Mass Hysteria Throughout History

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Table of contents

  1. The Crucible
  2. The Red Scare/ McCarthyism Era
  3. Chupacabra Sightings

Different mass hysteria events throughout history have displayed similar characteristics regarding their structure and characteristics. They each had a variation on the different components of a hysteria event, but can be vividly compared and contrasted. Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the Red Scare/McCarthyism era, and the Chupacabra sightings each exhibit the irrational social behaviours and unique psychological states that instigate mass hysteria events; the growth of extreme paranoia that spreads pandemically; and the lasting impact they have on human conduct, laws, and social order.

The Crucible

To illustrate, starting with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, the social behaviours and psychological states that started it can be traced to simple immaturity and the innate desire to fool around possessed by teenage girls. Combined with this is the strict, and quite harsh society that they lived in, which together gave rise to the Salem Witch Trials.

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“They had no novelists - and wouldn't have permitted anyone to read a novel if one were handy. Their creed forbade anything resembling a theater or “vain enjoyment.” They did not celebrate Christmas, and a holiday from work meant only that they must concentrate even more upon prayer.” (Miller, 1952).

This quote, taken directly from The Crucible shows how harsh and unbending the workings and lifestyle of Puritan Society was. There was absolutely no room for “nonsense”, which is why Parris and the rest of Salem were so unfamiliar with their actions, and could not accept Abigail and Betty’s acts as simple tomfoolery; therefore coming to the conclusion that it was the workings of the Devil.

In addition, the development of the girl’s actions into a large-scale witch hunt was fired mostly by the big influence that Abigail Williams had on the rest of the girls. Once in a situation where they were at fault, the girls were ready to do anything in order to cover themselves up, and save themselves. Their psychological state gave Abigail a great amount of power and control over them.

“Abigail: Let either of you breathe a word, or the edge of a word, about the other things, and I will come to you in the black of some terrible night and I will bring a pointy reckoning that will shudder you. And you know I can do it; I saw Indians smash my dear parents’ heads on the pillow next to mine, and I have seen some reddish work done at night, and I can make you wish you had never seen the sun go down! ” (Miller, 1952).

Evidently, the girls didn’t understand what needed to happen in order to get the best possible outcome in their favor. As Abigail is the one who instigated the entire situation, it seemed only fitting that they follow her lead and listen to what she said to do.

To continue, the Salem Witch Trials brought a great amount of paranoia to the people of Salem, as over 200 people were accused of witchcraft during the trials. Obviously, these accusations were baseless and most didn’t turn into legitimate trials, especially after the law prohibiting spectral evidence was passed. (Brooks, 2011). Some accused people so it wouldn’t happen to them first, and others used this as an opportunity to exploit and target the wealth and land owned by other families.

“The belongings of convicted witches were routinely seized, ostensibly to pay for their jail expense... After Samuel Wardwell was executed and his wife sentenced to death, the couple’s property in Lynn, Massachusetts was confiscated and assigned to court officials, including John Hathorne.” (Foulds, 2010).

This quote displays the actions of John Hathorne, who was both an accuser and prosecutor in the trials. The accused had all of their wealth and land stripped from them, so Hathorne purposefully sentenced people with the intention of taking what was rightfully theirs.

Lastly, when it comes to the impact that the trials had on society, human conduct, and laws, the two main changes is the extinguishing of Puritanism and the ban of spectral evidence in court. Additionally, a major effect on the people in The Crucible was how the accused’s family name was degraded and their reputations tarnished. Puritanism basically ended after the Salem Witch Trials were over. (The end of the trials and accusations was around 1693, and Puritanism faded from America around the 17th century) (United States History, 2019). Therefore, it is safe to say that the end of Puritanism is directly linked to the end of the trials.

In continuation, in reference to the use of religion in today’s court system, “ Rather, the court tends to sanction state support of “secular” activities that arise in religion contexts while denying state aid to the “sacred” components of religious activity. “Equality” is a hallmark of American democracy.”(Davis, 2016). This quote shows how the court system today has a strong stance in separating church and state. Religious ideals are thoroughly examined when applied to practices within the law and spectral evidence is definitely not allowed.

The Red Scare/ McCarthyism Era

In regards to the Red Scare, the psychological state of Americans after World War II is what sparked and drove the fear of Communism. They were afraid of bringing Russian ideals and concepts and absorbing them into American society. It was seen as anti-democratic, which correlated with being anti-American. “The federal government was the crucial actor here; it's activities transformed the Communist party from an unpopular political group into a perceived threat to the American way of life.”(Schreker, 2004) As seen here, the government played an important role in instilling the irrational fear of Communism in the minds of American citizens.

To continue, the paranoia brought on by the Red Scare was to such a great extent that the government started targeting actors, directors, and anyone associated with what they thought were “Liberal” films. Glenda Pearson, from the University of Washington compiled a very long and extensive list of the movies that the government viewed as having very Communist, or Liberal associations during the McCarthyism era (Pearson, 2011). Based on something as small as a Liberal or Communist reference in a movie, the government felt that the very basis of American democracy was endangered.

