29 March 2016

Fear Industry

Last month, we went back to the English Theatre Berlin to see a performance. It was a rather avant-garde performance, not a play as one would traditionally conceptualize it. We saw Fear Industry by Achim Wieland, which was categorized as music theatre and performance, as it was performed by two actors and one mezzo-soprano, staging 32 operatic acts about fear for stage and real life. I have to say, while the performance didn't make me fearful, it made me think.

See, this piece made one think about how society molds us humans into fearing almost everything we have around us. Turbulence, lions in the zoo, insomnia, Zika, killer bees, immigrants, and of course, terrorists. We are just constantly living in fear, from its mildest to its wildest. While some of these fears are real and not to be ignored (of course one should be fearful of lions in the zoo and therefore one shouldn't insert one's hand in the cage), some fears are just created with some other purpose in mind. Some fears are just there because of a political agenda, for example. Just look at how politicians engage in fear-mongering whenever it is election season. So this performance made me think of the various ways we humans are made to fear our environment.

Just look at news reports. Recently, there was a relatively publicized news report about how red meat is cancerous. Nowadays, almost everything is cancerous. Almost everything is dangerous. It is dangerous to drive, to fly, to swim, to get out of one's house. And so come to think of it, our society is mentally restricting us to go out and venture outside, as after all, we live in a fearful world.

The performance illustrated that quite well. It consisted of multiple short segments illustrating the various fears: a small child playing at the park, with his parents fearful of pedophiles; a mentally-unstable girl trying out different sleeping pills; a quiz show where contestants are asked about the probabilities of multiple bizarre dangers; a flight where passengers experience turbulence; a housewife hosting a Tupperware party who is fearful of bacteria; and so on. All of these little things and situations illustrate how fear pervades our lives in even the most quotidian corners.

So this made me think. Of course the life outside one's home is dangerous, there are wars and diseases out there. But this should not limit us from exploring other parts of the world. I remember some Americans I met while I was living in the USA, those who thought that the USA is the best place to live, those who wouldn't even think that having a passport is necessary, those who wouldn't even venture outside of their borders because they think that all the other countries out there are dangerous and not worth their time. Add to that, look at the politics surrounding it, look at what Donald Trump has been announcing, as he spreads fear on US citizens, telling people that all Muslims are to be banned from entering the USA, that he will build a wall at the US-Mexico border.

Or look at the Jehovah's Witnesses, who have always preached that this world is going to end soon. Ever since I can remember, they have been preaching about how this world has been on decline, that there have been more and more earthquakes, wars, diseases, and other natural disasters, all since 1914. They take this as a sign of the end of the days, and they hope that the end of the world would come soon. They spread fear on potential believers, because for them, only the Paradise that will come afterwards is the place worth living in. And so you see Witnesses who really have no desire to live here on our earth, no desire to explore what this world can offer them. Hence they are reduced to a suspended state of waiting, hoping for a Paradise that wouldn't arrive.

So yes, this performance was thought-provoking, and overall I enjoyed it.


  1. Oh my, the fear industry is a huuuge industry in North America. Drives me crazy. It's so easy to be brainwashed to believe we should be scared, and of course buy, buy buy--because this is the solution to all your problems! You can't fear the world when you have products to keep you healthy, safe, protected... Yuck. This is not my philosophy at all.

    1. Zhu,

      Exactly. Not my philosophy either. I know that there are dangers out there, but that won't prevent me from exploring the world I live in.