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Larry Beinhart's Body Politic: The United States of Hysteria 

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We shut down three entire states. Count 'em: three states. Trains, planes, highways, schools, offices, damn near everything. For a report of a snowstorm—that mostly never came.

Oh, remember when we were young? And snowstorms were normal? One of those things that happen, like sun and rain, getting hot in August and cold in February. Mostly it meant absolute joy for kids, "Yay, yay, it's a snow day." But no more. The Czar of Northeast Public Radio, Dr. Alan Chartock, came on the air to weep and moan about the dreadful oppression of the cold and snow of February, how everyone is suffering and in agony.

Hey, Alan, our trees, our animals, our earth, and our air, needs the cold. You want to be rid of winter, watch the cockroaches grow to the size of Palmetto bugs?

You want your daily journeys to be never chilly, never challenging, always comfy, safe, and manicured, from air conditioned home to your air conditioned car to your air conditioned office? You want to watch your IQ drop to the gated community standards of Central Florida? There seems to be no particular reason why the bracing climates of the coasts and the mountains lead to reading, rationalism, free thought, and innovation. While the suburban sprawl of the Sunbelt leads to gated communities, polite insular racism, the steady destruction of public education, and the growing presumption that the value of any value can only be measured in cash.

Sorry, Alan, Northeast Public Radio is a great institution, one of our very best sources of news. But when you lead with a long, long whine about chilly weather it's just too much wussification.

Hey, Alan, get some ice skates, snowshoes, cross-country skis, or downhill skis. Borrow some grandchildren and take them to your local sled hill.

Oh, whoops! Not whoops of joy, but "Whoops, the home of the brave is sliding downhill." The Economist reports "[F]aced with the potential bill from sledding injuries, some cities have opted to close hills. Dubuque, Iowa, City Council is moving ahead with a plan to ban sledding in all but two of its 50 parks."

Is there a connection between weather obsession, hysteria television, and the triumph of trepidation?

Television news loves hurricanes, even just a heavy rain, snow storms, high tides, floods, strong winds. What is this infatuation, this relentless embrace of precipitation? The problem that TV news always faces is how to get exciting pictures. So much blood and destruction happens spontaneously, and the cameras don't arrive in time to get anything but the wreckage.

But clear warnings arrive ahead of the weather. Hurricane coming, time and place predicted. Get the camera on the jetty and a news guy in foul weather gear on the beach. Pictures, you got pictures!

Even better, your news show can schedule hysteria. Not just one show's worth, but days of urgency.

We watch "the news," real news, to become generally informed about the events of the world. Face it, if you missed today's ISIL horror story, you can catch tomorrow's, and how different will it be? If a news show wants to paste your eyeballs to the screen—which determines whether they get paid or not—they better come up with something that will affect you—yeah, you, personally,—quite soon, quite certainly, so disastrous it will delay your morning commute, so you have to stay tuned until after the commercial to find out! But how often do we have a war, locally? An invasion of poisonous cobras? Weimar Republic levels of hyperinflation? Chemical plant explosions? Not often enough for a decent business model.

But there's the weather!

So, TV news hypes the weather, screams about the weather until it raises weather hysteria to a level that swamps mayors and governors. And it works. It puts eyeballs on the screen, and putting eyeballs on the screen pays.

That becomes the TV news template. Danger! Danger! Scary danger. In what you used to take for granted. The seven common household cleaners that could kill you! The 12 deadliest germs in your kitchen! Teen sex practices depraving your daughters! Sexual predators in your neighborhood! The missing white girl! Al Qaeda sleeper cells in your neighborhood! The missing white girl! Russian sleeper cells in your neighborhood! The Ebola epidemic! Medicare will turn America into Greece! One hundred and nine measles peoples in California! Unvaccinated possible measles peoples might come near you! A football team played football with underinflated footballs! Social Security spending will turn America into Greece! Three medications you need for the cholesterol you have from eating grease! Gas prices rising, the sky is failing, or vice versa! Be afraid! Be very afraid!

Just as the weatherwoman has become the model for all TV news, TV news has become the model for all our public dialog.

On a Sunday, the third day of March, 1933, in his first inaugural address, Franklin Roosevelt told our nation that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

"We are stricken with no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep."

The Great Depression was at its worst when he said that. Now we live in a time of great, if unequally divided, riches. With much greater personal security, thanks, largely, to the reforms of his administration. US military power has no rivals. Medical capabilities and health care are vastly superior. Yet, Roosevelt's motto has morphed, it has shrunk, it has been truncated, so today it would be more apt to say, "the only thing we have is fear itself."

Speaking of...

  • The hype around this year's winter weather is a cash cow for TV broadcasting companies.

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