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After last week, I'm now officially tired of the American Terror Industry
That is to say, the media. (And some of the politicians.)

The most dispiriting thing about the week for me was the number of times I'd flip around the TV or radio or newspapers and see headlines talking about Boston living in a state of fear or nonsense like that. Which of course led to a bunch of inquiries from friends and relatives that all had the same basic question: "Aren't you *scared*?"

Um -- no, not particularly.

I mean, seriously: the closest this came to us personally was the MIT shooting, which was about two miles from here. That's five T stops -- practically an ocean away in practical terms. Somerville wasn't even covered by Friday's lockdown (and Burlington certainly wasn't), which was fortunate, since it allowed me to run the errands I needed for the weekend. I can see myself being scared if I'd been near the scene of the Cambridge shooting (or moreover, the Watertown gun battle) on Friday, and badly shaken if I'd been anywhere near the bombing itself on Monday. But I wasn't.

The only time I had a twinge of *personal* concern was right after the bombing itself, when my reaction was largely the same as 9/11 -- that this was an unbelievably *stupid* thing for someone to have done, and therefore worrying that it was just the precursor to something more clever and horrible. (Specifically, I was slightly worried that they might have been dirty bombs, with radioactive material inside. That would have been a *zillion* times more dangerous.)

But once that was (quickly) passed, the little fear went with it. There was a lot of emotion, of course. There was sadness for the victims of the bombings, and a measure of anger at the jackasses that had done it. There was a somewhat bemused annoyance about Friday's events. (Which I think were a bit of an over-reaction outside Watertown, although I did follow the authorities' reasoning.) There's a fairly intense curiosity about the competing narratives being spun about Dzokhar Tsarnaev. (With the authorities consistently making him out to be a co-equal conspirator, but the interviews turning up surprisingly *consistent* glowing character references; it'll be interesting to see how that resolves.)

But above all, I'm getting a tad cranky about the sense I get from the media that I was *supposed* to be scared -- that there is something wrong with you if you *aren't* scared. Frankly, I can't come up with much reason why I should have been. I mean, these were *not* terrorist masterminds we're talking about here. They managed to hurt some people, but as far as I can tell did so using essentially 19th-century technology.

Look: we live in a city. Cities are *not* safe places. One friend was taken aback by the shooting in Cambridge (which was, to be fair, about half a block from the old dance practice site), saying that things like that don't happen here. I had to point out that that's just not true -- a bunch of folks from dance practice got mugged maybe a block or two away, 15 years ago. That's not happy-making, but it underscores that life is neither safe nor fair, and never has been.

And I suppose that gets to the point. There's a pervasive meme nowadays that life is *supposed* to be safe and fair; I confess, I'm not clear on whether this is new or not, but it sure seems omnipresent today. That's an important tool of the Terror Industry, because it helps build the message that you are *supposed* to be afraid (and angry) when something turns out to be unsafe or unfair.

And the thing is, fear and anger are *lousy* emotions. They're seductive, but they aren't fun and they lead to poor decision-making, both on the individual and societal level. *Caution* is appropriate in circumstances like this -- but caution and fear are by no means the same thing.

By and large, I thought the local authorities and the FBI handled the week pretty well, staying calm and resolved, figuring it out and getting the job done without an excess of panic. But much of the media and national politicians -- not so much. They showed that they were less interested in *fixing* the situation, instead caring more about selling or spinning the story in a way that would sell papers or votes.

So -- sympathies for the folks who *were* scared. (Probably especially the folks in Watertown: hearing what sounds like an action movie near your house has to be unsettling as hell.) Kudos to the people who helped out -- from the runners giving blood to the FBI agents pulling long hours on image-examination. But demerits to the media and politicians who helped do the terrorists' job, trying to convince folks that they *should* be more scared than the situation really warranted...

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We live in a sensationalist culture now

American society has evolved into a society where there should be no risk anymore, we all are supposed to live in bubbles, and nothing is supposed to go wrong.

I remember walking to school as a kid in Tewksbury (so late 80's) and now that would be unheard of by many of the same parents, even though child kidnapping rates are way down.

The middle-school I went to had this beautiful wooden playground but it now stands in disrepair because playgrounds are 'dangerous'. We live in fear of what might happen and we live in fear of what people might sue us for.

It's a giant mess.

