Mass hysteria is a phenomenon that transmits collective illusions of threats, whether real or imaginary, to a population and society. It is spontaneous manifestation by more than one person. Is America on the brink or mass hysteria?
For many, women and hysteria goes hand in hand, because the Greek word is ‘hystera’, referring to the uterus. Women are once more blamed for the ills of mankind.
Many mass hysteria events are heterogenous, which denies the female factor. The mass hysteria event of January 6th 2021, saw very few women involved.
Mass Hysterical Events
Instances of mass hysteria include an outbreak of fatal dancing among members of the same community, men suddenly gripped by the sickening fear of losing their genital organs, and teenagers with mysterious symptoms after watching an episode of their favourite TV series.
Mass hysteria can involve anything from fashion fads to taking part in riots. There are also cases of epidemic hysteria where a group of people believe they have a similar disease or ailment. Hysteria is a condition that begins in the mind, rather than in the body.
Professor. Simon Wessely, from King’s College London in the United Kingdom, believes that mass hysteria should not be confused with moral panic. “Mass hysteria is a sociological concept that refers to the phenomenon of masses of people becoming distressed about a perceived, usually unreal or exaggerated threat portrayed in catastrophizing terms by the media.”
The mythical mass suicide of lemmings is an irresistible metaphor for human behaviour.
Salem Witch Hunt
August 1992 marked the 300th anniversary of the 1692 hysteria and the Salem witch trials.
The Salem witch trials occurred in colonial Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693. They accused over 200 people of practicing the Devil’s magic, hanging 14 women and 5 men. Eventually, the colony admitted the trials were a mistake and compensated the families of those convicted.
Middle Ages Mass Hysteria
In the Middle Ages, spontaneous outburst of uncontrollable dancing gripped people in communities across Europe. Infected people were unable to stop dancing until they were so worn out and exhausted, they died.
A nun in a French convent meowed like a cat. Soon, the entire nunnery was meowing like a cat. They did not stop until the police threatened to whip the nuns.
In 1789, the French Revolution began with mass hysteria when general panic gripped the people. They feared an ‘aristocratic conspiracy’ by the king and the privileged elite were about to overthrow the Third Estate, the commoners.
It led to the death of many powerfully political people and changed France for ever.
In 1892, the right hand of a 10-year-old girl began trembling. This developed into full-body seizures, which spread to 19 other students.
A similar mass hysteria occurred in Switzerland, affecting 20 students. Twelve years later, a further outbreak occurred, affecting 27 students.
In 1906, 237 children were similarly infected in Germany. The doctors were unable to ascertain the cause.
Radio Play Hysteria
Orson Welles’ radio play ‘War of the Worlds’ threw thousands of Americans into panic in 1938. America was under attack by Martians. Stephen Spielberg repeated the theme in a film in 2005.
Stephen Hawkins, the English physicist, cosmologist and author, believed the fear of annihilation by an advanced civilization may not be limited to Earth. He said that was the reason the cosmos was silent.
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic of January 1962 began in a mission-run boarding school. It started with just three girls and spread haphazardly throughout the school. The laughter epidemic affected 95 of 159 pupils. The school was temporarily closed in March 1962. It spread to the wider community and took two years to die out.
In 1976 Mississippi school officials suspected drug use after 15 students fell, writhing to the ground. A third of the 900 students stayed home through fear.
In 2018, a 9-year-old girl developed crying and shouting episodes. It infected 37 girls and 10 boys on the same day. Similar episodes of mass psychogenic illness have occurred in the school each year.
In 2019, schoolgirls at Ketereh national secondary school started screaming. They claimed they had seen the face of pure evil. The school responded by cutting down the trees around the school, believing they were home to supernatural spirits.
In 1967, hundreds of men became convinced that eating pork meat from vaccinated pigs lead to penis shrinkage, or disappearance and even death.
The government had a concerted effort to convince the men what they believed wasn’t fact.
In 2018, there were 512 passengers on a 14-hour flight from Dubai to New York. A fifth of the passengers showed symptoms of coughing, sneezing, fever, and vomiting. New York airport quarantined the plane.
Eleven passengers were hospitalized. Some of the passengers had common flu and cold. Others copied what was happening around them.
Does the media and modern technology, with its rapid influx of information, add to the provocative phenomenon of mass hysteria?
A teenage girl posted a video of herself on YouTube, documenting an episode of uncontrollable jerks of the limbs and verbal outbreaks. The video went viral. Many teenage girls displayed the same symptoms. A 36-year-old woman started having the same symptoms after she learned of the girl’s story on Facebook.
Any person or group can create hysterical responses if they use the vulnerability and emotions of the people. Did Hitler’s personality cult promote mass hysteria as the Gestapo hunted ‘enemies of the state’? Jews were superstitiously blamed for all the ills of Germany following the Great War?
Is the Capitol riot of January 6th, 2021 symptoms of mass hysteria? Is America again on the brink of mass hysteria? It only takes a few to stir up the many.
The phenomenon of mass hysteria leads to a lot of questions, but is also a warning. What we read, watch, or hear can affect our well-being in unsuspected ways. Who we associate with is also a huge influence on our life.
Women everywhere have a unique voice in their sphere of influence. A voice that can be used for good or evil.
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