Monday, September 13, 2010

Fear-Mongering Considered

Fear-mongering. Scaremongering. There are different words to describe this method of influencing the public; they all mean the same thing. Fear-mongering occurs when a person or group needlessly raises alarms - i.e. instills fear - in another person or group about another person or group usually to influence that initial group to do something.

This is a tactic that has been used by religious groups, government agencies, animal rights groups, civil rights groups, and on and on and on. It's a dirty, disgusting tactic used time and again when a group cannot be up front about their cause. Or, when a group has become so entrenched in their particular sub-group that they believe their own lies. Since this tactic has been employed for decades, we are now in a generation of people that have been raised by parents that were led to believe a set of falsehoods, a set of fears.

Everyone is affected by fear-mongering in some way. The Liberal news anchor giving their editorial view of the current events is subtly telling you how evil Conservatives are - not outright - but in such a way that you're pretty sure Republicans in office are evil. And, of course, vice versa. Fox News and MSNBC do a great job of pitting Republicans against Democrats and Democrats against Republicans, respectively. Any well-informed citizen should know that most of the editorial news shows are put on by fabulous spin doctors.

However, there is a kind of fear-mongering that I am so unbelievably over. I am unbelievably sick of the folks that instill fear by playing the victim. The folks that spin the news to somehow always make it about them, their group, or their cause.

Por ejemplo: Gay 'news agencies' that want to put a gay spin on things like the Gulf Coast Oil Spill or agricultural spending.

Specialized news agencies that come at current events from a niche perspective tend to do two things:

  1. Vilify an entire group because of a few bad apples, and thus condition their followers to be afraid of that group.
  2. Somehow make any and all news events about that group, whether they were even tangentially related or not.
This past weekend an event called Burn a Koran Day was halted. The event was initially started by pastor Terry Jones, a man my mother told me she is so glad isn't from Texas. Jones is the pastor of a supposed non-denominational church called Dove World Outreach Center and is the author of the book Islam is of the Devil. (Whose review section is just a lovely little debate and worth a quick read.)

Now, any idiot who can follow the greater conversation about Islam can tell what the motivation for this is: ever since September 11, 2001, many Americans have the idea that Islam - which means 'peace in submission to the will of God/Allah' - is a religion based on killing white folks. What has helped keep this lie going when big named conservatives like George W. Bush publicly denounce this line of thinking? Fear-mongering.

This is the subtle kind, though. This subtle scare tactic basically uses the same core keywords and phrases - party lines, if you will - about issues. Using this method, one begins to associate two seemingly disparate ideas as one in the same. I'd like to provide some examples of supposed facts that aren't facts, but that have been ingrained within us due to subtle conditioning:

  1. Black people don't tip. Not true! I have been a server in several restaurants. Black people tip! 
  2. Gay people should not adopt because they like having sex with children. And animals. And pretty much everything else. Must I defend this one?
  3. There are/were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. OR Iraq had something to do with the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Both of these news bits have been proved false, but since our government doesn't want to look like tyrannical buffoons they chose to continue the spin for 8 years.
Each of these, in their own way, has been subtly conditioned by some group or another into our psyche. These are facts that are so well-known that we almost take their veracity for granted, assuming they must be true, because for it to be otherwise would mean living in Bizarro World. I'd like to look at one last scare line that has me seriously worried before I leave the topic:
  1. America is a mostly Christian nation. Christians are in every level of government and are attempting to spread Christianity while specifically attempting to either lock up or convert pagans. Furthermore, there is an underlying anti-pagan rhetoric in nearly every political, religious, or social news story out there.
The only sentence in there that is true is the first one, but...and I need to take a deep breath before I type this...

But that is not what The Wild Hunt blog would have you believe. Most of the time, the Wild Hunt is a Perez Hilton like blog, except the author is not attempting to out closeted gay actors, he is trying to show how pagan Hollywood really is. From the brief brush with Hinduism by Julia Roberts to the supposed spell done by actress Heather Graham, he has this thing for believing one hint at polytheism or magical use makes one an automatic closeted pagan. (Not to mention the miseducation going on about Hinduism being pagan.)

If that were all the blog were, I wouldn't care. I'd probably read it with my latte and a giggle, much the same way I read his Hollywood gossip counterpart. However, there is a troubling, at times disturbing, trend on his blog. He purports the above statement as though it were irrefutable fact. He believes Christians in America are actively seeking to squash out paganism, as though it even registered on most of their radars. He has painted the portrait of Christians as the Pagan Boogeyman, and thousands of readers lap it up. Eagerly. 

Take a look at nearly any news story and watch the spin occur. I had a conversation with a fellow podcaster, who will go nameless, who told me the author of the Wild Hunt is nothing more than the pagan version of CBN. Every news story has a pagan spin to it, whether it tangentially had anything to do with paganism or not. From gay rights to legalizing polygamy, somehow in some way he seems to make it all about pagans. 

