Culture of Fear - Complications Ensue
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lisa and I watched BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, Michael Moore's thought provoking documentary that asks why Americans shoot each other at such an appallingly higher rate than any other civilized country.

He points to things like the lack of health care and a social safety net, and also to the culture of fear: nightly news that does its level best to make people scared of their world. (Especially other people. Especially other people who are black. But also killer bees. And Y2K.)

Lisa and I were talking about how US networks are filled with cop shows. Does that come out of the same nightly news broadcasts where every night there's another crime story? If you get your picture of the world from American TV, it's a scary world full of perpetrators and cops, and everyone else is a victim.

Moore contrasts the US culture of fear with the Canadian culture of listening to other people and trying to work things out. He walks through Windsor, ON, checking to see if people's doors really are unlocked. (Yep. They are.)

So: what happens if Canada doesn't support its own TV? What if, for example, CTV's application to the CRTC is accepted, and they no longer have to put any Canadian shows on the air. (They want to use "best efforts." Heh.)

I think the answer is: we get a lot of American cop shows trying to get us to feel that our world is filled with criminals and cops and victims. And if we get any Canadian shows at all, they are cop shows made for a US network buying cheap: FLASHPOINT, THE BRIDGE, ROOKIE BLUE, THE LISTENER.

And then we start to be scared of going out and talking to our neighbors, because our neighbors might shoot us.

And then, who knows? We start shooting each other?

Now, this post itself is a tendentious argument based on fear. (What do you want? I'm an American.) But I'm not sure it's wrong. Culture is important. Popular culture is the most important kind of culture, because everyone consumes it, not just the fancy folk.

As I've said before: culture is not a luxury good. It is part of the fabric of society, like roads, and water mains, and electricity. There's a good reason that every civilized country except the US supports its own popular culture. We should bear that in mind the next time they come around and ask why the taxpayer should pay for TV shows when we can get perfectly good TV shows like CRIMINAL MINDS and 24 and CSI from the US.

5 Comments:

Excellent post.

By Blogger David, at 10:47 PM  

I enjoy the good thrill-or-kill like the next American (but don't worry, world, I don't go there in my real-world life) (well, not yet). My wife, however, chooses her scant TV viewing by deciding which "family" she wants to spend time with, and at the moment, her favorite family is the crew on Flashpoint. And it's hard to argue with her. I mean, solving a problem with gunfire as your last resort is a real challenge for American TV, and those darn Canadians pull it off week after week.

By Blogger rjreimer, at 8:05 AM  

I almost wonder if there are so many cop shows because Americans sub-consciously need to see "the bad guys" taken down two or three times an evening.

By Blogger Lisa Hunter, at 10:11 AM  

I'd naturally want more coherent studies on this, but my impression is that we really do generate our culture of fear (or, more properly, fearing the wrong things) via our entertainment and storytelling in the U.S.

One example I like comes from Mark Crislip, my favorite infectious disease doc. When people say "I don't know anyone who's died of the flu, so it must not matter that much," he points out that annual flu deaths approximately equal annual firearm deaths in the U.S., and that he (Crislip) doesn't know anyone who's died from a gun injury.

...but since people get accustomed to the idea that gun crime is common, it doesn't seem weird to them to think that getting shot and killed is a risk. Since we don't dramatize vaccine-preventable diseases (or car accidents, by and large), people don't internalize those as part of their risk narrative, and that does seem to really impact their decision-making processes.

By Blogger Alex, at 10:33 AM  

There's a great deal more to what you are talking about than there is space to expand it in your excellent post. From the perspective of selling content, shock has become a key product attribute. In fact, its quite interesting to consider how writers for some shows (like Dexter, for instance) grab this issue and go through it to get to a sort of meta-product. From the perspective of story-telling, however, something really bad is happening. The function that for far longer than video, cinema, printing presses or even written language has been preserving our knowledge of the world is (in the US at least) infected with Fear Itself. I have been thinking lately that this is just an instrumental reflection of the financial imperative: that is, since the process of buying content is so concentrated, there is the opportunity of using that control for propaganda. And the propaganda in the US case is, you need us with our jackboots, nevermind about the civil rights. But of course writing can often be multivalent, and writers who have to observe to work can be far smarter than their corporate patrons, so the results are quite mixed. What i think though is that writers who can ingeniously transcend the unidimensional policy messages have to penetrate through to the other side of the message, so to speak, rather than go around it---produce it in some form or other even if they then turn it inside out.

By OpenID bigbalagan, at 10:30 PM  

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