear.

Our misanthropic reaction to the catastrophe in New Orleans is reproduced daily in response to far more mundane events. That is why society cannot discuss a problem facing children without going into panic mode. Research shows that when viewers see an image of a child on a TV news item, they automatically anticipate a negative story. So a majority of people who were asked to give their interpretation of a photo of a man cuddling a child responded by stating that this was a picture of a paedophile instead of an act of a loving father.

More of this sad story from Frank Furedi here


As far as they can. But highly calorific milk is still OK, of course. But the really terrible thing is that companies make a PROFIT selling stuff that people want! Our nasty little enviers can't allow that!

Vending machines selling fizzy drinks, chocolates and crisps are to be banned from the country's state schools under laws to improve children's diets. Ruth Kelly, the education secretary, has decided that not only meals but also the machines will be covered by nutritional standards for school food. Junk food and sweets currently sold in the machines will have to be replaced by fruit, milk and bottled water.

Snack and drink manufacturers had hoped that vending machines would escape the crackdown, but the school meals review panel, set up by Kelly to examine nutritional standards, has decided that "healthy eating" rules must apply to all food and drink available at school. The panel says that the move will require legislation. "Unless you stop selling the highly branded sugary snacks and drinks," one panel member said, "they will always be chosen by children. You have to remove them if you're going to be serious about reforming the school meals service. "The way companies have profited from these machines at the expense of children's health - and in the light of rising obesity - has been disgraceful."

The proposal is likely to be opposed by manufacturers, with critics arguing that children unable to buy fizzy drinks and sweet snacks at school will buy them from local shops. Supporters of the policy say that schools will not lose too heavily from the change."

More here

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