Media as anxiety-inducer
Article by Media Hell's Brian Dean
previously printed in the Guardian and the
Recently, after resting for a year, I prepared myself
to return to work for a large bureaucratic company. The prospect
of going back into the corporate world filled me with dread,
but my money had run out so it looked like I had no choice.
I got the job after a successful act of deception at the job
interview. This involved hiding all my real motivations and
over-using words like opportunity and challenge.
The interviewer seemed convinced that I was there out of free
choice and enthusiasm, rather than financial dilemma and survival
Financial anxiety turns most of us into useful
idiots, a term used by the intelligence community, meaning
those who unwittingly end up serving the purposes of others,
while still believing in their own freedom and autonomy. In
the everyday world of tedious wage-slavery, useful idiots
can be identified by their claim to like their jobs. When
so many people seem to enjoy being economic slaves, or at
least pretend to, one begins to suspect something beyond deluded
sentimentality something sinister and pathological.
When so many people seem to enjoy
being economic slaves, one begins to suspect something sinister
Were living in an anxiety culture and were
driven by fear. If that sounds like an exaggeration, take
a look at some figures. According to a recent major survey
commissioned by the government, more than 10 percent of the
population suffer from a neurotic anxiety disorder (1).
The most common problem is a mixed anxiety and depressive
disorder, affecting 7 percent of people. Vast quantities of
tranquillisers and anti-depressants are prescribed in the
UK eighty million prescriptions in 1994, and rapidly
rising since (2). Sixty percent of employees suffer
from feelings of insecurity and anxiety. Forty three percent
have problems sleeping because of work worries. Fifty four
percent fret over inadequate income (3).
This statistical picture seems at odds with the
grinning, self-assured yuppie reality beamed into our living
rooms during commercial breaks. The advertisers portray a
world where all normal people drive expensive new cars and
smile perpetually. The message is: good sex-bonding is available
only to those who live like this. The use of sex in advertising
may seem crude and obvious, but the effect, through repetition,
is to emotionally sensitise social comparison, so people feel
humiliated driving old cars, for example. No one is really
immune from these social-comparison anxieties, not even the
marketers themselves a recent survey shows advertising
executives to be plagued by self-doubt and insecurity
Schools are factories for turning
carefree souls into obedient, economically frightened clones.
There are strong vested interests in keeping public
anxiety at a high level. Anxious people make good consumers
they tend to eat and drink compulsively, need more
distractions (newspapers, TV, etc) and more external buttressing
of their fragile self-image through lifestyle products and
status symbols. Insurance companies and the whole financial
services industry make billions from our financial insecurities.
The unsubtle targeting of our fears is evident in adverts
for vehicle recovery services, cars, alarms, security systems,
mobile phones, private health care, chewing gum, deodorant
and so on. Employers benefit if the workers fear losing their
jobs fearful people are less likely to complain or
rebel. Studies show that people are more suggestible and compliant
when anxious. Politicians quote public fears as
justification for more freedom-eroding legislation. Insecure
populations show a tendency to elect authoritarian governments.
You can probably think of many more examples. In a word, governments
and corporations gladly reap the harvests of high public anxiety.
Anxiety can be induced in a population by constantly
focusing on the threat of crime in an exaggerated way. This
has the advantage of directing fear towards bad
individuals who break the law, rather than the institutions
which make the laws. In a recent MORI poll, half of those
questioned believed that tabloid newspapers have a vested
interest in making people more afraid of crime. In 1995, the
makers of Frontline, a Channel 4 documentary on crime,
requested interviews with the editors of the Daily Mail,
Daily Mirror, Sun, Daily and Sunday Express, Today,
People and Star, to ask how they justified their
sensationalised crime coverage. They all refused to be interviewed
The real function of individual
responsibility is social conformity.
The news headlines often give the impression of
paedophiles or killers on every street corner, murdering every
passing child. The official statistics present a much different
picture. According to government figures only five children
are murdered by strangers each year in England and Wales,
on average (6). Most child homicides are in fact committed
by the parents. Over the last 25 years there has been no increase
in child murder by strangers. The overall murder rate (all
ages) is the same now as it was in 1857 (roughly 13 per million
of the population per year) (7).
