Far from mere idle tales, rumors are a valuable window into our anxieties and fears. Rumors let us talk as a community about some very inflammatory issuesissues that may be embarrassing or disturbing to discuss-allowing us to act as if we are talking about real events, not personal beliefs. We can air our hidden fears and desires without claiming these attitudes as our own.
In The Global Grapevine, two leading authorities on rumor, folklore, and urban legendGary Alan Fine and Bill Ellisshed light on what contemporary rumors can tell us about the fears and pressures of globalization. In particular, they examine four major themes that emerge over and over again: rumors about terrorism, about immigration, about international trade, and about tourism. The authors analyze how various rumors underscore American reactions to perceived global threats, show how we interpret our changing world, and highlight fears, fantasies, and cherished beliefs about our place in the world. Along the way the book examines a wide variety of rumors-that the Israelis were behind 9-11, the President knew of the attack in advance, tourists wake up in foreign countries with their kidneys stolen, foreign workers urinate in vats of beer destined to be shipped to America. These rumors, the authors argue, reflect our anxieties and fears about contact with foreign cultures-whether we believe foreign competition to be poisoning the domestic economy or that foreign immigration to be eroding American values.
Rumors are the visible tip of a vast iceberg of hidden anxieties. Illuminating the most widely circulated rumors in America in recent years, The Global Grapevine offers an invaluable portrait of what these tales reveal about contemporary society.
Fine (Whispers on the Color Line), John Evans professor of sociology at Northwestern, and Ellis, professor emeritus at Penn State, examine “the rumors and legends that circulate about the risks of our interconnected world” in their treatment of the most ancient source of news. The authors explore its influence in the “intimidating global community” of the 21st century, particularly in the arenas of terrorism, immigration, international trade, and tourism; they make a generally persuasive case that since “rumor shapes how people think and then respond to the world,” its propagation “is a fundamentally political act.” Relying on shards of evidence, bits and pieces of hearsay, the self-styled “rumor scholars” analyze an array of contemporary rumors and draw some unremarkable conclusions: e.g., Americans are “of several minds about immigration,” have “mixed feelings about the exotic,” and are anxious about the economic impact of international trade. Even if Fine and Ellis promise more than they deliver, there is much that adds to our understanding of rumor in an era when access to information (and misinformation) has never been faster or more constant. (June)