Magazine article The Spectator

My A to Z of Scare Stories, from Anthrax to Zion (Protocols of the Elders Of)

Magazine article The Spectator

My A to Z of Scare Stories, from Anthrax to Zion (Protocols of the Elders Of)

Article excerpt

Britain, says the poet Kate Fox, quoted on Radio 4's Saturday Live last week, is a country 'eternally poised between a hosepipe ban and a flood'. Or between fearsome, knife-wielding youth gangs and a teen generation of obese couch-potatoes.

Knife crime is a horrible thing; and for offering the list of comparable scares which follows you may call me flippant. But in every case it was for a while true that what would have been thought flippant would have been to question the scale of each threat.

My friend Simon Briscoe has co-written an entire book (Panicology -- Penguin-Viking) about the statistical basis of panic; I, less systematically, have spent three hours on a train with a ballpoint pen, a paper place mat, and my own recollections. It is shocking how easily the following alphabet came.

Anthrax. Framed on my bathroom wall is a full-page spread from the Sun instructing readers how to survive an imminent terrorist-instigated invasion of anthrax spores.

(See also Alsatians, and Addictions -- gambling, internet, shopping, etc -- which vary as to gravity, but are all announced as recently diagnosed by experts, and 'sweeping' the population. ) Bird Flu. It is not so long since the government's chief medical officer said the arrival here of a pandemic was not a matter of whether but when. Since then, bird flu has dropped from the news. (See also Badgers, BSE. ) Communism. Besides the military threat, the ideology itself was widely and for decades believed to be a kind of intellectual virus, infecting minds and driving dynamic economies of formidable efficiency and power. (See also Crack Cocaine, Cancer of the Skin. ) Dobermans (or Devil Dogs). These followed Alsatians and preceded Rottweilers and Pit Bull Terriers as a breed characterised in the media as child-killing monsters. Either they have stopped biting or their bites have stopped being reported.

Ecstasy. Where did this go? It was supposed to be threatening the lives of a whole generation.

Flooding. The damage and danger were vastly exaggerated after one bad summer in 2007 in which some people's furniture was damaged. (See also 'Franken-Foods'. ) Gin. Through much of the 18th and 19th centuries gin was believed to pose the principal threat to life, health and moral welfare among the urban poor. It probably did.

But the fashion passed. (See also Genetic Mutation. ) HIV-Aids. Whatever the grievous toll this avoidable disease has exacted in poor countries, predictions of the swaths it would cut through the British population, including the heterosexual population, were seriously adrift. (See also Happy-Slapping. ) IRA . This insurgency proved treatable by patience, fortitude, restraint and compromise. It was in the end less formidable than elements on the Left hoped, or the Right feared. (See also Internet Porn. ) Jihad. Our century's real Jihadis are the neocons, who depend upon a credulous reading of what we shall one day look back on as a nebulous and ephemeral cult. (See also Osama, al-Qa'eda, and Protocols of the Elders of Zion. ) Knife-crime. The case in point. Let us at least suspend judgment.

LSD. Why anyone ever believed a desire for this unpleasant and unsettling drug would overwhelm the youth of the West now seems inexplicable. (See also Liquid Explosives. ) Marijuana. Another boring drug whose use is declining, but which was thought poised to grip a generation by the throat and drive us mad. (See also Mad Mullahs. ) Nuclear Power. A method of generating electricity which, like road traffic accidents (which killed some 3,000 in Britain last year), poses an appreciable risk to life and limb; but instead of doing so through small, frequent accidents, threatens big but rare dollops of danger. …

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