Altheide, D 2002, ‘The Lense of Fear’, in Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis’, Aldine De Gruyter, New York, pp. 175-198
How, according to Altheide, does the mass media construct a discourse of fear?
Altheide argues that popular culture is the culprit in the pervasion of a discourse of fear throughout society. He claims that fear is an orientation to the world and in the pre-industrialised society (and continuing into modern day) religion provided the discourse of fear in order to establish its authority. As society has evolved into one where religion is no longer the reigning power it once was, and the public sphere has come into effect, media has become the ‘fear peddler’.
Altheide claims that the media’s discourse of fear has created a pervasive sense of fear as part of our identity; that we are all potential victims of something. That this fear has evolved from being connected to actual real threats to a general sense of insecurity becoming the norm. The way this fear is constructed by the media is through constant publicising of rare events, to the extent that they seem to become normal. E.g. If we watch the news we are flooded with stories about murder, plane crashes, natural disasters, terrorism etc. Which if any single event was viewed in context and isolation we could recognise the rare and unthreatening nature of such an event on our individual lives but within the context of the Media and our constant exposure we are lead to believe that bad things happen all the time to anyone and everyone and that we should be ready to be the next victim.
Advertising uses fear to sell products, “If you don’t have the latest technology you wont fit in with your peers”.
Narrative uses fear to build an emotional connection between the audience, “what if it was you that woke up and all your loved ones were killed…”
Governments use fear to push agendas and “sell” the governed issues that the government can then be seen to act on.
Altheide illustrates that fear is a learned emotion that relies on their being a victim, even if only perceived. He states that discourse of fear thrives on repetition and that stereotypes are easy to accept even when false. The media prays on our personal fears and expands them into societal or public fears, so that paranoias can be seen as an acceptable rather than an extreme psychological state.