Mainstream Media and the Brainwashing of Americans

This week I started an almost full-out war on my personal Facebook page. It started innocently enough: I posted a conversation I’d had with a guy who I think was initially trying to flirt with me, but ending up just being insulting and ignorant. Not to me, but to an entire country in general: Iran.

It’s no secret that I’m drawn to Muslim-majority countries. I’ve been to a couple and there are several on my must-see list. So, when this guy asked me why the hell I’d want to go to Iran (and then suggested that I’d be decapitated if I went), I was more than a little upset and irritated with his level of ignorance of what I consider to be an enigmatic, diverse, and beautiful country. In any case, the conversation on my Facebook sparked a debate in which people were very strongly divided: totally for visiting Iran or totally against.

Much of the “against” camp cited various news articles to support their stance and it got me thinking about the media. We are so quick to judge a city or a country based off of a few articles or what a few newscasters have to say. We are so quick to completely write off a place because our government warns us of the perils we might face should we travel there. When did our own judgment fly out the window? When did we start buying into everything we’re being force-fed by the media and our government? We, as Americans, hate being painted with a broad brush that we’re all fat, lazy, gun-toting racists, but we’re so quick to paint other nations with the exact same broad brush: Muslim-majority countries are anti-American, anti-woman, breeding grounds for terrorists who will in turn kidnap and behead us. We have bought into the scare tactics employed by the media and the government to keep us in our own “perfectly safe” nation without even asking “why?”

So, while the mainstream media tells us how scary it is to travel to places like Iran, why are we not looking for other opinions about it? Why are we not looking to bloggers or other seasoned travelers who have been and can provide first-hand accounts of the places they’ve seen without the political agenda spin? Anthony Bourdain was recently in Iran and said he’s seldom been treated with such kindness and hospitality. Nellie of WildJunket is in Iran right now and has been posting updates almost daily to her Facebook account with photos and stories of her travels through Iran–not one of them bad. Daniel and Audrey of Uncornered Market spent time traveling throughout Iran and had wonderful and beautiful stories and photos to show for it. And, perhaps my new favorite blogger, Paul of Beyond the Headlines, has been traveling to various “dangerous” countries and writing about his experience–the stories of the people he met in Iran were touching and should instill a sense of optimism about traveling there!

I think it’s sad that we’ve fallen into this routine where we’re constantly tossing entire countries into one category or another: safe or unsafe. In doing so, we’re hurting the normal everyday people who live in these countries; hurting their economies; and basically just making ourselves look ridiculously stupid.

A few months ago, I wrote about several people I met during my travels who’d never been to the United States and who were either opposed to it or scared of it (because of terrorist activities and gun control). As part of this Facebook debate that I sparked, I learned from another friend that he’d had a similar experience. My friend, Feroz, lives in Dubai and told me that the news they’re shown where he lives shows how awful it is for Muslims to visit the United States. That they’ll be treated poorly–assumed terrorists before they are even allowed to step foot into our country. Despite what his TV told him, he and his wife were eager to come to the US. When they arrived, he was pulled aside and put into a room with other “suspects” for 3 hours upon his entry, questioned twice, and later released when it was determined he wasn’t actually a threat to the country. But what came after was the part that surprised him the most: The America he was shown on the news was drastically different than the one he and his wife experienced first-hand. Despite the fact that he is a brown, bearded Muslim (who carried around a large bag filled with camera equipment) next to his wife, who was wearing a hijab, he was greeted with warmth everywhere he went. People were friendly, helpful, and accommodating without question or concern. What he took away from that experience (and what I took away from his story) is that you can’t always trust what the news tells you.

I urge you to stop buying into every scandalous and catastrophic story the news throws your way. Stop generalizing and marginalizing entire cultures of people and entire countries. I’m not saying there aren’t unsafe places in the world–I’m not that naive–I’m just saying that you should do some research first. Don’t discount an entire nation because one city or area is bad (because if that were the case, looking at the crime rates in Detroit and Baltimore would be enough to keep me out of my own country).

And, if that’s not enough to convince you, check out these stats:

  • In 2013, 207 Americans were killed abroad in terrorist activities or homicides (for reference, about 15.5 million Americans travel abroad each year)
  • In 2013, 14,827 (rate of 4.7) Americans were killed (homicide) in the United States
  • In 2013, 3,126 (rate of 3.9) Iranians were killed (homicide) in Iran

That’s 71 times as many Americans killed on our own “safe” soil than were killed while traveling around THE ENTIRE WORLD. That’s .0013% of the 15.5 million Americans traveling abroad who were killed on foreign soil. The murder rate in the US is .8 higher than the rate in Iran (for people who reside in each respective country).

If you’re interested in learning more about how the US murder rate ranks against other nations, here’s a good start. And, if you’re worried about getting kidnapped in Iran, take a look at this map, which shows you where you’re most likely to be kidnapped.

photos found on Pinterest

16 thoughts on “Mainstream Media and the Brainwashing of Americans

    • Thanks, Raymond! I had no idea you lived in Oman for two years–that’s amazing! And yeah, I imagine coming across cheap booze was rough. ;) But I’m glad that you were never worried about being harmed or kidnapped. I wish more people had your outlook! :)

  1. What I don’t think you understand Megan, is that not everyone wants to visit these countries. I “get it” that you do, but it is not everyone’s cup of tea. We all have a preference about where we want to go and what we want to see and do in the world of travel, I prefer Spanish speaking countries and love Europe, but that is me. No lecture needed if I don’t want to go to Iran (which I don’t), it is just a preference. And I don’t think writing about murder stats will change anyone’s mind… I hope you are not offended as I love you gal!
    Cacinda Maloney recently posted..Foodie Heaven: Benazuza, Cancun, MexicoMy Profile

    • Cindy, you can just as easily replace “Iran” with “Mexico” in your case. This isn’t just about one particular country (it just so happened that Iran was the one that sparked the debate). This is about people’s perception of ANY place based on what they hear about it in the news. I get that Iran isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; Mexico isn’t mine. But I don’t say, “I’m not going to Mexico because too many people get beheaded there.” That’s silly, as I’ve known dozens of people who have been (and go frequently) who’ve never run into a problem. That’s the point I’m trying to make–don’t rule out an entire country because of what you hear on the media.

