Dr. David Altheide, Regents' Professor Emeritus, School of Social Transformation Justice and Social Inquiry at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University talks about these issues, with particular reference to how fear is used by the media. His opinion is that we are suffering from more fears than before.
Dr Altheide’s point of view is basically that the media in the US, but not only the US, has become commercialised, and through using what is called: ‘media logic’, media outlets learn very quickly that fear can be used as a form of entertainment in order to attract and keep audiences. The presentation and development of threats, at both local and international levels, is a useful way to maintain audience reach even though, as Dr Altheide points out, life in the United States, at least for most people, is not full of threats. The media do this to attract a certain ‘quality of audience’ that can be sold something. Culture soon gets used to this, and soon we find a situation where the communication of threat becomes something one expects. It becomes almost comforting to be constantly told that threats exit, so that we can be afraid. We are entering a dystopian Brave New World where we need our daily fix of fear.
The size of countries also seems to play an important part. Dr Altheide mentioned that large countries tend to be more all encompassing in their ability to convince citizens of a particular interpretation of fear about a concept, belief or subject that may change over time, for example: capitalism, communism, Islam, migrants, medicare. The object is to convince us that we should be frightened of these, that they present threats, and by and large we are convinced by the messages that we are bombarded with every day.
The emergence of social media has not, it seems, positively affected the dominance of the mainstream media and dissolved their power to create myths on national and/or local levels. The reason for this, as Dr Altheide suggests, is that the social media tends to empower individuals and small groups, thus the population is in fact being fragmented, not unified around a particular cause, and thus the power of people who use social media to fight messages created by the mainstream media is weakening.
The social media is a very visual form of communication and does not need facts. This visualisation, that often becomes trivialisation, is something that is now being adopted by the mainstream media, in fact it has now become common knowledge in the US media that there are no more facts, according to Dr Altheide. Instead we have opinion, scientific evidence is also treated as opinion. Even having a conversation in such a fear-based world is difficult.
In short, Fear seems to be on the rise.
Happy New Fear 2016!