And, yes, there is the argument that he is simply presenting news from a pagan perspective, but presenting a perspective and presenting a worldview are two totally different things. One can present a fair and balanced worldview while presenting the news. I know! I've seen me - and many, many others - do it! And, to be fair, the author also never comes out and says, "The Christians are out to get you! Run! Hide! Take your cauldrons and books of shadows, for you may never see them again!"

But he doesn't have to. His wording, his syntax, his tone, they all work together flawlessly to paint an image that has pagans being: a) much more important on the national/world stage than they actually are and b) persecuted by every social, governmental, and media agency out there. 

Should we require those that practice divination for a living to be licensed? Well, not if you read the Wild Hunt! It's an evil conspiracy to further put the Christian thumb on pagan belief. Never mind that nearly any industry has some type of licensing or regulation requirements.

Prop 8 was abolished in California by a judge? Oh, the pagans did that! You know, the pagans had such a huge unified outcry of support for that anti-Prop 8 movement. Except...they didn't. 

And on...

And on...

And on...

Take a look at news stories the author reports dealing with crimes. He has little to no knowledge of how the criminal justice system works (unfortunately for him, I do...what with my having actually worked in the field and having my degree in the subject) and seems to replace knowledge with what he thinks should be true. Cops immediately suspect those evil Devil pagans whenever dead bodies, dead animals, or vials of blood and gongs go missing! Judges want pagans on death row, despite their guilt. I'm not saying that there aren't legal cases involving actual police/legal wrongdoing out there, I'm just saying there is no possible way that they happen in the volume that The Wild Hunt reports. 

Go and read the rest of the articles that the author links to. Usually you'll find that he has taken a few quotes out of context and forgotten to show you the rest. The other part of the story that makes the players out to be a lot more understanding and human that he'd like you to believe. It's subtle. It's believable. It's effective.

And it's dangerous. Many tout the Wild Hunt as an excellent source for pagan news, and I would agree if your version of news likens to Perez Hilton or CBN. If you want both a spin and a worldview served up with your headlines, then go right ahead. Sadly, it seems, many folks only take in The Wild Hunt and his compatriots in the 'Pagan Newswire Collective.' They don't know what is going on in the world at large, except what and how it is reported through the Hunt.

To aim the finger back at me for a moment, I, too, present a worldview. I am a middle-class, suburban, left-wing, tree-hugging, socially liberal, fiscally moderate, homosexual, partnered pagan with one cat who hates the world and a dog who loves everybody. I am almost positive that I put a spin on the news I present. The difference between the two is that I am completely up front and totally own it. However, I'd also like to think that I - and others like me - don't paint a particular group or individual as some type of boogeyman. It's unfair. It's uneducated. It's uninformed. And, it's just plain wrong.

Share your thoughts, and I'm sure you will, in the comments section, with a tweet (@IncitingARiot), or by emailing IncitingARiotPodcast@gmail.com.

I'll go ahead and let you know that comments saying "The Wild Hunt is so effing awesome and majickkkal! You are totally, like, freaking jealous of his magjickal wizdum and success!" will probably not be replied to seriously. Though, double plus bonus, you may end up on my show!

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

11 comments:

  1. Number 2 on your list really gets to me. I just wanted to take the time to thank you for standing up for adoptees in your blog and podcast. I loved what you had to say in response to that horrid Mike Huckabee. I'm an adoptee myself and just recently celebrated my adoption anniversary with my parents.

    I think that anyone with love to give and the ability to care for a child should be able to adopt regardless of their gender, religion, or sexual orientation. Alot of people don't realize how elaborate the adoption process can be (probably due to all the celebs that go to another country and poof they come back with a new baby). My parents went through years of paperwork and interviews all the time hoping and praying for a child.

    So, when I hear people say that a gay couple shouldn't be able to adopt just because they're gay...ugg. It's the people who are willing to go through that long adoption process, who have all that love to give that you WANT to have children. Why deny a child in need of a good home and caring parents over something like sexual orientation? Utter nonsense. So I guess I've ranted long enough. Thank you again, Fire Lyte, for your blog and podcast!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I don't believe that pitzl-waters puts a pagan spin on all of his news out of malice, or even because of a persecution complex. I think he simply wants to attract more readers to his blog, and actually give them something to read (he makes a point of posting new stories almost daily...and to be honest the pagan community is so damn small in the grand scheme of things, that news that concerns us does not happen daily, unless you read with a grain of salt and add spin).

    Though I enjoy the wild hunt and read it daily (incidentally, I read this blog daily too), I too can see a spin on stories.

