Sincronía Summer 2009

MEXICO AND SWINE FLU: an imaginary line between fear and discrimination

Prof. Korstanje Maximiliano E.
Departamento de Ciencias Económicas.
Universidad de Palermo, Argentina



 Industrial civilization, generally, constitute a favorable mean to the development of mental insanity. If the progress of Science reduces the limits of errors, as a consequence it encourages the obsession for knowledge; the life at office, abstract speculations and the eternal agitation of spirit…inasmuch as complex and hard a discipline may be, more likelihood and risk to drive  towards the madness” (Foucault, 1998: 48-49).   



After a sudden outbreak of Swine flu appeared in last weeks, huge attention of the globe has been brought to Mexico wherein the virus originally emerged. As a result of this, panic to a potential pandemic struck to public opinion in the World. In an immediate way followed to a supposed death of 150 persons, the government of Argentina, China, Peru and Cuba ordered to their airport to suspend the flights coming from Mexico. Visually, not only paranoia get settled in popular wisdom, but also news papers disseminate once and once again in their different unedited editions columns based on troublesome effects of this virus reinforcing the panic-flight behavior in readers. Our findings back that in contexts of uncertainness people recur to stereotypes and discriminative practices to alleviate the anxiety that is present in the core of society. Ethnocentrism is the appropriate term to denote our conduct whenever the horizon is unclear.  

Key Words: Swine Flu – Paranoia – Fear – Mexico - Discrimination




At the end of April of 2009, the world brought its attention to Mexico wherein almost 150 people initially died because a mutation of Swine Influenza. In spite of economical damages these types of news caused to exportation and tourism, Health World Organization declared an emergency throughout the globe. Panic surfaced in the core of industrialized societies was immediately disseminated to the peripherical third World. Under such a context, the present exploratory paper is an attempt to describe qualitatively how fears worked in people during a lapse of uncertainness in Argentina during the months of April to July respectively. For that, we will recur to an analysis content of a well-known virtual room wherein chatters talk about diverse matters.  This viewpoint will be enriched contrasting with journalist sources and columns published in most important American as well as Argentinean newspapers.


Even though specialized literature has emphasized that Mass Media plays a pivotal role in dissemination of information in moments of disaster (Hovland, 1953) (Freidson, 1953) (Klapper, 1963) (Wenger and Friedman, 1986) (Quarantelli, 1982) (Tierney, 1994) (Quarantelli, 1990) (Dahlhamer and Nigg, 1994) (Paul et al, 2003) (Beck, 2006) (Mileti, 1999) (Nigg, 1995) (Rodriguez, Diaz and Aguirre, 2004), journalism seems to enhance fear and excitement in non-professional people by means of distorting fundamental information (Fritz and Mathewson, 1957) (Dynes, 1972). The time-frame of this research is ranging from the end of April to beginning of June of 2009. Statically speaking, hitherto World Health Organization recognized almost 35.958 infected and 163 lethal cases, in countries such as United States (17.855), México (6.403), Canada (4.049), United Kingdom (1.461), Chile (2.335) and Argentina (733).  Of course, the growing and expanding of this virus seems to be imminent. Underpinned in the proposition that Mass media multiplies voluntarily or not effects of Swine flu on consumers, the present research explores how hazard over our children and lived ones reproduce and disseminate panic throughout the population.  In brief, it seems as though people feel an extreme fear whenever their next generation is somehow jeopardized. To wit, mythical past is retrieved as a form of coming across with problems in uncertain circumstances.


Of course, it is strongly important to remember that communication is a two-way process where audience receive and elaborate the message in a proactive manner. Basically, the presence of a disaster social memory in popular wisdom and journalism seems to be unquestionable. Ultimately, whenever a situation of uncertainness is accompanied by the dissemination of non-edited news which helps creating confusion and misinformation. Subsequently, a third facet comes on stage at the time State and Mass Media articulate and combine efforts in creating an image of reality with emphasis on discrimination and exclusion to the otherness which is perceived as infected. To what extent racism and xenophobia will range from subtle to extreme because of disaster appearance seems to be unresolved and no attention was given in recent literature about disasters managing. Under a situation of disaster, otherness is often utilized as an instrument of alleviating the tension between the life and territory. Once again, whatever is generally implicit in moments of disasters is the fear of dying and the exclusion of other helps us alleviating such a burden.  


