Pandemic of Fear

A few years ago, Michael Crichton wrote State of Fear, a thought-provoking book on global warming. Whether or not you agree with his assessment of climate change activists, the book is a fascinating look at how suspicion, apprehension, and dread are so easily spread.

I thought of Crichton’s book recently as I observe the media-fuelled paranoia surrounding Mexico. Tijuana has long been a favorite foreign media target whenever they need a good head-shakin,’ finger-waggin’ shock story. Drug cartels, army intervention, thousands of drug-related deaths, torture, be-headings … It’s a shock-jock gold mine.

And this year … a swine flu epidemic/pandemic. It’s serious, but I cant help but notice the grossly divergent ways the media’s been covering the story. According to the WHO, Mexico has 26 confirmed cases and seven deaths. They recommend neither travel restrictions nor border closures.

Contrast this with Canada’s CTV network: they’re reporting 149 Mexican deaths, the same number alleged by CNN. Both networks are advising their audiences to avoid traveling to Mexico.

I’m not denying that Tijuana has a violent underbelly, nor am I suggesting swine flu isnt serious. These are trying times for Mexico. But I wonder if the most devastating threat we’re facing is a media-fueled pandemic of conspiracy theories and fear.

Do any of the following sound familiar?

  • All West Coast dwellers should flee inland to avoid the “Big One” – an earthquake that will send most of California, the Pacific Northwest, and lower mainland British Columbia to Davey Jones’ Locker, while the survivors surf to the Midwest.
  • Oh, yeah, except that we’d then be living in Tornado Alley (USA) or Flood Plain Central (Canada). Make sure your insurance is paid up.
  • Americans are fanatics about guns; you never know whether the guy behind you in the check-out line at Stuff-Mart got up on the grumpy side of bed and brought a concealed handgun along. And may God have mercy on your soul if hes a Postal Worker …
  • Canada has socialized medicine, and you know what that can lead to … (Correct answer: Healthcare for all.)
  • Does anyone have any left-over stockpiles from Y2K?
  • And so on, and so on …

If anything counts as a bona fide pandemic, perhaps it’s the proliferation of conspiracy theories and geopolitical stereotypes.

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