  2. I share your frustration with people who are swallow everything that the mainstream media has to say about ‘certain’ countries. I guess this is where we, as travel bloggers come in. Its our job to tell the other side of the story.
    Having cycled through many Muslim countries such as Syria (before the civil war) and Sudan, i can tell you that they were the places i was made most welcome.

    • You make a good point, Dave! It is our job to help people understand that the media’s side isn’t the only side.And I’m so happy to hear how welcomed you were and how well you were treated in Sudan and Syria. It’s those kinds of stories that deserve to make headlines (not just the bad ones).

  3. While I agree with you on the general state of ignorance, your article seems to use the element of “death” as the basis for whether it is “safe” to visit someplace or not. I think a lot of people would consider that the ultimate yardstick, but would have other reasons for not visiting a place. While Iran is probably safer to visit than any major city in the United States on the “death” scale, other people may have other metrics. I’m pretty well traveled in the Islamic world over the last 7 years. And I have a deep desire to visit Iran…some day. But that day is not now. It’s not a fear of personal safety. Rather, a desire that the world should be free of fear and my personal desire not to contribute financially to that situation.
    Lance recently posted..Exploring the Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally GroundsMy Profile

    • I get your point Lance, but I also feel like a lot of these countries that are perhaps scary to visit right now aren’t going to be any less scary in the future, unfortunately. I think there are ways to travel safely to “unsafe” countries, but you’re right–it’s a personal preference. As for financially supporting certain situations, while I agree with it, my desire to see and experience various places outweighs my “morals” in that regard. I wrote a post about it recently regarding Dubai. If I limited my travels to places where I agreed 100% with everything that happened in a certain country, I’d never go anywhere. I couldn’t even live in my own country.

  4. I had to post this on my fb after receiving countless messages from friends, family and acquaintances in the United States & Colombia regarding my upcoming trip to Turkey & Kurdistan (both countries I’ve already traveled to):

    “Before anyone else sends me a message freaking out about me going to Turkey please note that of the 50 most violent cities in the world only four of them aren’t in the United States or Latin America. Yes, the Americas contain 92% of the most dangerous cities in the world. I receive messages from friends who actually live in these cities on these lists and I can’t help but point out the irony.

    The murder rate is higher in the United States than Iran. According to the UN Turkey’s murder rate is almost half that of the United States.
    So next time, while composing your message to anyone of your friends and family traveling abroad think to yourself, “Maybe I should turn off Fox News, the world isn’t that scary of a place after all.””

    It is our job, as world travelers, to expel these uneducated myths.

    • Awesome, Kevin! I hope people got your point. It’s difficult to retrain people to think more positively about the world and to open their minds a bit to even consider that things might not be as bad as the media portrays. I think there’s some value to the media, but I think there’s much more value in asking questions for yourself and always challenging what you’re told.

  5. Thanks for the shout out! You know what has been interesting for me upon my return to the States? The first question people usually ask is about my scariest or most dangerous experience. I wonder if it’s the media that has brainwashed us to think this way — or if there’s something more innate to humanity from an evolutionary point of view that teaches us to seek out negative information over positive information for survival purposes. Either way, I can successfully say that virtually everywhere in the world (I’m looking at you, Afghanistan and Somalia) people are much nicer than any media report would make them out to be.

    • I’m always so happy to hear that places/people are better than the media has portrayed them to be!

      And you raise an interesting point about people always asking about the negative. I’ve noticed that quite a bit from people too–how much were you harassed? Did you have anything stolen? Did anyone try to touch you? Goes on and on and on. So odd that those are the things we want to hear over “how AMAZING was it?!”

  6. Hello,
    I am Iranian and I’ve came upon your blog via a Persian site. I am happy that you left Iran with a good memory and people have been kind to you but let me tell you Iran is not a good country for living. So I don’t agree with mainstream media and brainwashing but a big part of those news are true. The fact is media is right about Iranian being anti-woman, anti-American or terrorist breeding but not people. It’s Iran’s government and it is so so true. Anyway I hope you visit here again cuz there are so many things to see and enjoy.

    • Hi Raoros, thanks for your comment! I haven’t actually been to Iran yet–it’s just on the list of places I’d like to visit.

      I think things can be said for any country, really–the countrymen/people are different than the government. Not all Americans are as people may think because of our government or because of how the news portrays us. I think the people are what make the journey special, and I’ve heard Iranians are very kind, accepting, and eager to meet and help foreigners. :)

  7. Great article, Megan. I have been thinking about these sort of things a lot lately as I am overseas and watching, reading, and talking about the many violent and disheartening events back in the USA. I am often asked if I am afraid because everyone has a gun (I’m from Texas) and also about our poverty, poor treatment of minorities and women. Seeing your homeland from an outsiders perspective is very eye opening. Many Americans allow themselves to be brainwashed because they choose ignorance and refuse to look at things from a different perspective. Travel is really the best way to do this. And Iran is on my travel list as well! I’ve heard wonderful things from other bicycle tourists.

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