Half-Century of Disaster investigation in Social Science

Centered on a historical background by respecting to the role played by Disaster Research Center from 1950 to today, Mcneil and Quarantelli introduce a brief summary of most important research in disaster fields. This article is aimed at discussing the contributions and limitations found in interdisciplinary studies of disaster. As individual entities, human beings are circumscribed to the life in society. Disasters whatever their nature may be, affect communities and change their perspective along with a future similar event. Macneil and Quarantelli classify their review in five important parts: a) community disasters, b) individual behavior, c) organizational behavior, d) community behavior, and e) mass communication systems.


It is important to mention that living in a society collective conduct will depend on many factors. Even though disaster impacts cannot be differentiated according to their nature as technological or natural, every day emergency organizations devote their attention in outstanding situations of instability wherein many players are immediately associated with policies of rescue. Sometimes, disasters are more impact and conflictive whenever they are unexpected. Day-to-day emergencies look to be incorporated in the routine of social life while affected victims can recur to a broader net in search of support. In contrast, in cases of earthquakes, flood and other catastrophes assistance are relatively restricted. An alternative hypothesis of research points out mass media distribution degree of news is proportional to a reduction of certainness and forewarning.


Following this line of reasoning, many investigators agree that in some post-impact situations most of victims show characteristic related to irritability, anxiety or sleeplessness. For other hand, western societies are characterized by certain tendency to apply primary knowledge in the prevention of potential disasters (McNeil and Quarantelli, 2008). However, after further discussion a new question has been raised: ¿what are the basis for panic emergence in industrialized and non-industrialized societies?.


In the threshold of a new millennium characterized by the resurgence of natural disasters, floods, and hurricanes product of global warming as well as the industrialized economies oversights, a growing number of researchers have concerned about the social implications and consequences of climate disasters on our day-to-day life. Under such a context, the Journal hosted by the prestigious Cristobal Colon University in Mexico published in 2007 a special issue fully dedicated to public concerns on social risk implications and vulnerability and genre in humanitarian and natural disasters. It is important to discuss critically to what an extent natural disasters reinforces socially previous economic imbalances in local communities at the same time focuses on how to prevent unexpected economic effects of vulnerability in potential victims. A situation of this nature is broadly wide-spread in the so-called Third World from Sri Lanka to Argentina wherein a major part of population finds their basic needs unsatisfied or live under the line of poverty.


As the previous argument given, F. Briones-Gamboa introduces readers as to how scholars developed the concepts of risk, fear and anxiety in the line of time. Basically, even if there is no consensus about the historical roots of Risk, it is often assumed this term stemmed from resecum, a Latin word meant “what hurts” while others trace its origin in the word rizha that connotes to threats a person may experience alongside river navigation. Enrooted in the belief that risk is often associated to future and uncertainness feeling, Briones-Gamboa argues that there are two kinds of risks: natural and social. However, it was no before than XVII that the term fear gave rise to the development of risk and security. That follows, it is important to note that the concept of risk corresponded with threats of catastrophes and disasters effects. To be exact, on 1 of November in 1772 one of strongest earthquakes in history of Europe produced 100.000 fatal victims in Portugal. As a result of this, eternal laws of Christianism questioned and philosophers entered in a deep-seated debate as to what extent God’s omnipotence was real or why God leaves these unfortunate events happen. Not only the Tragedy of Lisbon allowed humanity to adopt other ways to anticipate on this type of disasters, but also paved the way gradually for the emergence of modern Science. From that event onwards, risk as an object of research has received considerable attention in classical literature from many scholars and Scientifics. The upshot of Briones-Gamboa is that notions of risk, threat, security, fear or anguish are associated to the diverse perception of humanity to understand their own environment as well as preventing the worse consequences of natural disasters (Briones-Gamboa, 2007)


Discussion – social conditions for panic.

The fact is that Panic is for E. Quarantelli, like crime in Durkheim, part of the society. Of course, “some disaster scholars have thought that a more sociological approach might parallel what Durkheim, a major figure in the origin of sociology, said about crime. If it did not exist, it would be necessary for human societies to create crime, at least symbolically, so as to emphasize the fact that human beings generally adhere to social norms. So perhaps, the idea of the possibility of panic is necessary in society to highlight the fact that human being in contrast react remarkably well in most stressful situations and that the social bonds between and among people usually holds” (Quarantelli, 2001: 9).


