Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Contemplating the marketability of fear . . .

Martha note: Sorry this is late. I was temporarily felled by a computer virus . . .

I recently read Harriet Reisen's fine and interesting biography, Louisa May Alcott; The Woman Behind Little Women. And who knew that this chronicler of constrained Victorian girlhood (and the magnificently rebellious Jo) also wrote pulp fiction and horror stories? Her father, Bronson Alcott, was evidently too busy contemplating the imponderables with his fellow Concord Transcendentalists (the Emerson-Thoreau crowd) to earn much money. Louisa took on the responsibility of supporting the entire Alcott family, and so had to write like a maniac to earn the money to do this. Fear, she learned early on, was quite marketable.

Ah, the thrill of fear! How well I remember lying on the window seat in the back den when I was about 14, reading the Hound of the Baskervilles, and feeling deliciously terrified. Nothing about my real life heightened my emotions nearly as Conan Doyle's imaginary hound, out there, somewhere on the moors. And experiencing such an intensity of feeling, spine-chilling as it was, was much more fun than playing Scrabble with my family.

And what about scary movies? This past Halloween weekend may have been exceptionally fear-friendly, but even so the emotion has to be pretty generally enjoyable to have 2 fear-inspiring movies account for half  the weekend's top-ten movies gross.

Indeed, why plod through life when you can go through it in a state of intensified alarm? Or why plod through a campaign on dull reason when you can incite fear? That certainly seems to be the thinking of many political movers and shakers these days. U.S. News and World Report began an article on the 2010 campaign with these thoughts:
The fear factor is dominating the midterm election campaigns, as leaders of both major parties focus on issues that have a history of angering and dividing the voters. "These issues have proven value," says Rutgers University political scientist Ross Baker. "The fact is that there is an arsenal of issues of high emotional content" that gives each party some formidable weapons to use against the opposition. . . .There is at least a kernel of truth in many of the charges, but the parties seem to be doing their best to caricature their opponents in an effort to scare as many voters as possible.
Yesterday, The U.K.'s venerable Guardian, whose non-American perspective I always enjoy, ran an article on today's elections under these headlines:

US midterms: Americans driven to the polls by fear in the Halloween elections 

The US votes on Tuesday for members of Congress and state governors, but there has been no election in living memory where panic and anxiety have featured as such strong motivating forces.

Fear evidently sells Americans even better than it did in Ms. Alcott's day. Think about that as you head to the polls. Is fear really something you want to influence your vote?

No comments:

Post a Comment