Monday, July 6, 2009

It's a crime

The Globe has a story today about the hazards of summer -- skin cancer, Lyme disease, EEE, West Nile, etc. -- and how they've been overblown, causing widespread worry when the dangers are relatively tiny. This idea is a microcosm of a bigger problem in our society: we worry too much about the wrong things.

Recently I heard Lenore Skenazy, author of a book called Free-Range Kids, on NPR and she cited crime figures that show that, as a rule, children are as safe today as they were when their parents were growing up. Crime did rise for a decade beginning in the mid-1980s, but the number of murders, assaults, rapes and abductions are way down in recent years. The perception, however, is that we live in crazy times and that children need to be chained to their parents.

This paranoia is fostered by local news and true-crime TV shows, but it isn't reality. Of course, every child -- every person -- who is the victim of a crime is one too many, but American parents seem consumed by the idea that a stranger is going to leap out and snatch their kid. Any review of the facts will show that when children are abducted or harmed it is almost always a relative or close friend; when they are reported missing it often turns out that they've run away or that they're with dad.

I remember going to see Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine and thinking that it'd be a liberal crusade against guns -- a crusade I support -- but the theme was actually quite different. Moore has been an NRA member since he was a teenager. His movie focuses on the fear that many Americans have that someone is going to burst through their door to attack them, rob them and/or hold them hostage. Again, this is an irrational fear. That is not to say that it never happens, but that it is extremely rare. Watching local TV news and true-crime shows, however, you'd think it happens every other day in your town.

As a result, people in the United States arm themselves with all sorts of weaponry and fight against laws that would exercise some control of their armaments. In the movie, Moore crosses the border and walks around Toronto -- a big urban center -- and into people's homes. Turns out they don't lock their doors as often in Canada because they don't fear crime the way we do. They aren't bombarded with fearmongering on the tube every day.

Yes, I know: crime does happen, and it can be devastating, but I don't believe that we should let the way we live be controlled by TV stations desperate for higher ratings.


Anonymous said...

Have you ever been bitten by a tick? It's no small worry, but the bug itself is. I was actually diagnosed with MS, but years later found out it was Lyme. No small feat to get rid of, after having it that long. One year later after IV antibiotics and years to go on orals.

Oh yes it's a silly thing to worry about!

Lenore said...

The point is not that ticks don't bite or ivy isn't poison. the point is that our media DELIGHTS in warning us about dangers that are likely and those that are extremely UNlikely. It just loves to warn us about dangers because it makes them seem vital and the stories seem like we have to watch them or else, and the end result is that we are afraid ALL the time of everything from sunburn to child abduction. And rather than reveling in the safe times we are living in, we spend all our time holding our children close, for fear that the very next second could be their last. Lyme Disease IS awful and my son had it this year. We are still outside during the summer because the alternative -- a live spent in a bubble -- isn't much of a life at all. Lenore Skenazy, yes, the gal who wrote "Free-Range Kids."

JohnW said...

Actually, one of the things that pisses me off more than most anything is when I feel that someone is trying to motivate me or get me to do something that *they* want me to do through the use of fear.

Whenever I'm doing something not out of a sense of prudence or common sense, but out of crap-my-pants fear I stop and try to figure out whether there is someone trying to stick their hand in my pocket. I mean "fight or flight" reactions is one thing, but watching tv and suddenly feeling like I have to get my mother a med-alert system or she WILL DIE A SLOW DEATH ALONE! just pisses me off.

I prefer someone trying to grab me with "buy this and you will look like a Greek GOD." Or sex. Or puppies and babies, but more and more advertising is just fear.

N.starluna said...

This whole fear of crime thing really does make me angry. Not only because of the racial dimensions, but also because of the health and social impacts. Kids don't play as much and they spend more time indoors where they are exposed to indoor air pollutants that do more harm than all but the worst concentrations of outdoor air pollutants. And they don't play with other kids, some of whom might be different from them in some way, and therefore never learn important social skills that you don't learn from your nuclear family. So what do we get? A lot of overweight kids and sick adults who have to learn painful lessons in living with others later in life. And, as usual, this tends to affect lower income city kids more than others because they are less likely to have private outdoor spaces to play.

I'm of two minds on the stories about vector borne diseases. I personally cringe every time I hear the "oh my God, we're all going to die" stories. That is totally unnecessary and in my view does more harm than good. At the same time, people do need to take common sense precautions to reduce the mosquito population and the exposure to ticks. If the news stories stuck to "Here's what you can do to reduce the already small chance of getting these diseases," it would be fine. Frankly, I don't care to get bit by mosquitoes regardless of the risk of disease.

I'm with Lenore on this one. The solution to potential risks of harm is not to imprison yourself in your home.

Anonymous said...

We've heard a lot about the increases in robbery in East Boston lately, but here is a good story. I accidentally left my door open with the light on while out for the evening. When my family came home we noticed it and of course were frightened of what the consequences could have been. However, by the looks of it no one had come in our house and my faith in my neighborhood definitely grew. I'm staying anonymous just in case I make that mistake again ;-)