It is pretty scary, though, that we have to watch our mouths to such an extent these days, that we can't even make a joke about something that 98% of the population would never do, without fear of being arrested. It's all about fear, and this is what they are supposedly fighting against to make us feel safer. If we are going to take every mention of violence, even non-serious, jokey violence seriously, and act upon it, in the name of thwarting terrorists, we're going to end up catching a lot of regular, innocent people, and bad things are still going to happen.
Look at the "bombing attempt" in NYC recently. That was something that was barely even a threat, since it was a dud, and you get people saying "Oh my god we're so lucky to be alive." If they had no idea that this "bomb" was ever there, they would have no reason to have been afraid of it, and they wouldn't feel lucky to have survived an almost-bombing. And now those people are going to be constantly on the lookout for suspicious behavior, so when they see another car with smoke coming out of it, they will call the police and report a bombing attempt, when it turns out it's just some guys smoking a blunt, who will get arrested for scaring naive people, and for marijuana possession. (Unless they're in California; represent!)
We are so on the lookout for wrongdoing that we aren't allowed to carry certain liquids onto planes. Got a bottle of water? You can drink it before you check in, and fill it back up once you've been thoroughly dehumanized by security, because otherwise you will attempt to blow up a plane with liquids, like that one time someone did that. Our scanners at airports can now see through clothes, revealing the contour of your body and whether you're carrying guns, or nuclear missiles, or a heart rate monitor, or have a small penis
. Dangerous times; you never know who might have a small penis. If we're going to arrest people just for joking about blowing up an airport, which, sure, is a tacky thing to say, but it's in no way an actual threat, nor is it offensive to a degree that makes it a crime, then people are just going to be afraid to say things like that, and that fear will escalate so that we won't be able to say things like "I am going to KILL tonight at the canasta semi-finals," because people will take that as a legitimate threat of murder.
The criminal record and fine are enough on their own, but his career is ruined, his family and friends will probably not just laugh it off... The guy's life was essentially ruined by making a stupid joke, and the fact that they went through all this trouble, purely based on fear, tells us that "the terrorists" have done their job extremely well, and continue to do so. We are afraid, we are terrorized, we are petrified. But we are afraid of the idea
of bad things happening. When bad things actually happen, we are drawn to them. They're all over the news and we eat it up. "Subway bombing in London? That's terrible, I'd better watch the news stories, and read up about that, and talk to my friends about how it could have been Osama, and then watch my back because the same thing could happen here at any time! Terrorists are all around us!"
So yes, context plays a big role here, but news media is more and more entwined with internet phenomena like twitter and facebook. I read an article probably several times a week that quotes a twitter page and makes a story about it. Albeit, a short, and entirely pointless story, but what passes for news these days is remarkable. CNN.com has iReport, where random people anywhere can film things and send it into the website to be viewed by anyone as news. During an earthquake near the southern California border recently, CNN's top story was one such iReporter's footage of the earthquake moving the water in their pool. Riveting, hand held cell phone footage accompanied by cries of "Cool" and "How's that happening" and "This feels weird." Not really an example of fear in media, but it goes with my point of internet integration into otherwise legitimate media establishments.
Because we are so connected to the internet at all times these days, and thanks to our professional media making use of it more and more often, things like this are going to become commonplace. Fake joke threats will be made on facebook or twitter, and will be seen by thousands, or millions of people right away and construed as legitimate. This leads to people being more afraid to say things that may offend, which leads to more subdued posting, which may sound like a good thing, but it's really just the population giving into fear.
One last example before I go is the controversy over the 200th and 201st episodes of South Park, which featured every celebrity the show had ever slandered taking their revenge by suing the town. Their ultimate weapon? The prophet Muhammad, who is, according to the characters on the show, immune to being made fun of. They will transfer this power to themselves, and be free of ridicule! South Park already had an episode dealing with the controversy over the Danish cartoons, in which Muhammad was featured behind a censored bar briefly. Running with this, in the episodes, Muhammad was featured wearing a bear costume. This sparked an outrage among a small extremist "group" in New York, I believe, who "warned" Matt Stone and Trey Parker that they would end up like Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered in response to the Danish cartoons.
So the next week, they reveal that it wasn't actually Muhammad in the costume, and the rest of the episode is about them taking the REAL Muhammad to safety. In the first episode, the word "Muhammad" was not bleeped. In episode 201, however, every instance of his name was bleeped, and he appeared only behind a censored bar, and didn't say anything, or do anything. The episode wasn't defamatory toward Muhammad or Muslims at all, but it featured a scene of Jesus looking at internet porn while calling Buddha (who is snorting cocaine) a fag, and Moses making a semen joke. The entire ending of the show was bleeped by the network, purely in response to the "threat" that was made the week prior. They had such fear that some harm would befall someone involved, that they heavily censored the episodes, and they are now banned, along with a previous episode featuring Muhammad. This is the first time in South Park's history that the network has stepped in and actively censored the show, and it does so with gross hypocrisy. Especially considering that Comedy Central have a cartoon in the works, all about Jesus wanting to be a normal guy in New York, avoiding his slacker dad. Classy, Comedy Central.
We're afraid of text messages, bottled water, shoes, smoke in cars, cartoons, and so on, and so on, and so on... Without having to actually do anything at all, terrorists do their jobs very well. We are afraid of the very idea of terrorism, and that's why things like this happen. It's a real shame, but until people realize that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, we're stuck like this. I hope it happens soon, because it's getting out of hand quickly.
Apologies for the very long post/semi-rant, hopefully it's at least lucid.