Fear Culture, USA
Michael Amato (United States)
Redefining news with its live coverage of the 1991 U.S. invasion of Iraq, punctuated by promotion of “smart” technologies that allegedly allowed missiles to target enemy combatants while leaving children in hospitals unscathed, CNN altered the media landscape by working alongside the military industrial complex rather than critiquing it.
CNN’s 24/7 news cycle emerged within a broader culture of fear that sociologist Barry Glassner defined as profiting from our anxieties about everything from crime to mental illness to plane wrecks. Cable news persuaded US and global audiences that war was more essential than education, clean water, or healthy food. CNN and other U.S. cable news outlets, such as Fox and MSNBC, are unavoidable for anyone living in or traveling to the United States. Their 24/7 broadcasts pollute semi-public spaces, such as airport terminals, casual restaurants, and bars. Moreover, audiences invite them into their homes.
Michael Amato’s Fear Culture, USA is a photo essay that documents the toxicity of the US cable news media. He focuses on the marketing strategy of “breaking news” that lures audiences into sitting through advertisements in anticipation of new information about the world. The constant barrage of breaking news clouds our ability to distinguish what is important from what is routine.
In 2017, Amato photographed quotidian locations, such as living rooms, diners, and laundry rooms, then digitally manipulated the images to insert cable news broadcasts about the so-called Ebola Crisis of 2014. Rather than focusing on informing audiences about the outbreak in parts of West Africa, cable news banked on alarming U.S. audiences about how they might contract the virus.
Alarm and panic over contracting Ebola stoked racist assumptions about Africa, evident in the political climate of 2017 and 2018 when the U.S. president referred to African and Caribbean states as “shithole countries” as part of his nativist and anti-immigrant beliefs, supported by cable news commentary.
Amato’s photographs disrupt temporality, with events broadcast on cable in 2014 appearing to seep back into places in 2017, conveying the lingering effects of market-driven news. Some photographs show solitary television viewers or small groups of people; others, empty spaces, as though the cable news audiences have fled. Breaking news via cable outlets infects and spreads like a virus.