Super Bowl LIII was on today and the pundits mentioned several times how grateful they were for the 'First Responders'. First Responders have nothing to do with the NFL, obviously. But the lip service is part of the overall messaging that somehow permeates though contemporary American culture. When you say that you thank the First Responders you're also reminding everyone that they're actually in a state of emergency. You remind people that they are on the precipice of imminent danger. In that one simple sentence you scare people but you also sooth them. It's code for saying you, as a citizen, are in danger but the system can protect you, if your only repeat the lines. Everyone from the same hymn sheet.
In the Power of Nightmares Adam Curtis said, ‘In the past politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this but their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered their people. Those dreams failed and today people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly politicians are seen as managers of public life. But now they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares.’
Officially the US has been under a State of Emergency since 9/11, with it being renewed every year. The danger is partly real but it’s also very much imagined, taken to levels of fantasy by Hollywood. Endless films and TV shows are made where the White House is blown up, the President is taken hostage, the deep state has been infiltrated by shadows. These stories make billions of dollars because they plug into some deeper psychological aspect of the audience, something inside the emotional soul of the nation. Americans possibly like the feeling of being under threat because it allows them to justify doing bad things. They don't actually want to be under threat but they want to feel like they are. It’s animal instinct to do whatever you need to do to make emotional fear go away. You’d climb up a tree to escape a lion wouldn’t you? Actually you’d shoot the lion if you had had to. It would be the lion or it would be you. Feeling afraid gives permission.
The only times in living memory that the US has been attacked meaningfully by outside forces was Pearl Harbour and 9/11. Those two incidents get mentioned all the time in casual American discourse. A lot of people don't actually know that much about the events but they do like to remind themselves of them happening. What people do know, what they know that the feel, is that Pearl Harbour and 9/11 terrified them and justified massive acts of warfare. From boring history to epic mythology. The US has been invading other countries for decades. And the only way to justify all that unjust death and destruction in places like Vietnam and Iraq, to sooth yourself psychologically, is to first feel afraid. Be afraid by thanking the First Responders. If people really wanted to show their gratitude for First Responders they could give them a pay raise. The average salary in the US is $59,0039. The median annual salary of a paramedic is $33,380.