For other hand, it is necessary not to forget that in U. Beck, threats are implicitly derived as a product of the economic development where society lies, but sooner or later a situation of increasing dangers is too much for the ability of response either society can tolerate, and system definitely collapses. In opposition to bourgeois society, which maintained the line between poverty and richness, modern societies face a new configuration of social order. The fact is that this afore-mentioned shift has been given birth to a new kind of society known as “The Society of Risk” wherein fears and risk are indiscriminately distributed to all strata of community. Needs of mass-consumption in association with a growing sentiment of fear paved the pathway to the advent of a new spirit of capitalism.  After further examination, Beck explains that in traditional society of class, groups configure their distinctions according to the style of consumption embodied in early socialization processes. Risks are daily experienced individually or internally beyond the possibilities of people’s response. On hands of journalism or biology authority, risks not only appear to be multiplied in last years everywhere, but also have declined the cognitive sovereignty of citizens. Ultimately, by alleviating the burden caused by perception of dangers, the market offers to consumers a set of alternative products with the end of alleviating the tension (Beck, 2006).


An interesting recent research conducted by Rodriguez, Diaz and Aguirre found whether people perceive that a high risk of being injured by an event, we would expect them to develop initiatives that will result in an endeavor of reducing possibilities to die; nevertheless, if persons does not perceive risks for themselves or their lived ones no appropriate course of actions will be taken. Taking their cue from Slovic et al researchers argue that ethnic minorities not only are more vulnerable in comparison with Anglo-Saxon counterparts, but also are less likely to follow recommended actions in cases of urgencies or disasters; even if officials invest an increasing amount of money in warning communicating campaigns, sometimes an inadequate communication can wreak havoc producing crises of a broader and deeper impact in population. The question as to whether race correlates with indifference to preparedness predisposition should be put under scrutiny because of ethnocentric. However, author are convinced that “the adoption of a recommended action also appears to be correlated with ethnicity and race, with the resulting implication that minorities will be less likely to adopt the recommended actions in cases of severe whether events relative to their majority counterparts. This issue is further complicated given that, despite the fact that minorities are more likely to report higher levels of perceived risk, they are less likely to receive the warnings that would allow them to take protective action”   (Rodriguez, Diaz and Aguirre, 2004: 13). Of course, it would be unquestionable that cultural patterns show certain influence between disaster and social preparedness. 


In turn, Waxman (1973) provided enough evidence to affirm gate-keeping process is not being followed by reporters in moments of panics and disorder. At that rate, radio stations not only centered all information provided by official sources or public calls but also distributed such information without any kind of editing. The underlying problem looks to be unedited information dissemination can generate unexpected aftermaths as looting or crimes (Waxman, 1973). 


With more similarities than difference, Quarantelli and Wenger examine the impact of two natural disasters in United States and Japan as well as the response of journalism in each case.  One of first things both have in common is that disasters are dealt with as  important news stories at the time they happened. For other hand, in both countries electronically media web site support is constantly consulted in order for audience to receive information. By respecting to differences, researchers go on to argue that altruism finds a major presence in Japanese society rather than American. The extensive assistance given to local radio station as long as the Tsunami disaster in Nagasaki by all other media corporation of Japan is evidently inverse with United States wherein journalism is characterized by competition in generating the own stories in detriment of other local stations (Quarantelli and Wenger, 1989).  


Nevertheless, the fact is that coverage of disasters or lootings differ between Television, newspapers and radio stations. An interesting contribution of E. Quarantelli suggests that few planning in gate-keeping process was found in lapses of instability in televised news in comparison with radio or newspapers. In addition, reporters in American culture trend to assume certain autonomy from mass media organizations. Even if newspapers gain more attention in population in post-impact-period, it is truth that live coverage during disasters is common in electronic media because of immediacy issues. That way, said Quarantelli “television in particular is prone to perpetuating disaster myths. For example, although reference to panic and looting constitutes only a small proportion of the total television content, their presentation is very dramatic and consistent with the mythologies” (Quarantelli, 1990:7).