Unfortunately, many people believe the crime
hype. A third of elderly women fear going outside, but only
one in 4000 will be assaulted (8). Statistically, the
elderly and young children are the groups least at risk from
attack but because the newspapers cover all
violent crimes involving the young and the very old, they
seem common. Meanwhile, the climate of fear being created
is out of all proportion to the real threat of crime for most
One effect of our over-stimulated fear of crime
is increased paranoia and suspicion. If I take a stroll through
the park, will the woman ahead think Im stalking her?
If I see a child in distress, do I assist or mind my own business?
Some school teachers were recently reported to be in difficulty
deciding whether to apply sun-protection lotion to young children.
On one hand there was the risk of skin cancer, and on the
other the risk of child sex-abuse accusation. Welcome to anxiety
The climate of fear being created
is out of all proportion to the real threat of crime for most
Most anxiety results from what weve been
thinking, rather than external events. Were immersed
in fear-inducing belief systems, but its invisible to
us. Unfortunately, exposure to these fearful beliefs starts
in early childhood, before we can develop any intellectual
defences. We receive a thorough anxiety conditioning,
which is our real childhood education. Schools are factories
for turning carefree souls into obedient, economically frightened
clones. Children are also exposed daily to the anxious thoughts
of their parents generally known as parental
concern, although the less sentimentally inclined may
prefer to call it neurosis. Parents demonstrate how loving
and responsible they are by worrying all the time. This is
regarded as perfectly normal in our society.
So what are the main anxiety-inducing beliefs?
Perhaps the most insidious is original sin
the notion that, in essence, were morally bad,
and must redeem ourselves through hard work and suffering.
This beliefs poisonous tentacles reach into your mind,
causing you to see life as a burden to endure, rather than
as a fantastic adventure. It manifests as the idea that youre
infinitely undeserving that reward, ie happiness, will
always be contingent upon the endurance of some unpleasant
activity such as work. It surfaces as the feeling that youre
not good enough, or that something is wrong with you
a tendency exploited to the maximum by big business. It also
makes you feel guilty.
The original sin worldview can, however, be subverted
with psychological gimmicks. For example, try believing that
you deserve to be paid for doing nothing. Dismiss the notion
that you have to earn anything. You earned your
life by being born now you deserve to relax. Quit your
job and go on holiday, or call in sick as often as possible.
Remove all forms of guilt from your mind. Go to extremes of
laziness and indulge yourself deluxe-style every day. Spend
the day in bed watching videos, eating Belgian chocolates
and drinking Green Chartreuse, or whatever gets you relaxed
and high then take it easier next day.
Were immersed in fear-inducing
belief systems, but theyre invisible to us.
Another insidious anxiety-inducer to watch out
for is the belief that you should be responsible. This puts
people under tremendous strain. You dont choose your
genetic make-up or the conditions in which you grow up, yet
all the unfortunate things that happen are your fault. This
sense of responsibility is obviously false you cant
even be responsible for your next thought. True responsibility
would require all-seeing, all-knowing divine power
its not something for fallible individuals to attempt.
Of course, the real function of individual
responsibility is social conformity. Society holds you
accountable if you dont comply with its definition
of your responsibilities. Its a big social con-trick
with the responsible individual as dupe.
The attraction of responsibility (all con-tricks have an attraction)
is that it allows people total conformity without removing
the facade of individuality its the kind of concept
that advertising agencies dream about.
Responsibility sees everything as a problem needing
a solution usually involving endless work and expenditure.
Its part of a conspiracy of stupidity undermining claims
that we can work less and take it easy. Any intelligent attempt
to drastically cut working hours is resisted on the basis
that its irresponsible. As a result we continue to work
for a responsible (but arbitrary) 40 hours a week instead
of a more sensible 40 minutes.
Politicians the experts on responsibility
see joblessness as the ultimate irresponsible lifestyle.
It never occurs to them that their idea of responsibility
might not be universal. Many people feel a responsibility
to quit work in order to widen their knowledge and develop
their potential. From this viewpoint, work is an irresponsible
cop-out a last refuge of the fearful and ignorant.
References: (1) Study
commissioned by the Department of Health, as reported in The
Independent, 15 Dec 1994. (2) World in Action and Radio Times,
15 Oct 1994. (3) NOP poll, quoted by World in Action, Oct
1995. (4) The Times, 22 Nov 1996. (5) Frontline, Channel 4,
4 Oct 1995. (6) Sunday Times, 6 Aug 1995. (7) The Independent,
25 Sept 1996. (8) The Times, 11 Sept 1996.