Moving on
Towards Better Times...?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Paranoid. Moi?

Unlike the vast majority of adults in the Western World today I don’t drive. If people ask me why, I laugh and say “it’s because I believe in keeping death off the roads”. But really it’s because I have a phobia about driving tests; my whole body goes to jelly and my brain goes to mush when I’m placed in the driving seat alongside a stern-faced examiner (tried once, completely freaked out; tried a second time [with valium] and completely bombed out ....), so I gave up any idea of ever being a car owner.

But not being able to drive isn’t a huge problem for me, as long as either (a) someone can give me a lift; (b) I have the fare for a taxi; or, failing those options, (c) there is public transport which can take me where I want to go. And because I tend to go to work at different times or to different places than anyone who can offer me a lift (and because the taxi fare would be extortionate), I usually end up going to work by bus or train.

And that (at last!) brings me to the point of this entry.

Usually when I travel by public transport, particularly early in the morning, I am too tired to really notice anything. But the other day I was a little more wide awake than usual, and bored. So I had a look around me at the posters on the bus.

And then it hit me. Every single poster, in some way or another, was telling me either that I was in some sort of danger, or that I ‘must not break the rules’ (or else ......), and some posters were telling me both things at once.

From the “we always catch fare dodgers” posters, through the “how to have a healthy heart” ads, to the “use a broom, not a vacuum cleaner” environmental posters, all of them were telling me to watch out, because, if I didn’t, I would either be caught and punished; make myself ill (and it would be my fault); or add to impending global disaster. They were all trying to warn me about something.

Ads for the Army said “we need you now!”(Just like during WW1 and WW11 – I wonder why......?); and even the one ‘normal’ transport add – for cheap fares for school-age children – warned that they must obtain “a special local transport ID”, or else, “your presence on one of our buses could be refused” (not, “you may have to pay the full fare”, but “your presence could be refused”). God help the poor child whose mother forgets to buy him an ID card – he could be made to stagger miles home from school in the rain or snow (but of course it would then be the mother who ‘should have known better’ – she had been warned).

Posters on the train warned “we will not tolerate ......” everything from violence (obviously fair enough) to children standing on seats (annoying, I know, but “not tolerate”? Why such harsh language?).

And it suddenly dawned on me that all the ‘normal’ adverts – you know, the ones which actually try to get you to buy something – had either been completely replaced, or had been altered into something much less healthy – subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages of fear.

Now a lot has been said recently about this growing ‘culture of fear’ which is said to be gripping the Western World (dammit, Michael Crichton has even written a best seller about it!) and the arguments for its existence are all pretty strong. From the reporting of the unending conflict in Iraq and the constant messages about ‘threats from Iran’ and Government suggestions as to ‘what we should do about it’, to the newish ‘threat’ (shock horror!) of Avian Flu, which the media lovingly pushes onto our TV screens and the front pages of newspapers every day now, we are a society which is expected to live in constant fear.

During the most paranoid years of the ‘Cold War’, people were told how to ‘protect and survive’, but I reckon that today’s ‘culture of fear’ must be just as bad. We have been given a new ‘enemy’, now that ‘we’ no longer have ‘the Russians’ to fear – Al Qaeda – and they appear to be every bit as deadly as the Soviet Union was portrayed to us. In fact, more so, because now we are told “they are among us”.

And so us ‘Brits’ now see policemen in our airports, armed to the teeth with guns which look too heavy for most of them to carry, leave alone shoot anyone with least, with any accuracy ...... And we read about an unarmed Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, shot down in cold blood at one of our tube stations, just because someone thought he looked like a terrorist, and we are fed a diet of lies and half-truths about what actually happened.

My god! If Al Qaeda doesn’t get us, then our own policemen will!

But us ‘Brits’ are pretty hard to scare. We lived for years with the ‘constant threat’ that the IRA would blow us to pieces and we got on with our lives – we voted Labour, Tory, Lib-Dem, even Green Party; many campaigned on everything from disarmament, feminism, and gay rights to the new ‘poll tax’ and ‘saving the whale’ ........ And we remained defiantly unaware that we were supposed to be living in constant fear.

So what does a government do when it wants to control its people but they won’t play ball? Won’t lie down and give up their rights to civil liberties without a fight? Obviously the ‘threat of terrorism’ isn’t enough for the likes of most ‘Brits’ – we need more subtle measures of control.

And so, for years now, without many of us fully realizing it, those more subtle measure have been brought into play.

We have been soaking up the ‘fear messages’ on advertisement hoardings, on public transport, on TV and in Newspaper and Magazine advertisements. Many of us have slowly come to assume that it is normal for ‘them’ to tell us what we must and must not do: ‘pay the correct fare’; ‘don’t try to cheat us’; ‘don’t walk here’; ‘don’t run there’; ‘don’t cross’; ‘don’t board’; ‘don’t use this/use that’; ‘keep your children/pets/grannies(?) under control’ ........ or else ........

And of course we get those TV adverts that tell us what we must have, followed swiftly by those telling us what dire consequences will befall our new acquisitions if we don’t toe the line: ‘insure now’ (or your loved ones will be left starving and unhoused); ‘you need to take out a loan with us right now’ (but you will lose your house if .........).

And in adverts for food and drink we have constant warnings too: ‘you must bring down your cholesterol’; ‘you must keep your bowels in good working order’; ‘you must watch your weight’; ‘you must not drink too much’; ........ or you could die horribly. And, of course, the adverts which make many of us appear like lepers and totally irresponsible citizens: ‘you must not smoke’ (or you will not only die horribly, but you will also add to the burden on our over-stressed NHS, and thus there will not be enough facilities left to treat ‘good people’ [even though we are allowing all forms of toxins from other sources into the atmosphere] – sorry – a pet rant of mine - ).

At this rate, the day will soon come when we are told that we must not drink water without government permission as to do so would be bad for our health ........ maybe even that we cannot live freely without permission? Who knows?

The day will come when we need permission to go about our normal everyday lives, and it won’t be that far away, unless these ‘subtle messages’ are recognised for what they are: attempts to make us fear – to make us think we must have ‘their’ help to run our lives because we just cannot manage them on our own. We need to recognise these messages, and to find ways to stop them affecting us right now.

And I’m not saying that everyone in the advertising/information industry is part of a grand plan to attack our civil liberties. What I am saying is that many of them, like the rest of us, have soaked up this culture as ‘the way’ to send us information. They too think it’s okay now to frighten people into buying their products or taking their advice – everyone else does it, so why not them? No, this whole fear thing is much more subtle that that. It has been going on for years, slowly growing in strength. But now it is being utilised by those who have their own agenda.

So, call me paranoid if you will. It won’t add to my fear. Because I have other fears – not fears of what ‘could happen’, but fears of the people who are trying to make us afraid: who are trying their damndest to build upon this ‘culture of fear’ that we have all become accustomed to and to make it more effective, and my fears are of why they should want to do this and to do it now.

posted by summersun70 at 5:32 PM


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