This past week a couple of stories have surfaced that have captured public attention. The latest is the swine flu story. The old fears of a flu pandemic, like the one in 1918 that killed millions, have popped up, prompting a lot of anxiety. Right now the deadliest cases seem to be in Mexico. As I write this the Center for Disease Control says 40 people in the U.S. have swine flu.
Forty people out of 300+ million people, and panic is already setting in. It reminds me of the SARS scare in 2003 or the first swine flu scare in 1976. Every day in our country heart disease, strokes and cancer take thousands of lives. You can leave your driveway and get killed in your car. We have a lot of things to worry about but we have chosen to let the flu story take over our minds. We do this to ourselves all the time. It's like the real killers in our society have gotten boring to us so we have to come up with new things to scare ourselves.
The other story is the so-called Craigslist killer story. My wife asked, and rightly so, why this is big news when people are getting murdered every day.
For some reason this story with a tall pre-med student killing a photogenic prostitute has gotten big play everywhere. Why? Once again, have routine murders, rapes, robberies gotten so boring we have to spend the national attention on this story?
A few years ago there were stories about sharks attacking swimmers and they got a lot of play on television news. For me, who doesn't swim in the ocean, there was a threat level of zero that I'd get attacked by a shark. It's the same with most of the people in this country. A psychiatrist got on National Public Radio to talk about why we take these stories and run with them: It's because they're sexy. It's much more fun to worry about a shark attack than getting cancer or having a heart attack. It's more scary to think that we can catch the flu from just going out in public and having someone cough on us than to it is to think of what our fat intake is doing to our arteries.
There is one good thing about these stories. We are no longer looking at last month's obsession, the Octomom. That's worth a few scares from network news right there.