Culture Of Fear In Bowling For Columbine

36,000 lives are lost every year as a result of gun violence, according to Giffords Law Center (n.d). Not to forget the estimated 100,000 people wounded annually (CDC, 2020). You might assume, that the problem resides in the liberal gun laws as well as the second amendment (Meaning; the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed). This, however, is not the case. Today, I will be (speaking) about the “Culture of Fear” and why media together with politicians play a very influential role when it comes to the outrageous use of firearms in the United States of America.

To begin with, Michael Moore explores the idea of a 'Culture of Fear' in Bowling For Columbine (2002), in which people are kept fearful about the society surrounding them. Therefore, causing Americans to resort to firearms and other protective equipment. Moore (2002) explicitly criticizes the media as the main source of people's defensive behavior. Due to disproportionate and overly dramatic news coverage of violent crime, buying handguns and other self-defense devices has, unfortunately, become common amongst American citizens. The Culture of Fear blames the media for sensationalizing incidents of bad news while ignoring the bigger picture. The Culture of Fear is the theory that the media or politicians, in general, may invoke fear to achieve political or corporate objectives through emotional bias. As Richard Nixon once stated:

“People react to fear, not love…They do not teach that in Sunday school, but it is true.” (Glassner 2010, p. 15).

Secondly, how does the Culture of Fear manifest in America? Well, to answer that question we have to firstly look at what the American news coverage looks like. Violence, crime, and intimidation all make up a significant portion of American news. Although most citizens of the United States are healthier, happier and are safer than ever before, several studies imply that these same citizens perceive their lifestyles to be very hazardous. Glassner (2010) states that: “Part of what I find interesting about this is that overall most Americans live in what is arguably the safest time and place in human history,” Glassner (2010) says, “and yet fear levels are high and there are many, many fears and scares out there.” (Time, 2016).

Furthermore, the host interviews Barry Glassner in the documentary Bowling for Columbine (2002), where Glassner claims that while murders are diminishing, the coverage surrounding it has increased. The upsurge of news coverage has led to increased viewership and consumerism. A perfect example of this is what happened after the 9/11 attack. The selling of alarms, firearms, ammunition and other self-defense devices increased exponentially as fear spread across the American continent. About twenty years later, the country is still trembling with fear of another sudden attack. Nothing is secure, and nowhere. The people in this conflict are, as always, the ones that lose the most while the corporations gorge on them. Keeping the people locked in terror as long as possible has become a business interest.

Above all, the media has its part in the Culture of Fear, yet a smaller one than the part that politicians and leaders of our countries have. This is due to the fact that media may affect a single individual and perhaps close related, whilst politicians and leaders can impact an entire country at vast.

Furthermore, the growing hatred against Mexicans is another illustration of how the Climate of Fear is being reflected in the U.S. via politicians. The massacre in El Paso, committed by a shooter who wanted to shoot 'as many Mexicans as possible,' marked a day for many Latinos across the U.S. that they long prognosticated would come. What are the motives of this growing hate against Mexicans? Well, one of them is Trump's utilization of populist rhetoric and the way he utilizes fear and uncertainty as a tool for pushing through his political agenda. A perfect illustration of this use is when Trump refers to foreigners as the reason more workers lose their employment instead of corporations seeking to make as much money as possible in the short term.

In addition, the perpetrators of the El Paso shooting and the majority of the American society have been enduring years of Donald Trump's belligerent rhetoric. He initiated his presidential campaign in 2015 by branding Mexicans as criminals and directed his administration to start clamping down on undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers. Lidia Carrillo, 44, says she prays for her daughter every day. “I don’t know if I’m going to see my daughter or my husband at the end of the day” she reveals via The Guardian, 2019. Overall, four in ten Latinos claim they have been discriminated in the past year, such as being harshly criticized for speaking Spanish or being asked to return to their home country (PewReaserch, 2018). In addition, hate crimes are undoubtedly on the rise throughout the United States, said Brian Levin (The Guardian, 2019), the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism's director.

In contrast to the U.S., Sweden has a rather strong and established social-security-net. This ensures that every person has the right to free education, free health care and when possible, extra financial support, irrespective of race, financial status or gender. Sweden also has far more restrictive gun laws that inhibit armed civilians. Although Sweden might have less gun violence, in no way, are we free from the Culture of Fear. Neither in the media or politics.

Moreover, In the U.S., the media is a money-making industry that thrives and makes money out of fear. The major news sources are mostly massive commercial media corporations. And their primary objective is to earn as much money as possible. Since the profit is their primary priority, it can have a significant impact on the information they are providing. For starters, click-baiting and excessively dramatizing incidents are frequently seen in American news. Unlike America, there is a lot of governmental control in Swedish media, which encourages media outlets to spread truths and the battle for legitimacy, rather than how much fear they can embed in an individual. But this does not shield us adequately from the Culture of Fear. A great illustration of a moment in Swedish media where Culture of Fear has shown itself is the trail surrounding the brutally murdered Swedish journalist, Kim Wall. Compared to similar offenses the case was very dramatic. Through incorporating music and frightening titles to any article posted about her, the newspapers attempted to make things seem more thrilling. It aroused excitement among us, news consumers, contributing to more clicks and shares, leading to more money being made by media organizations. Unfortunately, the problem with this form of overly dramatized news coverage is that the ordinary civilian does not get a nuanced news image but instead gets a skewed world perspective.

Nonetheless, the Culture of Fear is prominent in Swedish politics as well. One instance I want to look more closely at is Jimmie Åkesson, the 'Sverigedemokraterna' leader. Throughout his Almedal speeches, the overarching trend of Jimmie Åkesson's discourse is the emphasis on fear. Whether it was about constructing an enemy, establishing two counterpoints or the other parties who allegedly shattered Sweden to pieces, there was an underlying tone of fear. All that might be implemented is being exploited in favor of the party's ideological agenda. Sjödén (2017) describes that Altheide believes that when fear becomes a common experience or form by the expectation of people, some politicians and parties benefit from what is happening around the world. This can also be seen in the correspondence from Åkesson, since he frequently points to things that have taken place across the world which, from a political viewpoint, favor his party in numerous aspects. Furthermore, the way Åkesson claims citizens fears can be largely based on the creation of two counter poles, that is, the development of a 'we and them'. The construction of counter poles further reinforces Åkessons focus on the fear of the foreign and the unknown, which makes fear a useful resource. Additionally, I am not claiming Åkesson's strategy is either right or wrong. On the other side, his strategy seems to succeed (basing this argument on election results), considering how much his party has grown during the last years. Which is quite sad to see, when looking at how easily citizens are being tricked and manipulated.

The Culture of Fear, in conclusion, is a direct danger to our communities and nations at large. Every year approximately 40,000 people are killed by firearms in the United States, with a significant proportion of those figures being a direct result of The Climate of Fear. In this essay, I mentioned how infected the situation in the U.S. is, and most significantly, its repercussions. I also commented on the Swedish scenario, and why our situation is milder, but still an ongoing problem. Neither nation has undergone some substantive reforms yet, implying that the state still wants its people to be dependent on fear as well as on the excessive consumerism that goes along with it. Drastic measures must be taken as quickly and efficiently as possible, before the people lose trust in the media and most notably, in the government. 

07 July 2022
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