As a nation, fear stalks us each day---making a wrong turn in a bad neighborhood or simply talking to people we don't know. We lock our cars and homes, own guns, and use alarms. We enact laws, establish curfews, and create social standards to control activity. We also live in a socially constructed culture of fear: violence, disease, war, government, neighbors and even the weather.

These are all emotional responses to our fear of personal injury and death associated with crime. In a survey conducted by the Los Angeles Times, respondents said that their feelings about crime were based 65% on what they read and saw in the media and 21% on their actual experience with crime. Similarly, the New York Times reported that 47% of people were afraid of crime and lawlessness more than the certainly of war, unemployment, or disease. In Barry Glassner’s book, The Culture of Fear, local TV newscasts, at least in the U.S., continue to be the greatest fear-mongering vehicles that exist. Interestingly, between a decade when the nation's murder rate declined by 20%, the number of murder stories on network newscasts and the Internet increased by 600%! Paul Klite, of the Rocky Mountain Media Watch, said in an interview, "Seventy five percent of Americans who watch TV news are regularly subjected to a nightly dose of catastrophe. And, in the news, the blood is real."

Explanations and illustrations of crime and fear combine important elements of the morality tale using the classical relationship between symbols of good and evil. Considered as a universal part of our human condition, this conflict is often a battle between individuals and ideologies while other battles explore the inner struggles faced by one person where it is manifested in behaviors both good and bad. While it is not my intention to explore criminality and deviant behavior in their totality, the identification of violent crime and its fear-based predecessor is important in realizing the rich symbolism we assign to heroes and villains.

This dichotomy poses significant trials for us as we must constantly reaffirm our own values and morals while working within a paradoxical universe. Our front-line assault against evil is woven into our own personal feelings about crime and victimization, and we often experience and use others' behavior (teachers, public safety & human services professionals, soldiers, ministers, Good Samaritans, etc.) as a larger manifestation of the right thing/wrong thing to do. Acknowledging human greatness and progress as a value means surrounding yourself with people who can help bring out who you already are!

This “gut check” also forms the context of the good vs. evil motif drawn from our hero experiences. Through this lens, modern day society and its societal archenemies will always be juxtaposed into the hero-nemesis archetype, much like we see with soldiers vs. terrorists, cops vs. robbers, angels vs. demons or even Batman vs. The Joker or Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader. Blend this technique with the psychological processes of classical and operant conditioning and we now have a mosh pit of fear and aggressive behavior through a fanfare of exotic pictures and sound bites.

So what do we have to show for all of this? Outside of the actual, violent acts that do occur, the socialized fear of violence and crime creates a host of psycho-social conditions that lead many to self-defeat, apathy, and denial. A concept of "perpetual criminology," where the problems associated with crime, including the fear of crime, is actually independent of our victimizations. As a result, we see a world that restricts our activities, watches the clock, avoids certain places and venues, increases security measures, and, most significantly, decreases our social interaction.

Creating change means being heroic. In the absence of true leadership, people will follow whoever is willing to step up to the microphone. Take the microphone. In our postmodern society, people will explore the spiritual, the mythical, the neo-pagan, and religious to create order in the chaos of our current society. Help them out. In turn, you will create a cultural impulse to which they can explore and attach themselves. Like your own mentors, coaches, and parents, you can give people substance and motivation to their capabilities. Your call to adventure will inspire others to accept their own challenge and they will call forth their enemies and allies. Have them seek the spirit that boils from good choices and circumstances while casting out the perceptions, perspectives, and attitudes that seek to extinguish their light. As they dig deep into their past, it won’t be the time and events that motivate them, but the patterns and images that represent all that is good!

© 2013 by Brian A. Kinnaird

Visit Dr. Kinnaird's website The Hero Complex

References and Suggested Reading

Ferraro, D. (1995). Fear of crime: Interpreting victimization risk. State University of New York Press: New York.

Glassner, B. (2000). The culture of fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. Basic Books.

ICR Survey Research Group (1994). Social science and the citizen. Society, 31, (6). New York.

Kinnaird, B. (2009). Parallel universe: A theater for heroism. Watchman Books. Salina, KS.

Klite, P. TV news and the culture of violence. Rocky Mountain Media Watch. Denver, CO. Statement released on May 24, 1999.

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