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Jun 10, 2024

Fear Itself, and Other Fearsome Topics

A continuing study on what scares us is nothing to be afraid of

By Ed Goldman

I had a two-word reaction after recently reading an interview in which a Chapman College sociology professor updated his ongoing study about what Americans fear most: “Well, duh.”

I realize that doesn’t show a great deal of respect to Professor Christopher Bader but I fear (!) that’s as good as it’ll get. I also realize that many academic studies, often indirectly funded by We, the People, could be compiled in a massive tome called “Exploring the Obvious, Then Proving Its Obviousness: An Obvious Research Project with Obvious Outcomes, Presented in an Obvious Manner.” 

Edgy Cartoon

Term doubt

Professor Bader’s findings, as reported in the New York Times, included the following principal fears: government corruption, the manipulativeness of the media and, uh, clowns: “Clowns are something that shows up [as a fear] fairly regularly,” he says. “About six percent of Americans say they’re afraid of clowns.” 

And yet, we keep electing them. —Oh, sorry. One should never interrupt a scholar.

Bader says what he “personally most fear(s) for us” are “information tunneling and information silos. Algorithms.” He says when he watches MSNBC “I just see the reverse of Fox. The algorithms quickly figure out what you want, and that’s all people see. That is incredibly harmful. Every day, all we’re seeing is a broadcast that’s designed to tap into our fears.” 

Put in strictly academic terminology, “One-sided reporting: Bad. As a scholar, me no like that.”

I think Americans are fearful of far more things than the latest study indicates—like crime, cancer, loss of loved ones or limbs, indebtedness, false imprisonment, and the weather (this is so much more welcoming a category if you don’t say “global warming” or “greenhouse gases,” which irritate those determined to Make America Grate Again). 

However, if there’s enough Exploring the Obvious funding to go around, here are 13 research projects I’m proposing:

  1. Expiration Dates on Fruit, Milk and Seafood: Health Tips, Fearmongers or Example of Label-Makers Full Employment Act?
  2. That Ping-Ping Sound and Dashboard Warning Light: Harbinger of Huge Repair Bill or Burnt-Out Electric Sensor?
  3. Faulty Turkey Thermometers: Accurate Readings or International Plot to Destroy the Confidence of Holiday Chefs?
  4. Garbage Disposals: Kitchen Helper, Environmental Steward or Lethal Household Threat When You Try to Not Fully Cooked Ramen Down Them?
  5. Recyclable Waste Collection: Are Different Colored Bins Likely to Save the Environment, or What?
  1. Meeting God, Satan or Rod Serling While Driving Down a Lonely Highway at Night: Which One Is Our GPS in League Wit
  2. Being Told by St. Peter at the Pearly Gates that Your Aptitude Test Was Wrong: Is it Too Late to Give Up Dentistry and Become a Singing Taxidermist?
  3. Can Late-Night TV News Anchors See Us?
  4. Will a Little Girl You Knew When You Were Both Four Years Old Implicate You in a #Me Too Lawsuit? (And if so, How Will You Explain This to Your Priest When He’s Paroled?)
  5. Does the I.T. Division Call You “the Company Idiot” in Internal Memos?
  1. Will Someone Say to Me One Day “Get Your Affairs in Order,” “Better Lawyer Up” or “You Are Hereby Damned to Play Pickleball in Hell for All Eternity”?
  2. Are Phone Chargers Secretly Programmed to Quit Working Halfway Through Your Five-Hour Drive through the Mojave Desert?
  3. Does a Selfie Add 20 Pounds to the Subject or Am I Long Overdue for Ozempic?

Oh, Lord. Send in the clowns.

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Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).