But all these illnesses pale in comparison to MRSA and other antibiotic-resistant illnesses. A disease like that -- which is resistant or immune to our most powerful drugs -- has the potential to send us back to a pre-antibiotic world. That means that any infection, no matter how small, has the potential to kill you -- and there's not a goddamn thing any doctor can do about it.
I'm pretty sure I know why no one gives a shit about MRSA. Antibiotic-resistant illnesses were created by the overuse of antibiotics, by people who try to treat everything from headaches to the flu with antibiotics, even though antibiotics don't do anything to viruses. But we're not freaking out about those end-of-the-world scenarios because the people responsible -- the people who could afford to overuse expensive antibiotics -- are predominantly rich, white, and by definition meticulously clean. Those people sound awesome. Way better than dirty, dirty Africans, right? They look like zombies!
The difference between "pity" and "sympathy" is whether or not the sick person can afford makeup.
So we'll never blame the irresponsible antibiotics users, even after their mistakes render all our medical technology useless and send us hurtling back to the stone age, because at the end of the day ...
We're Not Really Scared of Ebola
America has been freaking out about diseases for a long time, because diseases are scary. And if you study the history of these panics, one thing becomes clear: the best way to make us freak out about the disease is to connect it to something that we don't want to openly admit we're afraid of.
Look at the history of AIDS: 23,000 Americans had died before the U.S. government acknowledged that it was a problem, and once they did they made sure to point out that it was a dirty disease that infected dirty people. "Let's be honest with ourselves," President Reagan told us. "When it comes to preventing AIDS, don't medicine and morality teach the same lessons?" We didn't care about AIDS until we found a solution that came in the form of openly hating an entire group of people, and then we hopped on that train like it was the last ride out of Ebola town: children were were nationally humiliated, and we spread insane rumors about how you could be infected. Sure, people were misinformed about how communicable the disease was, but isn't it a convenient fucking coincidence that this misinformation gave them the perfect excuse to publicly hate homosexuals and black people? We can go further back: in the 19th century, we were gettin' all racist at Chinese immigrants and came up with "Chinese syphilis" as an excuse to hate them. We can at least give ourselves points for imagination, there.
Every great monster is scary for what it represents. Because repressed, shameful fears are always the most effective. We don't want to admit they're there and we don't know how to face them head-on. Fear of Ebola isn't just based on racism -- but I'm pretty sure much of our societal reaction is.
So either Newsweek put a monkey on the cover of their magazine because they knew it would make us think of Africa as an uncivilized and dirty place while tacitly reinforcing the centuries-old idea that Africans are monkeys because they knew tying racism and fear together was the best way to sell magazines, or -- or -- they completely coincidentally and innocently got all the facts about Ebola wrong in a weirdly specific way that allowed them to take advantage of all that. Either way, they're putting money in their pockets by keeping us scared and confused, right? That's scarier than some disease you're never gonna get, isn't it?
JF Sargent is an editor at Cracked with a column every week. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
For more from Sarge, check out 4 Weird Decisions That Have Made Modern Cops Terrifying and 5 Uncomfortable Truths Behind the Men's Rights Movement.
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