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Mean World Syndrome

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The news headlines this week have been rather depressing. Israel and Palestine are fighting again; ultra-violent extremists are taking over Syria and Iraq; war in Ukraine; Ebola outbreak in West Africa; and protests in U.S. met with a militarized police force. Even celebrity news of late has been focused on a suicide.

There are some truly horrible things happening and it’s important to be aware of that. I’m also not arguing for complacency; we should always strive to make ourselves and the world better. But it’s also important to understand the dichotomy between reality and media portrayal of it.

‘Mean World Syndrome’ is a phenomenon whereby violence-related content of mass media makes viewers believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is. This relates to the news. It also relates to other mass media. Crime dramas, usually told from the point-of-view of the police, are popular. In every episode people are shot and killed. That makes for good ratings, but it’s not representative of reality.

One of the consequences of Mean World Syndrome is that it breeds fear. It’s self-perpetuating in that the more you watch TV the worse you think the world is, so the more you watch TV. I know I’m always putting travel on a pedestal, but this is one of the reasons. Mean World Syndrome makes you fear the unknown. Travel—I mean seeing a place completely unknown—smashes a lot of these negative preconceptions.

This may seem like common sense but I still think it’s important to remind ourselves sometimes. The world isn’t that bad; in fact it’s beautiful.

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