cover image The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things

Barry Glassner. Basic Books, $25 (276pp) ISBN 978-0-465-01489-7

In a provocative report, Glassner (Career Crash, etc.) contends that Americans' worries about crime, drugs, child abuse and other issues have been blown out of proportion by a mass media that thrives on scares. Exposing fear-mongering in many quarters, this University of Southern California sociology professor argues that trendy issues like road rage, workplace violence, teenage suicide, ""granny dumping"" (abandonment of the elderly by callous relatives) and sex crimes via the Internet are ""false crises"" manufactured by inflated statistics and hype. Lambasting liberals as well as conservatives who allegedly blame teen moms for the nation's social ills, Glassner contends that teenage pregnancy is largely a response to the nation's economic and educational decline. He also believes that America's expensive campaign against illegal drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana diverts attention from the far more serious problem of deaths from the abuse of legal drugs and physicians' gross negligence in prescribing them. The good news, he reports, is that airplane travel is safer than ever and that the incidence of child kidnapping has been wildly exaggerated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he has his own axes to grind: he calls Gulf War Syndrome a ""metaphoric illness,"" tweaks the hypocrisy of ""those who single out rap singers as specially sexist or violent"" and labels the FDA's 1992 ban on silicone breast implants ""a grand victory of anecdote over science."" Some of his arguments are fresher than others; in any case, this antidote to paranoia is a guaranteed argument-starter. Agent, Geri Thoma. (June)