THE CULTURE OF FEAR by Barry Glassner


Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things
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A critical look at the baseless, harmful paranoia spread by our mass media. Glassner (Sociology/Univ. of Southern California; Career Crash, 1994, etc.) identifies the media as major villains in his eye-opening book, which depicts both periodical and TV journalists lusting for the audiences attracted by scare stories (following the dictum, “if it bleeds, it leads”). Scare topics like political terrorism, child-care sadists, and fire on the operating table get major play, even though statistically speaking an American is far more likely to be killed by lightning than to experience these problems. Medical facts regarding conditions like Gulf War syndrome or breast-implant complications, for example, are too questionable, the author feels, to warrant the kind of simplistic reporting they receive. When Glassner searched for evidence behind the “roofies rape” scare (date-rapists supposedly fed victims the drug Rohypnol), he notes: “I searched widely for sound studies of the true prevalence [of the drug’s use] and found only one.” Many so-called experts and studies cited as authoritative sources are exposed as phonies in this carefully annotated book. At a time when crime rates are plummeting, tough-on-crime pols get photo ops at boot camps for offenders, though such facilities have accomplished nothing, according to Glassner. Yet politicians are masters at pressing our fear buttons; the author quotes Richard Nixon remarking, “People react to fear, not love. They don—t teach that in Sunday school, but it’s true.” Sometimes national scares prevent us from correcting the true (if unpopular) cause of a problem—our failure to respond to violent crime with tougher gun laws, for instance. Glassner ascribes some irrational fear to millennial fever and alarm at rapid technological change, but he also reminds us that scare-mongering is economically as well as politically profitable. One of the most important sociological books you—ll read this year, and certainly the most reassuring. (Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-465-01489-5
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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