I wasn’t sure I was going to have time to time to write this post as I was so busy putting duct tape up around all my windows to keep out the swine flu, luckily delicious, refreshing, Celsius provides me sustained energy while burning up to 100 calories an hour.
As both of the texts that we read this week, had to do with the media, I thought all the brouhaha dealing with swine flu was especially timely. It is the perfect example of media sensationalism, and Americans’ seemingly unquenchable desire to be scared about insanely stupid things. Ok, swine flu is believed to have caused upwards of 100 deaths in Mexico in the last report I read (sometime this morning). However, the article did not mention the number of verified fatalities due to the virus, which would be much lower, nor did the mention whether there was a common characteristic in those for whom the disease was fatal. Most likely, the people who actually died were the elderly and already sick, who unfortunately would have died if there was an outbreak of any strain of flu. The cases in the U.S. among healthy, young people have sent some people to the hospital as a precaution, but they will all pull through. The article does include the scary warnings from the US Travel Bureau, and the (over) reaction of the Obama Administration, which all ratchet up the fear. Doesn’t anyone remember avain flu? SARS? flesh eating bacteria? Yes each of those killed a (very) small number of people, but none of them have turned into the pandemic that the media predicted each time.
In Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear, he points out that every year there are news reports around Halloween telling parents to make sure to screen all their children’s candy before letting them eat it, in fact, many parents now hold enclosed trick or treat parties where they control the guest list and the kids do not leave the house. We look suspiciously at our neighbors and pine for a more innocent era. No one bothers to stop and think about how someone could physically push a razor blade into an apple with cutting themselves or mangling the apple, or tamper with the candy in any serious way without anyone noticing. From 1958-2000 there were two deaths that were blamed on poisoned Halloween candy. They later found out that one of the children died after he accidentally ate his Uncle’s heroin stash and the Uncle made up the story as a cover. In the case of a child actually poisoned by candy, it was later revealed that the child’s father poisoned him to collect the insurance money.
At the best, the media plays on our fears to boost ratings, or just have something to fill out the multiple 24 hour news channels (Y2k is another good example I just remembered). At the worst the media is complicit in allowing people to use our fears to manipulate us into taking actions we normally might stop and question. The media’s coverage of the build up to the Iraq War, and their subsequent refusal to hold the previous administration accountable for essentially lying to us about why we went in (Saddam has WMD’s!) and allowing them to just change their reason mid-stride (It’s about Iraqi freedom!) is a low point in American journalism.
To switch gears a little bit, the choice to have McCain be President has come up in several posts, and I just wanted to comment on why I think Lappe and Goldman went that route. Basically, it made it easier. Republicans are easy to demonize. It is easy to make fun of the angry, old guy, and make snarky comments about how he could survive a torture camp but not being President. It would have made the book much more interesting if Obama (or Clinton may have been the front runner when this was being planned) was the President in the book. A lot of Democrats voted to go into the war, because they had no backbone, but we don’t demonize them, we just go after Republicans. However, that would have added some moral ambiguity to the novel, and the authors were obviously not interested in that. And that was (one of) the reasons I could not get into it. The novel was very clearly about the morally superior, rebellious cool guys, showing the evil, old, bible thumping uncool guys how they went wrong. It was so hipster elitist with its lame jokes, and easy targets. The novel is not an indictment of the state of journalism, it goes after Fox news and its surrogate “Global News,” an easy target for their primarily left audience. Anderson Cooper and CNN remain unscathed at the end of the book. The novel does not delve into what is systematically wrong with American politics, it blames everything on those old, out of touch Republicans. If these texts want to be called “graphic novels” then I insist that we should hold them up to the same standards that we expect of a “novel.” As a novel, Shooting War was lacking, so I am relegating it to comic book.
P.S. If swine flu ends up killing us all, I am going to look really stupid.