There is an intricate relationship between the human species and fear. It's evolution's answer to the constant presence of things that threaten a being's survival.
Fear is a double-edged sword; it causes animals to be wary of what might harm them, and yet it also coaxes animals to their deaths _ an elk is spurred by fear to run from a pack of wolves, yet the wolves can far more easily kill the fleeing elk than one which stands its ground with its horns to them.
Modern humans have banished wolves to zoos and shrinking patches of wilderness await their extinction at the hands of urban sprawl, but technology has yet to imprison primal fear _ for even as scientists study it in sterilized lab rat cages, it walks among us, touching and taking.
In the most basic sense of the word, all social animals are terrorists. They use the fear response developed during evolution to coerce other animals into doing what they want. Humans are no exception. If we did not manipulate fear to our own ends, today's civilized world would not, perhaps could not, exist.
Fear is the foundation of organized society, because it makes law possible. If the fear of being reprimanded by the police and legal system for crimes were somehow wiped out, lawlessness and anarchy would sweep all nations.
Fear forces people to go against their baser self-interest on a mass scale. Take, for example, a woman who encounters a long line to the bathroom. There is no physical barrier which prevents her from walking past the line and entering the bathroom, or even shoving other women out of the way to do so.
What prevents her from doing so is the fear of being reprimanded by the others in line and the police officer who stands nearby to enforce order.
If she were not afraid of these things, she would, according to the "survival of the fittest" principle, bypass the line, but she is subconsciously afraid. She gets in line as society dictates she must, and she illustrates how fear makes it possible for a civilization to be formed by a mass of individuals whose Darwinian self-interest has been repressed.
Fear is pervasive in human society _ so pervasive, in fact, that most people do not recognize how they are governed by it. One field of society that relies on fear to function is one that also relies on its use of fear remaining camouflaged: advertising. Things aren't always what they seem, and hardly ever what people imagine.
The function of advertising is to use the fear of consumers to make them buy things. Furthermore, this use must be covert; advertisers must never let their customers realize that fear is what drives purchasing. It's rather genius how the simplest of commercials can deliver a positive message while subconsciously inciting fear in the heart of a consumer _ your heart.
Advertising most often preys on the basic fears of the modern human: loneliness, unhappiness and failure. They insinuate that only by purchasing a certain product can you avoid these dour outcomes. To make this explicitly clear, they usually provide you with two worlds: a world without their products and a world with their products. Buy their products, and you'll be ecstatic and surrounded by happy, unnaturally good-looking people. Continue as you are, without their products, and you'll be the miserable simpleton in the first half of the commercial, unsmiling and unloved.
Take, for example, the typical weight-loss commercial. A trim woman sits next to a photo of her heavier past self and cheerfully laments on how horrible her life was before she took the miracle weight loss pill. Now she's happy, of course _ now that she's thinner and $19.99 poorer.
Is the commercial selling you the life of the thin woman? Indirectly, yes, but not really. What this commercial is really selling you is your own fear of being the woman in the "before" photo. You do not want to be the woman with unkempt curly hair and an extra chin who did not use the product. So you buy the product to ensure the woman in the photo isn't you.
Even commercials which don't seem to have any negative features subconsciously appeal to every person's fear of the life unlived. A restaurant commercial displays an image of a happy group laughing, smiling and in good lighting _ and where are you? You're at home on your couch, in the dark, with a bag of Cheetos and you're probably not smiling.
The department store commercial flaunts a happy couple kissing as the first snow of the Christmas season falls, and you're alone at home.
If only there were some way to be these people, to not be what you are. You suddenly feel like swinging by the department store, and then perhaps a restaurant. You have no idea why.
The success of advertising lies in the terror of being old, fat, weak, unloved and alone. Advertising relies on consumers' inability to accept things as they are, and to overreact. If there were no fear, the economy would collapse into itself, for no one would buy anything they didn't need _ and what kind of civilization would that be?
Jessie Matus is a senior at Oneonta High School.