“We got him!” Those three words were finally muttered by President George W. Bush on the 16th of December 2003 to rapturous applause after months of grueling and often deadly searching for the ousted ex-president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. “A new day in Iraq is dawning,” explained the elated Bush in the press conference.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country in East Los Angeles, California, Maria, a single mother of two, has recently arrived from her second job to her cramped public housing quarters. Unaffected by the news in the former, she begins to worry in terms of how she is going to pay for her children’s healthcare, now that numerous low-cost healthcare schemes for children have been cut. She is also worried about the rampant violence that she and her children are exposed to due to the rivaling gangs that ‘control’ certain parts of the vicinity. Why is Maria worrying? Why is she not happy with the news of Saddam Hussein’s capture?
The answer is obvious; she has other things that are more important to worry about. Is this capture going to signal a reform in healthcare? Probably not, but it will certainly calm the fears set forth by the media and redeem the statuses of certain Americans, after all isn’t spending billions of dollars somewhere abroad to ‘preserve freedom’ the American way. Maria and millions others under the poverty line in the US certainly don’t think so, and certainly neither does Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear. In his introduction Barry Glassner acquaints us with the fact that present-day Americans fear the wrong things, things fabricated or blown out the media. Another fact Glassner presents is that these unfounded fears cause us to put resources towards certain fictional problems, either abroad or domestically, while ignoring other, more relevant needs. A fact that, to me, is unfortunately validated in a society of false fears and broken dreams.
Glassner starts off by giving an example associated with the usage of illicit drugs in America. “In the late 1990s the number of drug users had decreased by half compared to a decade earlier.” (Glassner xi, 2003) With that said, a survey still showed that a majority of adults still ranked substance abuse as the greatest danger to American youth. What is wrong with this picture? Nothing wrong necessarily per say, it is just that rather than being afraid of matters of greater concern, people put their efforts into controlling a problem that is already under control. Another example that Glassner gives us is the proliferation of public panics in the childcare sector as a result of a handful of instances of sexual assaults by preschool teachers and priests. Such panics left us with the “refeminization” of day-care, as put by sociologist Mary DeYoung and, more importantly, the lack of male role models children have growing up.
Throughout the preface Glassner also touches on various actions of disproportionate public spending as a result of public panic, caused again by the media. One striking example is that, “in California we spend more on jails than on higher education.” (Glassner xvii, 2003) Glassner also points out that, “increases in the number of police and prison cells do not correlate consistently with reductions in the number of serious crimes committed.” (Glassner xvii, 2003) Needless to say, the end product of the distribution of funds leaves us with the exact opposite effect because it suggests that the crime problem is worse then we all thought. Such an example leads us to question the real value of education and its presence in American society.
Another example that is set forth in this introduction is of Jim Windolf, an editor in the New York Observer, who commented, “With another new quantifiable disorder or two, everybody in the country will be officially nuts.” (Glassner xii, 2003) With comments like these, it leads us to believe that in a few years time everyone in this country will ‘suffer’ from one thing or another, illnesses conjured by the media, leading countless panic-stricken people to pump millions of wasted dollars into ailments that’s can cure such ‘disorders’.
What’s more, in the past 15 years we have witnessed how a humanitarian cause, such as the plight of sweat shop laborers in East Asia is being labeled as another victim of overexposure by the media. The media along with the people it has attracted because of sympathy or fear that it one day might be them, have fought for the so called welfare of humanity that they envision in their minds; they organize boycotts, write to local governments, slam corporations who utilize this manner of production, and in the end, it when all is said and done, does the vision flourish? They sure think so, and yes, it might improve the conditions or raise wages for current workers, but what they bypass a majority of time in the vision is the single most important factor, reality. It soon starts to take its course.
As plants shut down one by one, the workers are seemingly liberated from their pseudo-prisons; they are free. What to do now? Often times, capitals of several nations, scoff at such actions because of the fact that it obstructs and indirectly reverses the amount of development of these countries have shown in correlation with such factories. In nations where unemployment level is above 50 percent, many people see these jobs as their only salvation from the grim life of poverty.
During a recent trip to Bangladesh, Kendall Stiles met dozens of adult men with children to raise who earned only enough for one or two servings of rice per day (less than ten cents) working as hired farm help in depressed villages. Stiles added that “in comparison, the young women who eagerly went to the garment factory each morning in the city and earned two dollars per day were in the upper middle class.” (Stiles 2002, 310)
As the question of right versus wrong presents itself most are confused as to which is which. Current economic trends have shown us that the idea the status quo has, in regards to the ‘dilemma’ of the sweatshop laborer, is in fact wrong, contrary to what we are led to believe, often resulting in the distribution of numerous charitable donations and federal aid to travel to foreign countries rather than being utilized to improve conditions, such as those similar to Maria’s or others that so desperately need attention in the United States.
As much as it pains me to read such sadistic statistics and statements, it pains me even more that I can honestly say that I have held unnecessary concerns or fears of issues in this excerpt or issues likened to them. You really have to try and find out the real truth in things before you can react. My view has also been shifted regarding the division of funds, before, I along with millions thought, “why not increase the military budget, after all it is to protect us.” Going back to the example of Maria, will this new defense decrease gang violence thousands of Americans face everyday? What good would protection from the outside do if protection from the inside is sub-par.
Stiles, Kendall. Case Histories in International Politics New York: Longman, 2002
Glassner, Barry. The Culture of fear New York: Pressman, 2003