Re: We live in a sensationalist culture now

My town had a beautiful, unique wooden playground that I've never seen anything like before or since, and it got torn down and replaced by one of those plastic monstrosities in a different spot because of the pressure-treated wood. I was kind of like "well don't let your kids eat it, then!"

I've read several postings online and heard TV reporters saying how unprecedented the attacks were IN BOSTON!! "We don't have bombings in Boston." I have responded online with "Short memories" essays, reminding people of the years 1969-71 during which "Bombs" and "Boston area" were frequently found together in newspaper headlines. BU students were evacuated nightly for bomb threats which sometimes materialized, and my own dorm at Brandeis was (successfully) firebombed twice. There may not have been deaths, but there were injuries--and yet life went on. Ah,those days before social media.

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The best response I've seen to the media hysteria was a political cartoon depicting a television news broadcaster bemoaning can we reduce the state of terror we see being perpetuated. The next panel showed the television viewer smirking back at us while he switched off the television via remote control.

I agree that we all feel less secure when we don't feel informed, and that is what the media depends and feeds on.

Although I am naturally saddened by the events, my big fear is this artificially-inflamed hysteria will lead to overturning the rule of law. To hear some of our elected officials proposing that we "reclassify" the accused (OK, all the media evidence seems to make this no longer moot) so that he doesn't have to be processed through the standard system of justice is truly frightening. The precedent will be that anyone in power can "decide" that a particular act is so heinous that it needs to be treated within a separate set of rules (or lack thereof). NOT GOOD.

BTW, as your LJ posts didn't indicate panic, I pretty much assumed that you were OK.

Yellow journalism? Too many hawkish mouthpieces? There are certainly too many voices trying to spin this into twisting the immigration reform argument, or justifying/enhancing the war on terror debacle. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/04/after-boston-dont-get-fooled-again-by-the-war-on-terror-hawks/275167/

E was explicitly scared. He wanted the windows shut, just in case the bad guys had ladders.

Z was probably scared in retrospect; he had nightmares Sunday night.

But apart from elementary school kids, no, we weren't scared.


My first response after being very sad and concerned for my friends on site was, "Dammit, they're going to do that stupid security theater of searching bags on the T again. Guess I'd better have alternate transport plans in case I have to refuse a search..."

WBUR for the win, really. They at least didn't treat is like children, lack of recap notwithstanding.

Yeah, I had to edit this a bit before posting. I was originally railing against The Media more universally, but backed off a bit when I considered that a few media outlets (WBUR specifically, along with the UK's Guardian) proved to be both reasonably calm and informative throughout...

My favorite bit in this vein was the response of the older runner who is seen getting knocked down by the blast in the iconic footage. Apparently (from accounts I've read) various media outlets interviewing him tried to get him to talk about how awful it was, and was he traumatized, etc. He refused to be baited, and instead talked about how he ran last year's marathon in the heat, which was really rough, whereas this one was going really well "until that bit at the end."

Hmm. Well, I wasn’t personally scared. And I knew that Marathon bombers or no Marathon bombers, the odds of getting killed in Greater Boston in a car crash, of from smoking, or from falling off a ladder while painting, or something like that are still far greater than the odds of getting killed in a terrorist attack.

But I was engaged, and I was paying attention to the news and caring about outcomes. (Not just outcomes like did the bombers get caught or not, but outcomes like did they get caught alive, and did they get read their Miranda rights, and did they get caught before any innocent people spent too long in jail on suspicion, and what were the eventual changes to my society triggered by this event, if any, going to be.)

I was engaged in this event in the same sort of way I get engaged in elections. I care passionately about the outcomes, and I sped a lot of mental energy on them even though I can only affect them in infinitesimally diluted ways.

I don’t know how or whether this addresses your post about the media, except that apparently I wasn’t consuming the right media. :-)

"Look: we live in a city. Cities are *not* safe places."

Do cities have much to do with it? Long-term studies suggest that life has a mortality rate very close to 100%, regardless of where people live :-)

"...a bunch of folks from dance practice got mugged maybe a block or two away, 15 years ago."

I was one of them. "Mugged" might be the wrong word, as it suggests criminal intent. I perceived the attack to be based on drug-fueled aggression, not robbery.

Quibbles aside, I agree strongly with your fundamental point.

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