PHILIP ALCABES talks to me about epidemics and what we are really afraid of

May 7th, 2009

In his new book, DREAD: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from The Black Death to Avian Flu, Philip Alcabes says there is value in studying the history of epidemics as they reflect our inflated fears about what is unknown, undesirable, or misunderstood. For example, “gay plague” was the phrase which brutally insensitive headlines used to describe AIDS in the 1980s, and its comparison to The Black Death was a commentary on American sexual politics. Cholera was thought to be the disease of the poor and carried undertones of social change. Anthrax scares reflected our crippling fear of terrorist attacks, Avian flu played on our fear of China and now Swine flu, exploits our concerns about immigration. Philip Alcabes unravels the history of the epidemic as a phenomenon in human society, where what fear says more about us than the disease.