Extreme sports athletes are no strangers to fear. In order to do what they love, they must battle with the built-in survival mechanism, which was perfected over many generations of natural selection, and overcome it to take the risks necessary to reach their goals and break records. Even an athlete as decorated as Shaun White can admit that there is a degree of fear and hesitation to the sports he competes in, and the tricks he attempts. The thoughts of danger and mortality are ones that he must face every day that he practices and competes. What role, then, does fear have in the life of the typical Starbucks-sipping, 9-to-5-working, Netflix-enthused human?
In my research and analysis in two semesters of creative writing I have explored many ways in which the average human is subjected to various commonalities of modern life, such as violence, the food system, and modern cinema. At the core of all these commonalities, however, I believe that there is an underlying presence, and acceptance of different types of fear in many of the things we do, and that it can have an important effect on the way we make our decisions every day.
In his 1963 image of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, photographer Yoichi Okamoto was able to capture the realization of one type of fear, that of others, as the former president asserts his dominance over Senator Richard Russell. Through his precise composition of the image, Okamoto is able to convey how powerful this sense of fear can be to those that are subjected to it. The use of exposure and black and white photography, for example, showed how dark and commanding LBJ could be in his all black suit compared to Senator Russell in his lighter colored attire. Conversely, however, the way that Okamoto framed the image, with a slight tilt to the right, makes Russell appear to be closer in height to the 6’4” Johnson. It would seem as if the photographer’s message was that fear of others is relative, and that everyone has something to fear about another that can influence the way we interact with each other.
Later in my studies, when I was focusing on the impact that violence in film has on audiences, I discovered another type of fear; fear for entertainment. In discovering the impact, I referenced various studies on how violence in movies can have a neurological effect in many people that creates fear by sparking the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in impulse control and decision making. (Carrol) Additionally, I created a survey for current moviegoers and asked if they believed that there is too much violence in our cinema, and posted it on the online forum website, Reddit. The result was that only 14% of respondents thought that this was the case. It was clear that modern audiences were not concerned by violence or the resulting fear, but instead welcomed it as a unique form of entertainment that got their hearts racing.
These first types of fear, I found, were generally accepted, and tolerated by the average human. What I found not to be acceptable, was fear of deception and the unknown. By researching the hidden aspects of our food industry, such as factory farming and the operation of supermarkets, I realized how afraid many humans are of the food they eat, or more specifically where it comes from. Jonathan Safran Foer, author of expository novel Eating Animals, for example states “Do you eat chicken because you are familiar with the scientific literature on them and have decided that their suffering doesn’t matter, or do you do it because it tastes good? (Foer)” Many people, like Foer, resort to vegetarianism because they cannot be absolutely sure that animals are fairly treated in the food system. They are afraid that in buying or consuming meat, they are directly supporting the violence that comes from factory farming, and mass production. Additionally, many people are becoming aware of the issues of overconsumption and factory farming through fear used by outlets such as documentaries. The film Food Inc. became very popular when it was released in 2009 because of the exposure it generated of the inner workings of the food industry. This exposure created fear in consumers and inspired many others, such as the leaders of activist groups like the ‘Animal Liberation Front’ or ‘Compassion in World Farming,’ to bring the hidden violence in the food industry to the public eye and force consumers to form their own opinions and make a difference.
The greatest lesson that I learned in creative writing was that when we face our fears head on, we can use them to analyze situations, make decisions, and generate solutions to the problems in our lives.
Carrol, Linda. “Do Violent Movies Cause Aggression? The Answer May Depend.” NBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://www.nbcnews.com/health/mental-health/do-violent-movies-cause-aggression-answer-may-depend-n205556>.
“Digital Repository.” President Lyndon B. Johnson Meets with Senator Richard Russell, 1963. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.
Foer, Jonathan S. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009. Print.