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CULTURAL_final - Alex Paris WRA 150 Operating in the Face...

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Alex Paris WRA 150 Operating in the Face of Fear: an examination of American fears 12/10/07 Paris 1 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 is indicative of 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. A more contemporary and local example is the fictional “Michigan Dogman,” a creation which caught the attention of Michiganders when a song detailing it aired in 1978 and an assault on a cabin near Luther, Michigan was attributed to it. In this case listeners contextualized a fictional situation with a potentially real event. Both “The War of the Worlds” and “The Dogman” illustrate the importance of separating rational and irrational fears to better deal with the collective consciousness of
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America, particularly in regards to the greatest fear affecting Americans today—terrorism . Although terrorism may be the most explicit fear regarding destruction, Americans also fear the increasingly unstable and adversarial climate of world politics, the rise in sexually transmitted diseases, and the influx of foreigners in American lands, just to name a few. In some form, all of these fears symbolize a destabilization and potential destruction of America and its citizens. In this country, government, media, and religion are most responsible for sustaining and cultivating both rational and irrational fears. Particularly, apocalyptical forms of religion seek to attribute the will of God to biologically explainable illnesses such as AIDS and HIV; the media, through its cherry-picking coverage, exaggerates the threat of international terrorism, and the federal government propagates the fear of illegal immigration through its rhetoric and legislation.
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