The Big Bad World

Maybe it’s because I’ve read a good share of horror or because I have a vivid imagination or because I’ve seen this play out in history time and again, but the Miller McCune’s “The Comforting Notion of an All-Powerful Enemy” seems like an article that just makes so much sense to me.

So often we define ourselves through others.  “Who are you?”  If the questioner is not asking for my name, but exactly “who” I am, I’m apt to respond in relational terms.  I’m a teacher; I’m a writer; I’m a comic book fan.  These are relational definitions within a cultural context.  I may also answer “human” but even that just connects me to the entire human race, instead of a specific group.  Other people and their roles help me to define myself.  This has a lot to do with both history and cultural identity.  Many cultures rely on enemies or the “Other” to help define their own roles and beliefs; what they are and what they aren’t.  History is chockfull of examples of “us vs. them” moments such as civilization vs. barbarian societies, Christians vs. Muslims, Colonists vs. Natives, colonists vs. mainlanders, capitalists vs. communists, citizens vs. immigrants.

In the creation and maintenance of this other, it makes sense that the other is given more power and influence beyond typical expectations; thus in the immigration debate, we’re told by major news outlets that immigrants are going to take our jobs, are drug addicts, freeloaders, and other nefarious and erroneous beliefs about the group as a whole so that many feel threatened even when they have no need to.  In the days following 9/11, we feared that terrorists were everywhere and could do anything; malls, city-halls, and companies across the country believed they would be struck next and needed to take precautions.  The media fueling the flames of fear certainly helped.

Projecting the Enemy

But the interesting piece is that when faced with a chaotic world or a clear enemy, people opt to reposition their fears onto that enemy.  One cannot (with much great success) focus their anxiety and anger at the universe at large (or in religion, hating God is a big mistake).  Thus, the more challenged and problematic the world becomes, the more we are apt to fracture and feel deeply resistant to those we don’t identify with.

The line that strikes my fancy and gives me pause is:  “So, again, we see that the need to perceive enemies is reduced when people are made to feel that they are in control of their lives, or that there is a reliable, efficient social order that protects them from the threat of random hazards.”  So much of our current public debate sways between extremes (or rather is made extreme by the two “all power” enemies) of saying that government should stay out of everything or government should control everything (realize, these are the extremes that each side slings at one another and there are ample shades of gray inbetween that most people inhibit).  But a balance is needed; a quality mix of government empowering and people taking responsibility.

Where else can we relate the information in this article to in our counter?  It makes obvious reference to the healthcare debate, and I’ve mentioned immigration, but what else?  How has this piece place a role in history and the distribution of rights and resources?  What examples come to mind that this article sheds light upon? 


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Comments

  1. The Columbine Shootings is another event that directly links to this article. Several accusations were made as to why these two boys, Erik Harris and Dylan Clebold, would conduct the deadliest high school massacre in American history. Among many speculations people began to blame violent video games and movies, the Goth subculture, and Marilyn Manson. After many links to Marilyn Manson in new reports, people began to blame the shootings directly on Manson and how his dark music and imagery was the sole inspiration for this attack. Putting a face to a fear is a dangerous route because I believe it detracts from people truly solving the problems at hand. Instead of focusing as to really why the Columbine High School Massacre occurred, people were focusing on the evils of Marilyn Manson. He states in Michael Moore’s documentary “Bowling for Columbine”—“I can definitely see why they would pick on me. Because I think it is easy for them to throw my face on TV, because in the end I’m the poster boy for fear. Because I represent what everyone is afraid of, because I say and do whatever I want.” As stated in this article, “[enemies are a] recurring motif of contemporary political discourse, as generalized fear mutates for many into a fixation on a ferocious foe. In that instance Marilyn Manson was labeled the enemy. Today Muslim terrorists are labeled the enemy. And the enemy of tomorrow will be the new fear in our society. At the end of the interview with Marilyn Manson, Michael Moore asks what Manson would say to the two boys if he had the chance, Manson answers: “I wouldn’t say a single word to them I would listen to them, and that’s what no one did.” Mindlessly blaming is sad trait society possesses, and the only way to push this ignorance aside is to really focus on not blaming a person, but rather focus on solving the problem at hand.

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  2. I agree with the above comment. It seems as though whenever the media or someone with a great influence puts the blame on something then it sticks for good. For example I recently watched Notorious which is a true story on the the life of Biggie Smalls. All though I'm sure some of the details are not 100% true, the basic context of the story proves this point. An example from the movie was that Biggie Smalls and Tupac were good friends even though they were from different areas. Biggie from the East Coast and Tupac from the West. When Tupac was first shot at first, the media spun it so that it was Biggie that gave him up when in reality it wasn't. This in turn started a huge West Coast vs. East Coast battle just because of how one influential source said one thing.
    I can also remember a little after 9/11 where just like you said above that Muslims were the enemy. Every time anyone saw anyone saw someone darker skin or a Turban, it was as though they were automatically a terrorist and were going to bomb you. A lot of it jokes but this was only brought on by some people starting the talk and then being followed by the crowd. While this is very wrong it is sadly true in many cases. It is the world that we now live in. Profiling and judging anything that moves.