As an experiment conducted by Kanehman and Tversky demonstrated many years back, effects of news will depend upon the order how they are presented. Starting from different theoretical premises, researchers carried out an interview wherein people were asked as follows “figure out United States is being prepared for a strange Asian disease in which case 600 persons will die. Under such a context, two programs are affordable (A and B). Scientifics assume that whether program A is chosen 200 person will survive; inversely, if program B is taken, there is a third of possibilities that 600 can be salved but two thirds everyone die. The findings seems to settle the issue that 72% of interviews opted for program A while 28% for B. Alternatively, whether program C is followed only 400 person will but if D is chosen, we come across with a third of possibilities that nobody die but two thirds that everybody fall in such a misfortune”. Of course, 22% of participants inclined to accept program C while 78% program D; these answers support the idea that influence of Mass Media over audience will depend on how is articulated and showed the news and framing  (Kanheman and Tversky, 1984).   


Beyond ethical boundaries of journalism, the point of discussion, here, seems to be whether news should be edited or transmitted in rough during a moment of uncertainness. As a whole, the debate is circumscribed to non-editing news can result in uncontrollable consequences in moment of disasters while edited-news very well jeopardize the freedom of press increasing the likelihood of censorship. If we start from the premise that emergencies afford politicians to manipulate the news, we will be accepting implicitly a future censorship.  As the example of certain groups or elites, which recur to the manipulation of fear to shaping a new locale in their benefit. Possibly, as Quarantelli argued, audience is not so easily influential than supposed. Rather, “there is no simple or direct response to a warning. There is a reaction rather than a response. But actual or potential disaster victims do not react in a uniform way to perceived and confirmed warning messages. The consequence is that just as there are differentiated perceptions, there are differentiated responses” (Quarantelli, 1982: 8).


The question as to whether television tends to perpetuate disaster myth and panic flight is reassumed by Wenger and Friedman in comparative research published originally in 1986. Taking their cue from Goltz, these scholars argued that there is hard evidence in which case popular disaster myths are very well disseminated by visual mass-media; nonetheless, in contrasting with Goltz, they are strongly convinced that print media allows perpetuating such a myth in social imaginary and reinforce a collective memory of disaster. Methodologically, anyway it is very difficult to determine to what an extent the coverage of journalism can graphically reinforce stereotypes linked to panic. From this turn of mind, researchers recommend that “a quantitative analysis alone cannot answer this question. One front-page story with accompanying pictures and graphics may create a powerful image for the reader that reinforces mythical stereotypes, even if they are no mentioned in thousand of additional column inches” (Wenger and Friedman, 1986: 48).    


However, Quarantelli in an extensive and well-documented paper emphasized on  human behavior in circumstances of stress or disaster are not as irrational, emotional and uncontrolled as shown in social science literature. Even if general belief is enrooted in that people in disturbs take unimagined pathways, empirical studies support a contrasting idea which emphasizes physical flight is not easily observable as social imaginary supposed. Our American scholar defines panic as “an acute fear reaction marked by flight behavior. Subjectively, there is an intense fear reaction, a strong impulse to flee from a threatening danger. Panic participants are seized by fear of a specific object perceived as involving an immediate and extreme threat to physical survival. Overtly, the flight behavior always involves an attempt to remove one’s self physically from the endangered area” (Quarantelli, 1975: 16).


With this in mind, panic represents an infrequent pattern of conduct and only is emerged whenever certain conditions are given such as: a) a potential perceived threat is projected in general terms with long-run perspectives, which may jeopardize individual capacity of surviving; of course, this may be the case of shocking events as hurricanes or tornadoes; b) another similar event is expected just after occurred the first one that predispose the self to withdrawal; c) panicky reactions will happen whenever no real hazards are perceived as possible and d)  present perceptions of possible entrapment are associated to a feeling of psychological isolation as well as impotency in situations (Quarantelli, 1975).


Ultimately, in a recent study of Dengue in Argentina Korstanje classified three stages under epidemic outbreaks: Uncertainness, gossip and Ideology. At a first instance, we come across with a phase linked to uncertainness where population is not familiar with the situation. A couple of days later, this stage is accompanied with a lapse of gossip where predominates fantasy, informal commentaries, and rumour that refers new cases of infections that involve familiars, friends, colleagues, or co-workers. Ultimately, a third ideological phase is characterized by the transmittal of concrete information articulated by political power and mass media corporations. However, political aspects configure the basis for construction of mythical archetype which helps people to understand further regarding such a reality before to their eyes. To the best of our knowledge, Mass media plays a pivotal role in these circumstances health-scaring dangers with some giving extensive attention, even though their ways should be put under scrutiny. (Korstanje, 2009).


