MIKE MOORE’S RECENT Oscar-winning documentary, Bowling for Columbine, depicted an America in the thrall of fear, largely of itself. Ostensibly about the ravages of United States gun culture, Columbineexposed far deeper tensions within America’s white suburban societies. A sequence of animated maps retold the story of white flight from the cities of America that began in the 1960s, propelled by deepening racial tensions, economic restructuring and mounting concern about “urban disorder”. The exodus has continued in the decades since, fuelling the continuous and often haphazard expansion of largely white suburbs. This fear-driven sprawl has been accompanied by a rapid balkanization of the local political landscape as each new suburban community wraps itself in municipal armoury, ensuring that local taxes aren’t redistributed back to the “undeserving” (and coloured) poor in the older cities.
Moore’s thesis is that urban America remains in the grip of hysteria about racial crime that neglects the reality that whites are, and always have been, the main perpetrators of gun crime and non-whites the principal victims. For him, the myth of the ubiquitous coloured gun-toting criminal has been left quietly unchallenged, sometimes even inflamed, by corporations and others who realise that fear is good for business. Fear-fuelled sprawl has consumed vast amounts of land, materials and energy and has undoubtedly added significantly to US gross domestic product since its emergence four decades ago. Anxiety fuels consumption, as advertisers well know, and death and disaster are excellent growth stimulants: all such “ordinary” maladies are good for business and hence for the nation.
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