Scaremongering! Ahhh! It’s happening all around us, be it re Brexit, refugees or, of course, the dreaded coronavirus. The definition is simple: “the spreading of frightening or ominous reports or rumours”. And who does it the best? The media. In the Divided Kingdom of Britain, no one does it better than the likes of The Daily Mail, but sadly even the more reputable broadsheets (some not even in that format anymore) are following suit and allowing their reputations to slip. We must live in fear of the growing epidemic (or is it now a pandemic?). If only our brothers and sisters in the media would report about environmental damage in the same light and, perhaps, we would really start to take note. But let’s be honest, climate change isn’t as sexy as a global pandemic. It was the same during the cold war; the sexy topic of the day was nuclear attack from our friends in the East.
One example from that time, perhaps held up as a precedent at the Royal Academy of Scaremongering, was the Daisy television commercial, an advertisement used during Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign. All is sweet and calm as a little girl stands in a meadow surrounded by chirping birds, as she picks the petals of a daisy, counting each petal slowly. When she reaches the number nine, an ominous male voice is heard counting down a missile launch, and as the girl’s eyes turn towards something she sees in the sky, the camera zooms in until her pupil fills the screen, blacking it out. When the countdown reaches zero, the blackness is replaced by the flash and mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. As Armageddon rages, a voice-over from President Johnson states, “These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die”. Another voice-over follows up with, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” My British sisters and brothers will recognise a similar rhetoric of fear used back in 2016 during the sham that would become Brexit. Buses snaked through London plastered with the false advertising that if only we left the EU, £350million would be returned to Britain’s National Health Service. The serpent’s tongue captured and inflamed the fear of the general public and swung the vote. And now we face an NHS awaiting privatisation – so that really helped didn’t it?! But fear rules the roost. It is mongered to catch the vulnerable in its net. It spreads panic but sells newspapers.
And now we are faced with coronavirus! I was at the airport last week and saw people in their hundreds wearing the flimsiest of paper masks, that at best might stop them breathing in dust but is laughable to a virus. One man sat in the corner of the airport pub every so often lifting his mask to sip at his beer through a straw. I think it wasn’t just the virus that was laughing. I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that coronavirus shouldn’t be taken seriously at all but that we should all be weary of the hysteria produced by the insidious nature of scaremongering. As a language school, though, I am tempted to remark how impressive it is to witness the power of language propagated by the media. Anyway, that was this week’s Thursday Thoughts. Good night and good luck.