    Jake

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  3. This type of relationship can be seen in two opposing countries during any war. Specifically, we’ll look at the American civil war. The north and the south both hated the other, because they both thought that they were correct. The North looked down on the South for wanting to fight for slavery but the South were determined to get what they wanted. They were monsters to one another, even though both armies inhabited the same country. The media played a large role in building this hate for one another. Through propaganda such like posters, citizens of the North were being told that they were the “good guys”, while citizens of the South were being told that they were, indeed, the “good guys”.

    The movie Avatar also fits this description. It’s a classic “us vs. them” scenario, very comparable to the pilgrims vs. the Indians. The humans in the movie go to another planet, where they are apprehensive about their unfamiliar surroundings. They find human-like creatures on the planet, and the humans decide that they cannot share the planet with its denizens. The humans have no reason to hate the creatures of the Na’vi clan, but out of irrational fear they kill the creatures, and out of ignorance and greed they harvest the planet.

    Jonny

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  4. I have to agree with the first two comments. That once this country finds something wrong and something that people fear, they take it and always feel the need to blame it on something or someone particular. Its like you said in the post they are just “fueling the flame of the fear” (Lance Eaton). Media will do this with anything and like the first post made by an anonymous person, they state something on the lines of if people want to start making a change in this society they have “…to start focusing on solving the problem at hand”. I really agree with this statement. It got me to thinking about the title of the post “The Big Bad World”, are we really that bad? Who knows, I mean we blame the media for many things that they blame on other people about problems. Like stated in the first post about the Columbine shootings associated with Marilyn Manson. In us blaming them does that not make us also hypocrites. Who should really take the blame for this societies actions leading to violence? Should anyone be blamed at all? I would have to say instead of finding out the answers to these questions and pointing fingers at people why don’t we as a society come together and try to solve things ourselves. We don’t need to wait till someone “powerful” comes along, look at MLK, he was your average man who “had a dream” and look at how fair it brought this country. So its time to step out of the media’s shadow and start making some changes so we don’t have posts like this one labeled “The Big Band World”.

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  5. I also strongly agree with the first two comments on this post. I feel as though when something tragic happens in our country, everyone feels the need to place the blame on something or someone else that caused that tragedy to occur. People tend to believe that things such as movies, music or video games are the cause violence among children. The first comment exemplifies that by discussing the Columbine shootings and how the two shooters were influenced by violent games and dark music. The first comment also makes a very clever point in saying that “putting a face to a fear is a dangerous route because I believe it detracts from people truly solving the problems at hand.” I agree with that statement because I think that instead of solving the issues of violence in children, people tend to use these “influences” as a scapegoat and turn away from the problems. I think that in order to solve these problems we need to stop placing blame and begin taking action to make sure that nothing like the Columbine shootings ever happen again. Of course, teenage violence is not the only problem in our society. Agreeing with the other comments, to this day, some American’s still look at people that wear a turban with pure disgust because they directly link them to the September 11th terrorist attack. Instead of ridding the world of hatred which is what we should be doing, we tend to keep the hatred circulating and placing the blame on people of that descent.

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  6. The media plays a huge part in how people thing. One way is about the war. They make people fear what is going to happen to us next. People always walk around looking over their shoulder. Just like they said in the article. Another thing is Global Warming, yes, this is a problem that we are having in society, but people are stressing over this way too much. Its actually not that big of a deal yet. Maybe in a few hundred maybe thousand years this will be a problem, but not now, I mean come on, the media puts crazy thoughts in peoples head to the point that it starts to mess with them, and it becomes a life style just to stay safe. I say people now a days should just sit back relax and lighten up a little bit and they will be fine. What you see on the news you cant always believe if that was the case then we would all be insane. Some things that the media put out there are so dumb. Like if a few people get sick then they call it an epidemic and everyone goes crazy. This is getting a little bit crazy but i guess we as people will never get the hint to just chill out and everything will be fine

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  7. In my experience, the media does little more in the world of politics, religion, or any other field of controversy than throw gunpowder onto a bed of coals. Just as the fire was about to smolder out, BOOM! And now we’re back to square one. Again…and again… and again…
    I sincerely hope that someday we can get thoroughly honest, unbiased, purely factual news reports on a channel other then Comedy Central. I love the work done by Stephen Colbert and especially Jon Stewart, but the fact that I can get a more intelligent and unbiased opinion out of those two, who consider themselves comedians, not news reporters, is a fact that I find more then a little depressing.
    Now, in terms of my own views… As a devout political independent, I expect one day I will be asked why I hate liberals/conservatives/religious zealots (I include atheists in that last count, by the way). And my answer to all of those possible questions will be the same. I have absolutely no problem with any beliefs that any person could possibly have. I have a problem with stupidity, hypocrisy, and ignorance, and it just so happens that I have seen that many of those qualities can be found in those who cling to the extremes of their views, particularly those who appear regularly on the news or in popular media. By refusing to accept that your viewpoint may not be the only one or even, dare I say it, the only ‘right’ one, you close yourself off to an entire group of people who don’t share your exact views. In fact, understanding other viewpoints may actually strengthen those beliefs you already have. Though the original provider of this quote eludes me, I have heard it said that those who have never questioned their faith cannot truly understand it.
    In short, believe what you want – that is your right. But DO NOT throw a fit every time someone disagrees with your beliefs or opinions. It only makes you seem childish and narrow-minded There are SIX BILLION people in the world; not all of them are going to agree with you, but that doesn’t make their beliefs any less valid then your’s.

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