Methodological implication of qualitative research under debate

After further examination, we temporarily conclude a multi-facet and complex phenomenon as panic should be investigated recurring to qualitative and situational sources. Unfortunately, Social Sciences are today enrooted in the incorrect belief that correlative economic indicators or quantitative methodologies are more fruitful than qualitative ones. Most likely this idea can be applicable for some specific issues but not for research in emotional-related topics.  For that reason, we opted to follow the contributions of content analysis in a sample of virtual chatters (yahoo forums) who looked concerned by respecting to the advent of swine flu in México and elsewhere. In addition, they were native Spanish-speakers ranging from 20 to 34 years old. Complementarily, we will analyze the discourse of national and international newspapers as to know how they cover this episode.


Yahoo Virtual Chatter community

In last years, technologies in communication have been transformed how people is being connected. Internet accompanied with more recent software implementation facilitates the familiar connections but shift classical manners of talking with friends or family. The methodological problem in working with these types of sample is their impersonality. For other hand, possibilities of exaggeration in answer are pretty high. Users of these technologies can chat with false names and references. Besides, their responses are for some scholars of questionable validity. Beyond these critics, anonym speech can very well became in valid information for scientific purposes research. Controversial matters which defy social conventions should be studied following affordable web-users communities.


That way, chatters appear to feel certain freedom to express taboo affairs[1]. For that reason, we strongly believe contents analysis on chatter community should be used by social Scientifics in their study of risk perception issues. This recorded conversation was extracted from Yahoo Forum on May 02 of 2009, just upon disseminated the news about Swine flu, a term given by Americans from 1976 to Swine influenza. The question of this room was ¿Is swine flue lethal for human beings?.


The first respondents to this question expressed “I read many newspapers and watched on TV that Swine flu is lethal pandemic in almost cases. For the moment this has no cure for what an infection is the end of all us. Furthermore, It is truth Mass media are inclined to create panic in population” (Anna). On contrary, other virtual reader wrote “what Anna said it is not real, I have already heard that if this illness is detected in time a cure is possible”.


One might think that messages involved in an apocalyptic discourse are implicitly associated to dissemination of fears. This is a result of social imaginary and fictional films which insisted that someday an easily-transmittal virus will exterminate whole part of global population.  Anthropologically speaking, the advent of apocalypses is not absolute and is circumscribed in religious roots. Few people are generally salved by intervention of outstanding divine forces. Unless otherwise resolved, end of the world as well as dooms-day are related to the logic of work specialization. Eschatology remains certain resemblance with the cut of harvest and division of work (Eliade, 2006). As in many other cultures of the World, whereas cosmology existed and was created, one day corruption of customs in humankind will determine a radical end. This belief is no other thing than an emulation of renovation of harvests and resulted tension between work and resting. That looks to be the role that prevention plays in these types of circumstances. Metaphorically speaking, as Moses warned to Israel’s folk before than exodus that painted the door of their households with blood of lamb, prevention is a ritual process which continues with our basic needs of transcendence.      


Another user, “el sapiente que sabe” said “the mortality depends on the classification of virus which scientific name is puercum porcinum. Symptoms of this range from a simple unease until paranoiac hallucinations… for further information consult to the neighbor”. Following this funny argument, Ranita reports “Swine Influenza is not lethal, this is just a kind of flu. Whatever it is mortal is ignorance of some people who incur in medicines without the prescription of doctor”.  Other testimonies are aimed at emphasizing that the mortality of this new virus is associated with the immediacy of a rapid detection and treatment.


The main concern in involved chatters is the question as to whether swine flu is or not mortal. Of course, unlike other viruses as AIDS or Ebola-Zaire, classical flu is of easily infection but low mortality. In fact, people pass flu on to the other by means of personal contact, in a conversation or sharing utensils. In “Ramireza” for example, her argument moves toward other direction, “Swine flu is a mix of human and, avian and pork. Of course, mortality is high if people do not follow the indication of Health officials. If within 3 days you won’t realize that you are infected surely you will die. I hope this information helps”.  Similar thought was found in Hopeth who argued “if the swine flu is attended afterwards 48 hours of emergence of symptoms, you can´t be salved …”.   


