Taylor: Imaginary climate of fear

Television gives us a hugely distorted view of reality. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize how distorted that view is.

A big black SUV with dark-tinted windows pulled up beside me. The driver’s window zipped down. A very big man with a shaved head and lots of tattoos leaned out.

“Hey, you!” he growled.

It felt like the opening scene of almost any TV crime show.

“What kinda dog is that?” the driver demanded.

“A Chesapeake Bay retriever,” I replied, a little nervously.

His door popped open. He levered his bulk onto the ground. He bent over to rumple my dog’s ears.

“I’ve never seen a Chesapeake before,” he said. “She’s got a beautiful face.”

Nope, definitely not your stereotypical crime show.

Television, I’m convinced, gives us a hugely distorted view of reality. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize how distorted that view is.

Every study, for example, says that the rate of violent crime in Canada has decreased by around 50 per cent over the last 25 years. Yet the federal government bases its run for re-election on fear, pushing a heightened “tough on crime” agenda.

Admittedly, the U.S.—source of most TV crime shows—has a much higher violent crime rate than Canada. You’re about three times more likely to be murdered in the U.S., according to Wikipedia. But the chances of being murdered at random are extremely low in both countries.

Rather to my surprise—yes, I get influenced by television too—the overall crime rate in the U.S. appears to have dipped even faster than in Canada. Even for gun crimes.

Yet no one would ever get that impression from the hail of bullets launched every night on the screen, where teams of crime fighters smash down doors, fan out through homes wearing flak jackets, fingers on triggers. TV coverage made the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, look like an episode of Star Wars last summer, with Darth Vader’s troops massing to crush protesters.

The medical profession suffers from TV-induced distortion too. Doc Martin glimpses a rash on a woman’s exposed belly. “I must operate immediately!” he commands. “Get me some boiling water!”

“At a time like this, you want tea?” his befuddled assistant gasps.

“To sterilize my scalpel, you idiot!” the doctor snorts.

Marcus Welby might have spoken more diplomatically, but the aura of omnipotence stays the same.

Given the stereotypes of medical drama, it must be very difficult for ordinary doctors to say, “I don’t know.”

The great failing of television, it seems to me, is that it ignores the essential goodness of people. In the rush of telescoping a plot into an hour, or a news story into a minute, there isn’t time to acknowledge little acts of kindness, compassion, caring.

I can’t quantify this claim, but I suspect that 99 per cent of my life is spent trusting other people. Trusting that the relationship I have with them will withstand any disagreements. Trusting that those I don’t have a personal relationship with will still act with honesty and justice.

Yet the TV culture encourages us to base our life decisions on fear. We act to protect ourselves, even when nothing needs defending. We withdraw. We hold back. We hesitate.

We let a few drops of imaginary fear taint the entire bucket of life experience.

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