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MONDAY, JULY 04, 2011
Society has commercialized my fear and I'd like to regain mine back. With the onslaught of "Fear Factor"-esque programs on television, the constant fear-mongering from news headlines, and even the self-labeling "No Fear" campaign perhaps this realization of mine was overdue. If I'm saying anything different from passing thoughts in every day conversation about censorship, overplayed fear-related reality shows or the desensitization of society, I think it may lie in my statement that I actually would consider re-incorporating some of my fear in small dosages. If for the mere fact that I believe it would help me regain a sense of my humanity.

Fear is known to be a "great motivator" and so it's often used by markets that need your action. The consumer demand for products that incite fear has grown so much that people don't just want to observe it, they want to experience it in more realistic forms. But I'm not just writing about Halloween or scary movies, although they serve as examples of our long history of being fascinated by fear. I'm writing about how the idea of fear in advertisements, entertainment, and news, has been packaged for consumers for so long that people have lost sight of what we should truly fear. The end result is we either misguide our reactions to fear or we are just left feeling so overwhelmed by the bombardment of fear-inciting messages that we become neglectful of what we should truly fear.

Imagine if you were scrunched inside the top of a cement cylinder with snakes at the pit and spider crawling along the walls. Now imagine you then found out a construction crane raised the windowless cylinder atop the CN Tower. Your natural levels of claustrophobia, ophidiophobia, arachnophobia or acrophobia, respectively, will be weighed upon what television channel this bizarre scenario appeared on. If it appeared on Fear Factor then you'd probably be more calm than if you were being televised on CBC's News Update.

If this is the case, the reasoning for this line of thinking is what commences the dehumanization I spoke of earlier by the removal of natural fear. The reason we wouldn't be as fearful on an episode of Fear Factor as oppose to CBC News is because we possess the knowledge that Fear Factor's aim isn't to kill contestants and that experts have probably pre-tested the concrete cylinder scenario. However, if we were on CBC News we'd know we were in a state of urgency that lacks pre-planning.

The scary part is that you are doubting your own personal knowledge and lending your calmness to the experience of others. Re-evaluate your situation; you're in Canada stuck in a concrete wall with spiders and snakes. The most common snakes and spiders in Canada aren't poisonous. If you're in Toronto , where the CN Tower is located, chances are that you're stuck with household spiders and garden snakes. However, if you're on Fear Factor then you'll probably be placed with snakes and spiders that look frightful on television and, despite your hope that they've been detoxified, are usually associated with being venomous. Despite, this knowledge your trust is placed in the hands of others. Despite your trust in the Fear Factor brand name there is a strong case that you should be more fearful on the Fear Factor than on CBC News. The knowledge needed is something that could already be possessed. It could be the science that we already learnt in high school or even from hanging out in our gardens where Canadian snakes and spiders are.

I have considered that what could be argued as a counter-point is the fact that the contestant has placed their trust with another human and that could be considered a form of humanitarian-trust to some. However, as I've labeled it the "commercialization of fear" there is a strong degree of greed and money to be gained from this type of trust. Your trust is placed in experts that are hired through the financial greed involved in making you scared in the first place. If you take into account that the contestant is hoping to gain money from overcoming the fear while the television producers are hoping that you won't overcome the fear and win money, then you're left with a very backward form of fear. The word “fear” can actually mean hope, challenge, or money, depending on the TV show you’re on. What personally makes me depressed is that human scientific knowledge that should be the basis of reasoning has lost against the trust behind the brand-recognition of a name such as "Fear Factor" and all the multi-corporation taboo that follows suite.

To illustrate the extent of the commercialization of fear I'd like to cite an actual experience. I worked in a position where I gave ecological advice and I've been asked questions such as whether "insecticides are harmful to pets?" and "is pond algaecide safe for birds to drink?" and "is Weed'n Feed safe for my children to play in?" The people who've asked me these questions have seen the toxic and corrosive warning labels placed on the commercial products but still have an urge to ask these questions because the brand name friendliness that they've come to trust in the multitude of commercials must have somehow overcome the only raw piece of actual scientific data on that shiny label.

It’s not simply a problem of laziness. Despite whether they're lazy, people have the knowledge of what a "poison" sign indicates and chose not to follow it. Instead I’d direct it to an overload of fear mongering from all levels of media and entertainment. For example, if I mention that certain cosmetics are carcinogens, I’m met with the platitude “everything causes cancer.” A cliché that sums up what I’ve been criticizing so far. The statement doesn’t contradict the fact that it’s a carcinogen but rather that everything else in the world can be just as dangerous. The carcinogen is viewed as just another thing that the TV news media has portrayed poorly in their haste for headlines; a better response than “everything causes cancer” would be that there are many types of cancer, thus many carcinogens. Plus many of them are unavoidable due to poor industry practices. Although a bit verbose, at least the last sentence incorporates responsibility and accuracy. A great journalist, Dorothy Thompson, served the media well when she said, “There is nothing to fear except the persistent refusal to find out the truth, the persistent refusal to analyze the causes of happenings.” But to do that we may need to incorporate some of our natural fear-responses back into our lives.

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