Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Social Dynamics of Terror, Or, Why We're Afraid All the Time

In short, it's the media's fault:
Today, the proliferation of 24-hour television news networks and the Internet have allowed the media to broadcast such attacks live and in their entirety. This development allowed vast numbers of people to watch live as the World Trade Center towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, and as teams of gunmen ran amok in Mumbai in November 2008. 
This exposure not only allows people to be informed about unfolding events, it also permits them to become secondary victims of the violence they have watched unfold before them. As the word indicates, the intent of “terrorism” is to create terror in a targeted audience, and the media allow that audience to become far larger than just those in the immediate vicinity of a terrorist attack. I am not a psychologist, but even I can understand that on 9/11, watching the second aircraft strike the South Tower, seeing people leap to their deaths from the windows of the World Trade Center Towers in order to escape the ensuing fire and then watching the towers collapse live on television had a profound impact on many people. A large portion of the United State was, in effect, victimized, as were a large number of people living abroad, judging from the statements of foreign citizens and leaders in the wake of 9/11 that “We are all Americans.”
Color me ... not surprised at all. The news networks broadcast what gets them good ratings, however, so maybe there's a substantial percentage of the population that wants to be vicariously traumatized and victimized. In fact, I did this just recently - I watched the unfolding of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords with rapt attention, even though I 1) have never met her; 2) couldn't have named her as a member of Congress before this happened; 3) didn't vote for her, and 4) have never even been to the state of Arizona. Weird ... but more about Gabrielle Giffords in a bit - I'm still sorting out my own thoughts about the past week.

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