    The problem is that there just aren't enough pagan news sites/blogs out there to provide a balanced account of pagan and general news from pagan perspectives yet.
    Pitzl-waters writes from his own perspective on the issues presented. He is largely the only contributor to that blog and so like it or not; his opinions are going to seep through the articles.

    To see an end to this we need more pagan news outlets, run by a larger amount of people. Then and only then, will we see an end to vast amounts of the pagan population being influenced by one man's worldview.

    ReplyDelete
  3. In my opinion almost all news has a spin. The spin depends on the views/beliefs of the person reporting. It is unfortunate because news is how we know what happens day to day whether it be breaking news out of Iraq or right out the back door. I hate the fact that news in general has to be taken with a grain of salt, and sometimes I become so frustrated with it all. I live in a very rural area in the bible belt and I know of no one in my general vacintiy that is anything other than Christian/Catholic. Recently, a local news station aired a story about a pentagram being burned in some grass in an open field and how that was a sign that there was "devil worshipping" occurring on the property. Who gives a news company the right to report that? So, I become upset with the fact that The Wild Hunt plots Christians against Pagans, because that is not true, and it is reporting like that giving everyone a bad rap. I guess I don't understand why news has to have a spin at all. Take the stories at face value and then decide how it affects you as a Pagan, homosexual, heterosexual, Christian, Muslim, or any other category you fall under. Thanks to Fire Lyte for inciting my riot this morning! Blessed Be to all!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi TendingtheHearth!

    Just a point of clarification: I don't believe with any ounce of sense or intellect that the author of the Wild Hunt intends malice or spite or anything else negative when spinning the news. You are correct - and I pointed this out - that nearly all newscasters (especially opinionated ones like John Stewart, myself, Jason, Rachel Maddow, Bill O'Reilly, etc.) have a worldview and a spin.

    While I would disagree that the blog does not have a 'pagan victimization' complex, I can understand your view on the matter. I think my biggest issue is not to silence the Wild Hunt - he is a valuable resource to the community as a rallying point on certain key issues. I just wish that we could acknowledge his spin and extremist bias in the same manner we categorize MSNBC as liberal or Fox News as conservative.

    His blog is the pagan CBN, the pagan-centric, pagan-victimized version of Fox or MSNBC for the logged-in pagan masses.

    I don't think there's any malice in that, but it needs to be acknowledged and viewed as such. Like you said, you must read it while downing salt and adding spin.

    FL

    ReplyDelete
  5. What news source would you recommend? Which one(s) exhibit the least amount of spin and contain a strong balance? I have been following NPR, CNN, Voices of America, and Democracy Now for some time. I have even hopped over to the BBC, as well. What say you, Fire Lyte? Who do you follow?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I don't think Mr. Pitzl-Waters is a fear-monger, nor do I think he'd say he was 100% unbiased in his reporting. He himself commented in response to your comment about the Christian-themed license plates in NC:

    "I could care less what Christians put on their cars, but I do care about what the constitutional implications of this plate could be. Small concessions can have larger implications. Further, as I've pointed out in my post, this case is haunted by Pagans and Pagan religion, making it newsworthy."

    I agree with him. I don't feel his post on the subject was about dissing Christianity, rather it was about the favoring of one religion over another on a state-issued plate.

    Geez, not all Pagans hate or even dislike Christians. I certainly don't get a hateful vibe from The Wild Hunt. Sure, he reports on the ways Paganism and the many flavors it covers with its umbrella are misrepresented/ignored/discriminated against/etc, but if you really read his posts, he's not as slanted as you purport him to be. Sure, he's got a POV, who doesn't? I really don't think The Wild Hunt is a valid target for one of your many riots, Fire Lyte. The Wild Hunt isn't perfect, but Mr Pitzl-Waters does a damn fine job.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I wrote up this thing for my show and then realized that I was basing my commentary almost entirely on thoughts inspired by you, Firelyte, and I realized that that wasn't what I wanted to do on my show, so instead, I'll post what I wrote here for your amusement ;) I didn't edit it really because it came after a long rant about the nature of politics and comparison to bathroom behaviors which WILL be in my next ep, but here's the segment about journalism which I cut out of that script:
    "Now I’m going to talk about journalism. I’m going to leave the bathroom and go to a slightly more interesting place. The principle of ‘it is what it is’ still applies, but perhaps I’ll be kinder to journalists since I once considered journalism and since hey, what am I doing right now but presenting information? News is entertainment. It’s often a business, but not always. The goal of news is to be read. The idea of news is to make people feel informed. If people aren’t interested in the information being presented, it won’t be read. If it doesn’t make them feel somewhat informed, they won’t call it news.
    There are certain facts in the business of journalism. One common dictum is, if it bleeds, it leads… that means that if it is violent or frightening, it is more likely to capture the attention of the reading public. Why? Because people respond to their own base instincts and are fascinated by violence and conflict. Another thing that happens is that people like to read about themselves as much as they love to talk about themselves. You can see this by watching any local news show. They’ll present some world event and then say, “Next up, how one Milwaukee family is being effected by the price of tea in China.” This makes your ears perk up. International scandal, in OUR neighborhood? Cool!! We’re BIG PEOPLE!
    (end part 1 of 2)

