How to Cite

Buettner, A., & Ferrier, L. (2002). Fear. M/C Journal, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.1937
Vol. 5 No. 1 (2002): Fear
Published 2002-03-01

In the wake of September 11 we have been painfully reminded of the virility of fear. “Fear”, along with “terror”, has become one of the staples of the ensuing political and media discourse. But “fear” is not a new entity, no matter how much the United States want to single out September 11 as a singular event in human history. Albert Camus, already, read the early 20th century as he knew it as a century in which incidents of catastrophe happened in such quick succession, and cross-impacted on each other, that there was no time to stop and think for those experiencing them. He called it the “century of fear”.

No wonder, then, that such a century also saw the burgeoning of psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud as the still looming founding and father figure. Particularly his interpretations of birth trauma (Geburtsangst, the fear of death) influenced the psychoanalytic understanding of fear . The 21st century still is part of an “age of fear”. Still, terrible and fear-inducing events keep on happening, psychoanalysis tries to “heal” various forms of fear, and, paradoxically, certain areas of the entertainment industry are busy as ever to make “fear” sellable. At the same time, fear is an extremely powerful political instrument and weapon. This is not new either, but September 11 and the subsequent political turmoil has made us more conscious about it again.

Fear, it also takes shape, is a cultural commodity with its very own forms of flow. They appear to be different from what we know so far about the flow of cultural commodities, as for example Arjun Appadurai has analysed them . Thus “fear” and its material and political dimensions need to be analysed and rethought. It would undoubtedly be interesting to read human history also as the history of human fears .

Fear as a forceful tool for exercising power – used on both sides of oppositional power relations – often seems to operate on certain dialectic configurations, such as fear and nation-states or fear and capitalism. Another one of these dialectic configurations in which fear materialises is the inside and the outside. Fredric Jameson reads this dichotomy as a hermeneutic model that has been discredited by the postmodern. Postmodernism’s project, he ponders, has brought the end of subjectivity, the end of the psychopathologies of the bourgeois ego. His shorthand for that is “the waning of affect”. Jameson reads Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream as an embodiment of affect – the affects of alienation, anomie, solitude, and social fragmentation – but also as the deconstruction of the expression of that kind of affect.

But whereas for Jameson affect disappears from the image, we now see a resurgence of affect in popular cultural productions in the face of fear. This is the cultural phenomenon the articles in this issue try to approach. Patrick Deer and Toby Miller give a personalised and thoughtful “eye-witness” account of the events on September 11 in New York. Having been close to the happenings, they almost write in a space of affect, grapple with how to write about events when they cause overwhelming sensations. Bill Thompson’s article on “Evoking terror in film scores” takes us into the opposite situation: not to be close to fear because of a terrible event but to seek out the emotion of fear, in this case in film. Along with the “knowledge” how to produce fear by film music, he also addresses the question of why we actively seek this emotion. Peter Freeman, in an elaborate response to Thompson, takes this question further by wondering what happens when we become familiarised to fear-inducing means. Gillian Kehoul considers fear in the context of theatre performance. She is interested in the interrelation between performer and audience and ethical questions arising out of it. Do their emotional responses to each other initiate fear on both sides, and how are emotional responses stimulated? Nadine Henley’s “You will die!” shows us how health promotion advertisements aim to “stimulate” fear. After these different fields of cultural production , the next article gives an example of political mobilisations and uses of fear. Matt McDonald’s article on the Tampa crisis argues how the Australian government and the national media created, or rather constructed, fear of a threat to Australian security via a certain way of representing asylum seekers. Finally, then, Elisa Aaltola thinks about fears inspired by our fear of the other. She looks at animals as an embodiment of “the other”. Animals and a revisiting of our ideas of species boundaries puts the hermeneutic model of inside and outside - which seems to lie at the heart of fear - into yet another light.

As usual, we are inviting debate on the articles in general, but on the music/cinema/fear topic in particular, since Bill Thompson, Peter Freeman and Graeme Bruce will be able to contribute to the discussion on the M/C list.

Author Biographies

Angi Buettner


Liz Ferrier