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1 Alex Paris WRA 150 11/16/07 Operating in the Face of Fear In her book, Fear: A Cultural History , author Joanna Bourke recalls an incident during the First World War when a young boy from Chicago pleads with his mother to “go someplace where there isn’t any sky”(Bourke). The boy’s fear of the open sky was a fear shared by many during the Great War—aerial attacks on civilians. Furthermore, the child’s request to change surroundings reveals that the underlying element involved in fear is destruction or more dramatically, death. The circumstances which incite fear may change over the course of humanity but death still remains the force which buoy’s and nurtures the culture of fear. There is an important distinction, however, which must be made between rational and irrational fear. Irrational is defined as “without reason or sound judgment” thus an irrational fear could be something like a fear of monsters (OED). A perfect example of the difference between rational and irrational fear as well as the way in which the two can intertwine is Orson Well’s “The War of the Worlds” broadcast featuring extraterrestrial beings invading earth paralleling the growing threat of a Second World War When the show hit airwaves, many panicked and studies later revealed that a common misperception among listeners was that they thought Germans rather than Martians were invading. In this case listeners contextualized a fictional situation with a potentially real event. Such an example illustrates the importance of separating rational and irrational fears to better deal with the collective consciousness of America, particularly in regards to the greatest fear affecting Americans today—terrorism . Furthermore, what the media chooses to cover greatly influences the fears of Americans because we are constantly bombarded with various news outlets and in the case of “The War of the Worlds,” the radio was the only means through which the story was told. Also, religion, as preached from those in power, can alter and even create irrational fears out of very rational ones. Aids being termed the “gay plague” and cancer having the acronym WOGS for Wrath of God Syndrome are examples of biologically explained illnesses being wrongfully attributed to some of will of God. Coupled with the increasingly adversarial atmosphere of the world, popular mediums such as government, media, and religion nourish and exploit the fear of death and destruction in America. Often times, events in history imbue in a whole society certain uniform feelings of rational fear which in turn produces manifestations of irrational fear. The atomic bomb, Senator Joseph McCarthy and Red Scare, the AIDS virus, and the attacks of September 11 th are all such incidents in American life which drastically changed the outlook Americans had on foreign politics and relations, communism, health, and the possible threat of terrorism. In all of these cases, however, irrational fear is manufactured in a sort of vacuum so as provide American
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