Scary Business

“Fear,” he used to say, “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe.” That blew me away. “Turn on the TV,” he’d say. “What are you seeing? People selling their products? No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” Fuckin’ A, was he right. Fear of aging, fear of loneliness, fear of poverty, fear of failure. Fear is the most basic emotion we have. Fear is primal. Fear sells. That was my mantra. “Fear sells.” (Brooks 55).

On the surface, World War Z is a story about a world-wide conflict due to a viral outbreak. When looking for perpetrators of this conflict, it is quite simple to blame those that were infected, those that helped spread the infection, or the virus itself. However, as readers learn more about the war through the stories in this book, we realize that there are many unseen forces that are more difficult to perceive. In this passage, readers are introduced to one of these unseen forces by Breckinridge “Breck” Scott. Scott can easily be named a perpetrator who immorally ended up causing chaos because of his phony vaccine. However, in this passage, through repetitive, structural, rhetorical, metaphorical, and descriptive devices, he expands readers’ perspective by introducing us to an important vector of conflict – fear.



Scott emphasizes the power of fear by teaching readers his mantra and the various roles that fear plays. He uses the word, “fear,” eleven times in a span of six lines. This repetition serves the purpose of indoctrinating readers that fear is impactful, almost like marketing a television advertisement through forcing an idea by repeating a word. He adds even more emphasis to this pitch by using fragments, periodic sentences, and hard periods that make his ideas straight to the point. When he quotes the professor, he chooses to quote the rhetorical question, “What are you seeing? People selling their products?” followed by the answer, “No. People selling the fear of you having to live without their products.” Doing so makes people see fear the way he wants them to – as a commodity. Suddenly, fear becomes a somewhat tangible object. Further down, he declares fear an emotion that everyone has. “Fear is primal.” In making these metaphors, fear’s presence becomes even more noticeable and pervasive. Interestingly, Scott ends the paragraph with a reversal of people selling fear: “Fear sells.” Now, fear is personified. Fear can now be seen as another enemy. This striking idea adds another layer to the oral history. The virus and the people are not the only reasons for the war. We learn more about how fear creates and destroys beliefs that lead to the Great Panic.


Depiction of the Great Panic

Readers can confirm with the narrator’s introduction that fear is a deeper problem that continues to impact people even when the war has ended and the virus has been contained. Finally, as one contemplates the idea that “fear sells,” then one also begins to ponder, “Who buys?”



Sources for pictures:



One thought on “Scary Business

  1. I was considering writing my blog post on this passage, since it clearly questions the identity of the perpetrator in the novel. Is the perpetrator the virus, selfish authorities, or just fear itself? In this passage, fear is personified as a salesperson, and it is at this point that I wonder whether fear is something the government engineers or people generate for themselves. The ultimate goal of a salesperson is to entice consumers to buy their products. In like manner, is fear used by the government with the goal of controlling their civilian populations?


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