Needless to say, that almost all users have incorrect their information about the effects of this new troublesome virus. After further examination, in 1.119 words and 6.2006 characters, extreme terms such as die, lethal or mortal are present once and once again in several paragraphs (15 times), followed in secondary position of Swine (7), in time (5), virus (3), doctor (1), hospital (1) verbs as to detect or to find (1). For other hand, in case of “Pakko” impacts look to be related to the number of deceased people in Mexico which increases roughly to 100. Mysteriously, no message discriminating Mexicans are shown in this room. However, the degree of misinformation about the forms of contagion as well as consequences of Swine influenza is evident. All collected answers encompass a stage of uncertainness wherein information is unclear and fuzzy; the role played by Mass media corporations as channels for disseminating appropriate information is not only utopist but also converse with their real interests at stake (Korstanje, 2009). The observed huge fear of death still should be investigated; as it will be examined in next lines, this underlying fear is transmitted by graphic press in newspapers.


Newspapers and pandemic.

Basically, the term pandemic is used to denote an epidemic of infectious disease. However, the problem lies in not all of them cause the death or exterminate a whole population as modern films, stories, fiction sciences best-seller books or cartoons show. Like many other institutions fantasy contributes popular wisdom to depict its own reality. Of course, this is the case of classical influenza which is widely spread throughout the world and is inoffensive for an uttermost part of people. For other hand, it is clear that pan-demic comprises a similar ethimological composition than panic: pan and demic from demos (folk). The Greek suffix pan was used to symbolize the God of shepherds principally venerated in Archadia. As many other gods, Pan characterized by an ambiguous nature; half human and goat, he represented at the same time contradictory sentiments such as brutality and amusement.


In brief, this figure inspires a sudden fear in lonely places because his reactions might be unforeseeable (Dupuy, 1999).  It is often hypothesized that the work-frame of mass media coverage is based on whatever social imaginary requires. Under such a context, it is strongly necessary to catch a glimpse of the role played by Mass media in disseminations of news. The point seems to be: ¿are mass media news aimed at generating panic flights?, ¿how easily influenced may be an audience to the exposition of tragedy-related news?. Of course, interests on these questions persisted over many years. Sometimes, following certain individual interests, political power imposes risks upon societies univocally; different segment of risks are allocated in society by means of Mass media. As Tierney (1994) has been examined, it is not clear yet the relationship between risks perception and power; this is what is originally missing from the dominant scientific perspective in the study of risk today (Tierney, 1994).  


On April 28, the American well-known newspapers New York Times headlined “The new Swine Flu” regarding the outbreak supposedly-originated in Mexico which affected more than 500 inside and beyond such a country. One of more impacting lines of this column were written in form of questions: “Is the new swine flu virus that has killed many people in Mexico and has spread to the United States and other countries the start of a much feared pandemic?. Or is this yet another false alarm – the latest in a long history of worrying that some day a hugely lethal flu strain might sweep through the World and kill tens of millions of people, much as it did in 1918-1919?.[2]


Back in 1918, when the deadly Spanish influenza hit New York, the city had more than a few disadvantages, compared with the current situation. Overcrowding was rampant, the course of disease unclear. The Malady is being fought principally with sunshine and fresh air, said one article in the New York Times soon after it reported the illness struck in late summer” [3]. In counterpart, a picture in black and white shows how worked street cleaners as long as Spanish influenza in 1918.


Picture 1 – Street Cleaners

Source: New York Times.


Whether we imagine this for a moment, this message condenses an extreme and shocking impact on readers. As we have already mentioned, social memory or imaginary has got yet in mind the consequences of Spanish Influenza in 1918-1919 that killed many million of people. This mythical archetypes is also reproduced in this analyzed new as a form of enhancing panic. For one hand, it is emphasized on one question; would have certain resemblance this unknown swine flu with others lethal pandemics?.


