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Introduction: Fear

What are you afraid of? This simple question is the germ of Bad Subjects' fiftieth issue.
Frederick Aldama, Jeremy Russell, and Aaron Shuman, issue editors

Issue #50, June 2000




What are you afraid of? This simple question is the germ of Bad Subjects' fiftieth issue. For many of our readers, this might seem to be a self-evident question, because fear has been something that Bad Subjects has explored since its inception in 1992. However in the past, we've always chosen to interrogate fear indirectly. In our fiftieth edition we want to come out of the closet, so to speak, and address why Bad Subjects continues to question fear as an acceptable lifestyle orientation.

Fear is the emotion that you always carry with you. At best its like a beeper buzzing in your pocket, a little reminder to "look both ways before crossing the street." At worst its a pair of cement shoes that walk you off the pier and into the deep waters of suicide. Fear can also motivate you to do a host of irrational things from hurting someone you love, to depriving yourself of the right to be fulfilled at work. The possibilities are endless. Fear, in short, is a metaphor. It's both an emotional state of disappointment, and it's an expression of powerlessness that can be used to make us do things not of our own choosing.

The bottom line is that in capitalist societies, fear of being punished is always used as the incentive to keep all of us in line. That's why, in some respects, as the saying goes, we both live and die by fear. And like any fundamental emotion, fear is inherently political because it's always a reaction to the external world. The problem isn't so much that we experience fear, as much as how it ends up getting rationalized as a way to maintain the status quo.

The essays collected in this issue explore the ramifications and consequences of fear, those easily traced and those more difficult to track. In order to capture both the personal and political realities of fear, we specifically sought out two kinds of essays for this issue. First, we asked contributors to write personal reflections that focused on a particular experience of being afraid. Second, we also sought out essays that took a step back from the personal realm to explore fear's powerful influence on politics. The resulting essays move between the public and private realms, shedding light on the myriad roles that fear plays in everyday life.

In the first essay, "The Abyss and You: An Anatomy of Fear," Nora Connor offers an intensely personal exploration of the fears lurking within her. By contrast, Robert Soza examines the political dimensions of fear, exposing the fear of equity that pervades the affluent capitalist societies of the West and warps minority-majority relationships there.

In "Cross-Dressing in Bulgaria: Gay Identity, Post-Communist Fear, and Magical Love," Robin Brooks takes us on a fascinating trip through Bulgaria's gay subculture. Along the way, she illustrates the many ways that fear influences the development of community identity. Lindsey Eck lives far away from Sofia, Bulgaria in Austin, Texas, but as his article details fear also plays a role in the many communities that make up George W. Bush's fief. In an article rich with detail, Eck illustrates how the intersection of fear, urban sprawl, and affluence has undermined Austin's once thriving music community.

Sheen Brenkuss and Chris Orlet take us back to the realm of the personal in their essays. In her article Brenkuss reminds us of the value of both taking stock of our fears and taking responsibility for them, even those fears that we enjoy. Chris Orlet is one of the lucky ones. He survived catholic grade school with his sense of humor intact. His essay takes us back to the time when M*A*S*H was still on TV and nuns instilled the fear of god by hitting you with a ruler.

In his essay "Do You Fear Fear? Docile Bodies and Fear of the Other", Arturo J. Aldama isolates one of fear's most fundamental political effects. He points out that while fear has many results one of the most pervasive is the "propagation and internalization of fear in a social body," which keeps it "docile." Brent Malin offers a further analysis of fear's ability to keep people 'in line.' Weaving in his own childhood experiences, Malin explores how we learn to fear.

Finally, we are proud to reprint three articles from Poor Magazine, a publication and community organization doing vital work to help very low and no income adults and children in the Bay Area. In "Poverty: A Triptych," Lisa Gray-Garcia, D'Shawn Willaims, Cosmo Franklin, and Dee Gray present an unsentimental, searing portrait of the human costs of poverty in California. Their accounts of poverty, homelessness and loss remind us that what we should really fear is our political and economic system: it is, a system that steals the individual hopes of those at the margins and offers them only organized brutality and cruelty in return.

Copyright © 2000 by Frederick Aldama, Jeremy Russell, and Aaron Shuman. All rights reserved.