Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Sympathetic Appeal to Fear

I have talked about this issue before, a rant if ever there was one. Yet, for me, I cannot let this idea go. The sympathetic appeal to fear. The instilment of fear. The sustaining effort behind fear. Fear used to sell politics. Fear used to sell food. Fear used to sell medications. Fear used to strengthen alliances. The list—goes on. Watching “Sunday Morning” this morning, I was subjected to by no less than four commercials by Publix telling me that I must be careful about breast cancer and once (and I assume “if”) I get cancer, I must make sure to stay on the medications that my doctor prescribes and, if I am really responsible, as the commercials suggest, I will get my medications from the Publix pharmacy. To top the commercials off, it is suggested that the commercial is a “public service.” But fundamental to the commercials that invoke the sympathetic appeal of fear is the remedy of “relief.” Again, the Publix commercials offer the fear of breast cancer and the “relief” of their pharmacies, which will help heal me. I say “me” and “I” here because even though the commercial is not speaking to me specifically, commercials (in general) are framed in such as way as to appear to be speaking to me specifically, me as a unique person who needs this or that or the other thing. Music is of the utmost imports as well. Behind the morning commercials were the sad notes of “fifths,” “sevenths,” and “minor cords” working to intensify the fear aspects of the commercial. Emotion feeds the physical as your heart speeds up (by the way during the same time span, there was also a heart commercial in the mix), your breathing becomes quickened, palms sweat. The “remedy” portion of the commercial is accompanied by “happy” chords—major notes of “release” to conquer the dooming effect of the “fifths” and “sevenths.” The cure of the product accompanied by the cure of the music—you release a sigh of emotion: “You see, miracles do happen!” To make my morning even more fear based, I thumb through an August 9th issue of “Family Circle” that has been left unread in my bathroom. Whenever I visit my sister, I come home with a variety of old magazines for my reading pleasure. My sister gets an almost unbelievable amount of magazines sent to her by companies because of the line of work she is in. Instead of wasting them all, she hands them out to friends and, for my bathroom reading pleasure, family. “Family Circle” is not a magazine I would normally read. I don’t actually get into these types of magazines or even “Vogue” or “Entertainment Weekly” and the like. I like the “The Nation” or “Mother Jones.” Yet, here I am looking at the articles and I have to wonder how women, or men, could read these publications without being put into the fear frame of never leaving the house, getting married, going on dates or functioning normally in any way, shape or form. First I am asked if my “hair make[s] me look fat?” Next to this lovely statement, I am told how to take ten years off my life if I use RoC Retinol Correction. Apparently, I need to be corrected—I have aged—I am looking old. My immediate (trained) response? “Yep, my grays are coming out again; I should dye my hair this weekend.” To offer me “relief,” I am told, next, in another article how I can live life again by facing fear. Nice enough . . . 12 bullet points offered by writer Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant and filed under category of “inspiration.” I am told how to deal with the “tween” years of my children next, followed by tips for my backyard, fashion advice, friendship advice and the like. But what gets me are the ads disguised as articles, as well as all the articles and ads that tell me I have a weight problem—weight is the fundamental theme throughout. “Am I scared to have sex because I am overweight?” “Does my skin make me look fat?” Dos and Don’ts of food followed by, what looks like to me, extremely fattening recipes cards. And yes, there are several articles and ads about breast cancer and other cancers. How to lose more weight, how to exercise in the summer followed by an accusing face of a woman wondering if I am “doing all [I] can about [my] rheumatoid arthritis.” There is more than this in this magazine but again, many of these articles are “fear” based, even the most innocent of “tweens,” to the fear laced article dealing with “jealously” and the signs you should watch out for with your spouse. I felt indoctrinated. Yet, dear reader, I know fear sells, if it didn’t, we wouldn’t see so much of it. Fear sells not only products, but politics. For example, it seems as if, and I have not specifically researched to totally support this observation, whenever President Bush’s polls are down, we have another speech on 9-11 and terrorism. Whenever support for the war drops—terrorism and 9-11. The remedy for the fear offered here is the word freedom—another ambiguous word that politicians in general like to toss around, but never define. We must protect our freedom by fighting terrorism, limiting personal freedoms here in the United States and by ignoring the freedom of dignity of prisoners or suspected terrorists. Freedom is defined through the narrow lens of control which is, like the Publix commercials today, offered as a “public service.” Dear reader, I may get cancer, god knows many in my family have. I may get rheumatoid arthritis some day. I may find myself hijacked by terrorists or in a hurricane (which I have experienced) or many other horrible things in this life. I have no doubt and as my mom used to say: “life is not fair.” Yet, we should not be forced to live a life of fear if we don’t have to. Life is not fair, but it becomes even less so when we allow fear to rule it and our actions whether they are voting actions, buying actions and, yes, life actions. We can be responsible for ourselves: eat better, walk more, laugh more, dance more—but these actions do not need to be instill in us through fear. The only way to break the cycle is to break the discourse and underlying assumptions that we only do what is good for us out of fear. This underlying assumption allows commercials, politicians, teachers, and others to rule our actions and our thinking. Fear is important, we should fear certain situations . . . it is an emotion that can keep us alive. But the emotion was never meant to rule us, at least not today. It is because of a “fear” based society that, here in Florida, a new gun law allows anyone to fire at will if they feel justifiably threatened. With a “fear” based culture, who doesn’t feel justifiably threatened? Does this mean I should buy a gun? Most certainly, this law will generate more fear than it relieves. You should be weary about turning a corner at night now, what if you startle someone? Break the discourse, disrupt the assumptions. What do you think? R

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