For the other, the presence of death is set up as a mechanism to create indoctrination, identity and affiliation. As a result of this, binomial logic of United States / Mexico, we and they, are camouflaged in the paragraph “that has killed many people in Mexico and has spread to the United States”. Can this virus kill American as well?. Of course, certain spirit of superiority and ethnocentrism still remain and these types of outbreaks intend to potentiate certain stereotypes and prejudices. This point leads us to the second elements presents in mass media in relation to our analysis: the protection of our children. The lamentable death of one baby inside American soil was covered by the British newspapers The Independent as follows: “US baby dies as new Spanish case raises swine flu alarm”. An US government official said a 23-month-old child in southern state had died from the virus. A health official said the baby was a resident of Mexico” [4]. A distinction of this baby’s nationality or residence is unimportant, however, emphasis on the residency of victim allow alleviating the excitement in American imaginary.      


Similar treatment received a death of a baby 3 month old in Argentina on June 16. However, in this case the source of contagion still remains uncertain. In this case, authorities are disconcerted by respecting to where she can be infected. This column emphasizes once and once again the different pulmonary problems this baby had in view of the premature condition of her birth. Of course, her family had never outside Argentina in which case experts assume H1N1 is being circulated among population. As a result of this, many schools were closed in Buenos Aires and outskirts[5].


Many mileage far-away, other claims of discrimination in a column published Clarin dated on 06 May of 2009 impacted in argentine public opinion; emulating on supposed words of president of Mexico who asked to entire World to leave restricted measures –in which case are involved Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and China- that prevented landing of flights from Mexico and danger seriously the economy of such a country, Silvina Heguy a reporter of Clarin emphasized that in Face-book and virtual Forums started to circulating messages against to argentines[6]. On the same edition but in page 20, Carolina Burstein collects a bunch of statements of Mexicans with residency in Buenos Aires who stated having experienced a subtle discrimination because of swine flu dissemination[7]. However, at the same time our reporter reminds in street of Buenos Aires Mexican received daily support from people. Quite aside from this, Health official of Texas spokesman confirmed that a woman of 30 years old died last week portrayed the H1N1 virus. With emphasis on the number of infected people in United States, this newspapers focus on an email sent by W. Gheen, president in ALIPAC – Americans for illegal migration- to the Press wherein he accused to Barak Obama –president of United States- as illogic; let reader to remind B. Obama qualified Gheen´s words as racists as well as the turn of mind of all who wishing to have boundaries closed so that illegal Mexicans cannot spread this pandemic to the core of Unites States-”[8]. 


Partially, our finding support an earlier mentioned research of Korstanje who specified three different stages in moments of epidemic related to: uncertainness wherein people have ambivalent news and a broader horizon in decision making process; gossip allows reducing where the gap between reality and unclear news enlarge. Ultimately, ideology permits to articulate political instrument by manipulating news and create a new circle of legitimacy, discrimination and identity. A re-restructuration of identity is a common observable issue in these contexts. We say partially because this issue should continue being investigated under many other perspectives.  Whatever the case may be, other media-coverage, for examples those of La Nacion newspapers headlined on the top cover, “Argentine government cancel polemically all flights to Mexico”. In view of these lines, this column focuses on Ministry of Health reports which said that no cases of Swine flu were found in Argentina.


Ironically, this article criticizes the most recent one-way decided measures of Government regarding policies of outbreak prevention whereas -for other hand- such an argument is very well reinforced by a combination of disturbing pictures wherein five employers of a well-known airplane company are on desk wearing a mouth-guard at Buenos Aires Airport. This image, obviously, contrasts with early argument that readers can follow in this release[9]. As shown below in other pictures, tourists are staged transiting with mouth-guards and their luggage. Because of exposition purposes we only limit to analyze a few of many pictures published in newspapers of Europe, Latin America and United States.   


Picture 2 – Tourists at Barajas, Airport of Madrid.


Source: La Nación. 27April of 2009


As shown above, it is interesting that the shot of picture has been taken downwards to highlight serious impacts of Swine Flu in public opinion. These two travellers are sworn with mouth-guard and certain facial expression of concern. This elderly couple was chosen as a form of emulating panic in population. Unlike youth who are less vulnerable to this epidemic, more vulnerable children and elderly men or women represent a clear target of this epidemic.  Colours in the lady’s scarf allow capturing the attention of readers as well.  This picture was taken and published before than an important account of infected people increased significantly in United States, Spain, France, United States and other part of Europe.  