    ReplyDelete
  8. (part 2 of 2)
    People like to see themselves as big and important, as having some control over their lives and not being completely insignificant to the world at large. It’s a completely natural impulse and when journalists respond to this impulse, it’s not nessicarily out of calculated scheme to convince people in Milwaukee that they somehow have an impact on the price of tea in China, it’s because people want to hear about themselves and the journalists themselves want to feel like they are providing a genuine service.
    When someone who talks to the pagan community about various news stories mentions the impact that the controversy that the so called Ground Zero Mosque has on the pagan community, it’s not because they’re trying to convince us that we are big people and have an impact on what the the president or the mosques imam or the anti-Islam protesters will do, it’s because while the controversy has nothing specific to do with paganism, the implications of the controversy apply to all non-Christian religions in this country, including paganism and when speaking to pagans, it’s perfectly reasonable to speak about this impact as it related to the specific group being spoken to.
    As far as local news agencies or people writing for a specific audience goes… people can only write what they can research. That often means consulting other journalists who only want to talk about things that will sell news. If it bleeds, it leads and if it bleeds, people will write and talk and publish a lot more information about it… it’s human nature, you can’t fight it. A turd is a turd.
    Basically, what I’m saying is that journalists, like politicians, aren’t inherently evil and aren’t trying to sell a particular agenda… They present what they can find, they present what people will listen to or read and the readership is partially responsible for the type and nature of content presented. Journalists, at least good ones, try to respond to the needs and desires of their readership."
    Basically, I see where you're comeing from but your comments can be applied to journalism as a whole and I think it's a bit unfair to single Pitzl-Waters and his Wild Hunt out to accuse of things like "fear-mongering"... That's the nature of the beast. Journalism is what it is. Sometimes it floats, sometimes it sinks, but it's still going to get flushed.
    Anyhow, thanks for the riot! You seldom fail to incite! ;)
    -Scarlet (Lakefront Pagan Voice)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Guh! Ok, so now I feel like I'm spamming this page but part 1 didn't go where it was supposed to... so... my above comment comes after this part...

    (Part 1 of 2)
    I wrote up this thing for my show and then realized that I was basing my commentary almost entirely on thoughts inspired by you, Firelyte, and I realized that that wasn't what I wanted to do on my show, so instead, I'll post what I wrote here for your amusement ;) I didn't edit it really because it came after a long rant about the nature of politics and comparison to bathroom behaviors which WILL be in my next ep, but here's the segment about journalism which I cut out of that script:
    "Now I’m going to talk about journalism. I’m going to leave the bathroom and go to a slightly more interesting place. The principle of ‘it is what it is’ still applies, but perhaps I’ll be kinder to journalists since I once considered journalism and since hey, what am I doing right now but presenting information? News is entertainment. It’s often a business, but not always. The goal of news is to be read. The idea of news is to make people feel informed. If people aren’t interested in the information being presented, it won’t be read. If it doesn’t make them feel somewhat informed, they won’t call it news.
    There are certain facts in the business of journalism. One common dictum is, if it bleeds, it leads… that means that if it is violent or frightening, it is more likely to capture the attention of the reading public. Why? Because people respond to their own base instincts and are fascinated by violence and conflict. Another thing that happens is that people like to read about themselves as much as they love to talk about themselves. You can see this by watching any local news show. They’ll present some world event and then say, “Next up, how one Milwaukee family is being effected by the price of tea in China.” This makes your ears perk up. International scandal, in OUR neighborhood? Cool!! We’re BIG PEOPLE!
    (end part 1 of 2)

    ReplyDelete
  10. This happened to stand out to me and it really irritates me. In passing I saw that blog linked on the WitchVox facebook today and had to go back and read it after I read this.

    Dear Gods, you can really see what he is going on about. The recent one (the one that was linked) was regarding the hardly used or even remembered Canadian law on Witchcraft (written to prevent people from committing fraud while claiming to have "magic powers") made me want to reach through the screen and smack him.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Excellent post Fire Lyte...love it as usual! This is one of the reasons I am so tired of Pagans pushing political correctness to the extreme...they have become like the annoying Christians they supposedly don't like. For example creating all these lawsuits out of minor things like "my employer has a Halloween witch decoration up and it's offensive"...who the f*uck cares! Stop taking yourself so seriously and just enjoy life! Not everything is a big deal...have some fun fellow Pagans!

    Love,
    Bex

    ReplyDelete