This week we ponder whether Brits or Americans are better at Mass Hysteria.
When it comes to mass hysteria, no one beats the Americans. Only this past week we have had two text book examples.
First we had parents and schools, primarily in the South, denouncing the President’s speech to returning school children as everything from “indoctrination” to “divisive”. Never mind that Presidents before him have kicked off the school year with such speeches, or that few had actually heard the speech when the fuss all started. Oh no, they weren’t having their children tainted by the words of someone they didn’t vote for– whatever the words might be. Apparently it’s up to parents what their kids hear in schools, even if they go to a state school. Given that Obama encouraged school children to stay in school, I’m hoping the more hysterical of the protestors are all feeling a tad shamefaced right now and perhaps reflecting on the message they ended up sending their offspring. Somehow I doubt it.
Next we had the President’s address to Congress on Wednesday evening. The speech was to highlight his proposals for badly-needed improvements to the nation’s health care system. Cue the Tea Party Express; a group of people who apparently don’t know how to read or listen for themselves and get all their information from Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, - the Right Wing Bigot Triumvirate. The Tea Party Express has been touring the country calling Obama’s proposals everything from “fascist” to “Afro-Leninism”, (both of which I heard with my own ears on TV). The name refers to the Boston Tea Party, which, back in 1773, embodied the “No taxation without representation” cause. Rather bafflingly, the current Tea Party go-ers largely appear to be senior citizens and thus, presumably claiming their Medicare benefits – from the government. Paid for through taxation. Not that I mind paying taxes to help other people, but I’m confused as to why no one else should be assisted in the same way. Indeed, they’re in a real tizzy about it.
Interestingly, the much-anticipated Swine Flu hysteria has yet to reach its zenith. That could be because much of the country is still basking in fairly pleasant temperatures and therefore it’s not quite on the radar. No doubt as soon as the barometer dips below 55 Fahrenheit across most of the country there’ll be the usual pulpit-style, frenzied cries of how and why the government isn’t doing enough.
And let’s not forget that the next American Idol season starts in January. Lord help us!
I have to admit that the Brits don’t do Mass Hysteria as well as the Americans. The last really good mass hysteria they had in Britain was at Diana’s funeral. And I wasn’t even here for it so I can’t tell you about it. Since then they have had concerns, frights, momentary panics even, but nothing you could truly equate to mass hysteria on an American scale.
Whipping the populace into an uncontrollable frenzy just isn’t on. About the best they can do is convince waiting rooms to do away with shared magazines, newspapers and baby toys in order to keep us all from dying of Swine Flu. The media have also been good to the makers of antiseptic hand jell; last year I didn’t even know it exists, but now it’s everywhere. But people aren’t really hysterical over it, and they aren’t massing about it, either.
Besides, there’s little point in trying; they’d never top the Americans. Mass Hysteria is as deeply rooted in American culture as our love of firearms; it’s something we took to early and still take to readily. Remember Cotton Mather? Joe McCarthy?
Twenty people dead, an unknown number of lives ruined, and all because Americans are willing to be duped into believing that something imaginary is real and to react accordingly.
“Witches are out to steal your souls!” So we kill innocent people. “Communists are out to destroy the American way of life!” So we black list them and destroy their lives.
I also recall a sort of mass belief—though not hysteria—in angels. For a while, angles were everywhere and it seemed as if everyone believed in them, which seemed to make them real and convince more people to believe in them. Granted, this did not culminate in any unpleasantness but it might have if, at the height of this belief, a group of people were accused of trying to kill the angles.
It proves the saying, “When a myth is shared by large numbers of people, it becomes a reality.”
I’m not saying the British aren’t capable of doing something similar, I’m just saying they don’t seem inclined to.
It’s just not on.
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