As stated on introductory section, we have so far examined the specialized literature by respecting to the performance of Mass Media in contexts of fear, panic flights and disaster contrasting their pivotal points to how react a community of virtual chatters in Yahoo Forum. Next, findings were contrasted to existing published news papers such as New York Times in United States and Clarin in Argentina during the time-frame of April, May and July. Of course, a discussion of this nature not only is strictly circumscribed to this work but also will continue in next years. Like Dengue in Argentine, Swine flu is shocking the core of United States and Europe in these moments. In perspective, the performance of Corporations in the coverage of this epidemic will be pivotal in next hours. The discussion is around an ethical tension between the freedom of Press and responsibility in disseminating their news. Whatever the result may be, it is strongly important to remember that communication is a two-way process where audience catches and elaborates the message in a proactive-manner. Basically, the presence of a disaster social memory in popular wisdom and journalism seems to be unquestionable. 


Starting from the premise that people scares whatever they are unable to control, we will analyze qualitatively how has impacted the dissemination of Swine Flu mortality in popular wisdom. Backing other studies, our outcomes reflect that in cases of health emergencies three stages are predominant (Korstanje, 2009). To put this in brutally, a moment of uncertainness wherein people get a bit confused and receive ambivalent information by respecting to the consequences of certain event; this stage is accompanied by a second one characterized by the hegemony of gossip in which case cognitive dissonance is temporarily reduced. In relation to Swine flu, virtual chatters discuss regarding the wide-range of mortality of such a virus handling inappropriate body of knowledge.


As a chatter who ironically declared “for further information consult to the neighbor”, in these circumstances jokes, irony and gossip play a pivotal role in alleviating the social anxiety players feel in this game. Ultimately, mass media articulates symbolically a construct to show what they infer as “the reality”; of course this last stage is linked to ideology. In a related vein, depictions of certain events are framed following a circle of discrimination and exclusion whose criterion range from national to ethnic affiliation. Sometimes, political power can expiate their own faults (as authorities) utilizing these discourses against minorities. As posed in this paper, racism and discriminatory practices may emerge only whether ideology identities potential reasons of anxiety in ethnic minorities. With this background in mind, migrants and outlanders -or any group considered at the bottom of hierarchal order- are usually accused as responsible of bringing viruses or strange illness because of conditions wherein they live. From other perspective, disaster perception risk reinforces preexisting historical boundaries by means of imposition of stereotypes, prejudice behaviour, racism or discrimination of other broader nature; for example a semantic opposition between American / Mexican has been present in whole part of analyzed press in United States and UK. For an instance, as Mexicans living in Buenos Aires argued, their country has been stereotyped in social imaginary as the cradle of Swine flu. As a whole, the present research supports a previous speech of Durkheim and Quarantelli who emphasized that in disaster situations societies recur to a social memory of similar events to configure next courses of actions. In other terms, Swine flu outbreak in 2009 remitted to Spanish Influenza in 1918-1919 even if contextual circumstances of both vary on.  Thus, it is important to denote that disaster myths are perpetuated by journalism’s intervention (Wenger and Friedman, 1986) (Quarantelli, 1982) (Tierney, 1994) (Quarantelli, 1990). 



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[2] Editorial, New York Times. “The New Swine Flu”. April 27 of 2009. Available at Extracted on May 06.

[3] Big City, New York Times. “In 1918 flu outbreak, a cool head prevailed”. April 30 of 2009. Available at

[4] Health and Wellbeing. The Independent. 29 April of 2009. Available at Extracted on 06 may of 2006

[5] Society: “a baby 3 month old is the first victim of A flu in Argentina”. Clarin electronic edition. 16 June of 2009. Available at,

[6] The World, “Calderon bade for reducing the restrictive measures against Mexico”. 06 May of 2009. Year LXIV, issue 22.757. Page 18. By Silvina Heguy.

[7] Global Warning, “The Mexicans in Buenos Aires, between solidarity and suspiction”. 06 May of 2009. Year LXIV, issue 22.757. Page 20. By Carolina Brunstein.  

[8] Global Warning, “A second victim inside United States dies victim of Swine Flu”. 06 May of 2009. Year LXIV, issue 22.757. Page 19. 

[9] Risk of Pandemic. “Argentine government suspends polemically all flights to Mexico”. 29 April of 2009. Year 140, No. 49.426.


Sincronía Summer 2009