The fear and anxiety brought on the formation of The House Un-American Activities Committee, which interrogated innocent people who were thought to be linked to Communist ideals. Whenever someone was suspected of being in any way associated with Communism, they were given a subpoena to appear before the HUAC and were interrogated thoroughly and harshly. They were essentially grilled for any knowledge of Communist actions and were asked about their own political beliefs, as well as the beliefs of those that they were close to (History.com, 2018). Thousands of families were disrupted because of the actions of the HUAC, and many innocent people were fired from their jobs.

In regards to the effects of the Red Scare, all the people that were convicted as being associated to Communism were eventually released, but their lives had been changed forever. Their quality of life had been degraded by the trials, and would never go back to how they were before.

“Individuals are harmed even if their ties to stigmatized affiliates are heterophilous, and high-status individuals can also suffer. This creates a broadcast effect that increases the scale of the moral panic. Analyzing the U.S. film industry from 1945 to 1960, we examine how artists’ employment in feature films was influenced by their associations with co-workers who were blacklisted as communists after working with the focal artist. Mere association reduces an artist’s chances of working again, and one exposure is enough to impair work prospects. Furthermore, actors’ careers are impaired when writers with whom they worked are blacklisted. Moreover, the negative effects of stigma by mere association hold even when the focal artist has received public acclaim. These findings have broad implications. When a few individuals or organizations are engaged in wrongdoing and publicly targeted, stigma by association can lead to false positives and harm many innocents.” (Pontikes, Negro, Rao, 2010).

The victims of the Red Scare and McCarthyism were impacted significantly in a very negative manner, even after they were proven guilty. After they were released from their sentences, the victims had a very difficult time trying to find new employers, as the stigma of Communism stuck with them. Reputations were tarnished, and no one associated with the McCarthyism trials was looked at the same way again. Many had to live the rest of their lives in a very discreet manner to avoid revealing any part of what had happened in their past.

Chupacabra Sightings

The distinguishable psychological state that gave rise to the alleged sightings of the Chupacabra was the unfamiliarity that farmers had with the unique murder of their livestock.

Starting in 1975, numerous animals were found slaughtered in the towns of Morovic and Orocovis, located in Puerto Rico. The locals plunged into a state of hysteria, as the corpses of their animals were found with strange marks on their necks and a significantly low amount of blood inside them (Redfern,2015). The sightings of the Chupacabra started increasing as more and more animals fell victim to it. Claims of encounters with the creature are still being made, but there are no pictures or any other solid form of evidence that can prove its’ existence. No other animals could be able to leave the markings that were found on the victims’ neck. In addition, the creature that did this had to be smart, as they only attacked at night and were good at avoiding humans. The unexplainable nature of this murderous animal led to the inevitable invention of a fictional creature, which many people have a firm belief in and fear towards.

The paranoia that this fictional creature brought on to the people of Texas, Latin America, and Puerto Rico was very significant. The fear of the Chupacabra grew throughout the years, and is still growing to this date. People are becoming increasingly worried about their livestock, as well as themselves.

“People of Mexico, our cities have fallen under siege by thieves and murderers, but we stand together against lawlessness. The criminals and the gangs will not win! The Chupacabra, on the other hand, might. For, although hardened criminals cannot hop over trees to attack their prey, rumor has it the Chupacabra can.

Barricade yourselves in your homes and hope that this abominable creature gorges itself only on our livestock, and does not need to slake its thirst for blood on our children and our elderly. Yes, I'm afraid such a possibility is very real.”(Fox,2005)

Vicente Fox is the former President of Mexico, who has directly stated that the only fear the citizens of Mexico should have is of the Chupacabra. This quote shows the very real and very great irrational fear that people have of the creature. In addition, it has became a public safety concern in many towns and locations where the sightings are prevalent. Some farmers and breeders even go to the extent of sleeping or staying near their animals in order to prevent and/or catch the chupacabra from getting to them. Cages are becoming more secure and enclosures and fences are built, all for the protection from a fictional animal.

In accordance to the impact that this mass hysteria has on human conduct, society, and law, not much can be said. Unlike the other mass hysteria incidents, this is an event that is still going on, and hasn’t had a significant impact on the stated topics at all. The sightings of the Chupacabra and the fear of it probably won’t leave that much of an impact on humans and society in the future as well, except for their behaviours for preventative purposes.

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Mass Hysteria Throughout History. (2021, October 04). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/mass-hysteria-throughout-history/
“Mass Hysteria Throughout History.” Edubirdie, 04 Oct. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/mass-hysteria-throughout-history/
Mass Hysteria Throughout History. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/mass-hysteria-throughout-history/> [Accessed 23 Jul. 2024].
Mass Hysteria Throughout History [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Oct 04 [cited 2024 Jul 23]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/mass-hysteria-throughout-history/
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