Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

Urban Nightmares

The Media, the Right, and the Moral Panic over the City

2006
Author:

Steve Macek

Urban Nightmares

A hard-hitting look at the role of right-wing ideologues and the mass media in demonizing urban America

In Urban Nightmares, Steve Macek documents the scope of alarmist representations of the city, examines the ideologies that informed them, and exposes the interests they ultimately served. Macek explains how Hollywood filmmakers, advertisers, and journalists validated the right-wing discourse on the urban crisis, popularizing its vocabulary and mobilizing fears of a perilous urban realm.

Urban Nightmares is a consistently revealing, even controversial book. An outstanding contribution to the urban literature.

Robert A. Beauregard, The New School

For the past twenty-five years, American culture has been marked by an almost palpable sense of anxiety about the nation's inner cities. Urban America has been consistently depicted as a site of moral decay and uncontrollable violence, held in stark contrast to the allegedly moral and orderly suburbs and exurbs.

In Urban Nightmares, Steve Macek documents the scope of these alarmist representations of the city, examines the ideologies that informed them, and exposes the interests they ultimately served. Macek begins by exploring the conservative analysis of the urban poverty, joblessness, and crime that became entrenched during the post-Vietnam War era. Instead of attributing these conditions to broad social and economic conditions, right-wing intellectuals, pundits, policy analysts, and politicians blamed urban problems on the urban underclass itself. This strategy was successful, Macek argues, in deflecting attention from growing income disparities and in helping to secure popular support both for reactionary social policies and the assumptions underwriting them.

Turning to the media, Macek explains how Hollywood filmmakers, advertisers, and journalists validated the right-wing discourse on the urban crisis, popularizing its vocabulary. Network television news and weekly news magazines, he shows, covered the inner city and its inhabitants in ways consonant with the right's alarmist discourse. At the same time, Hollywood zealously recycled this anti-urban bias in films ranging from genre thrillers like Falling Down and Judgment Night to auteurist efforts like Batman and Seven. Even advertising, Macek argues, mobilized fears of a perilous urban realm to sell products from home alarm systems to SUVs.

Published during the second term of an American president whose conservative agenda has been an ongoing disaster for the poor and the working class, Urban Nightmares exposes a divisive legacy of media bias against the cities and their inhabitants and issues a wake-up call to readers to recognize that media images shape what we believe about others's (and our own) place in the real world—and that the consequences of those beliefs can be devastating.


Awards

Winner of the Urban Communication Foundation Jane Jacobs Publication Award

Urban Nightmares

Steve Macek teaches media studies, urban and suburban studies, and speech communication at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.

Urban Nightmares

Urban Nightmares is a consistently revealing, even controversial book. An outstanding contribution to the urban literature.

Robert A. Beauregard, The New School

Deftly calibrates a significant and socially destructive fiction propagated by popular culture in the last two decades of the 20th century.

Crime, Media, Culture

Sets out to prove that many of the negative stereotypes about cities are largely based on the biased coverage of an unrelenting media whose infamous macabre motto is ‘If it bleeds, it leads.’

Naperville Sun

Steve Macek presents an excellent history and compendium of ‘nativist and racist’ Americans’s fear and hostility toward the city.

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

This book does a fine job at showing the latest attempt to find a scapegoat, to blame the poor and downtrodden, for America’s problems. More importantly, this book is quite readable; the author keeps it from sounding like a dry, academic tome. It is very much worth reading.

Dead Trees Review

This highly readable volume traces the symbolic construction of the city as a site of moral decline.

Political Communication

From insights into the media, literature and politics or urban (and suburban) life, Urban Nightmares challenges the reader to think differently about the realities and representations of U.S. cities.

International Journal of Communication

Urban Nightmares provides a fascinating look into the underlying stereotypes, myths, and realities of moral panic over the city.

Rhetoric & Public Affairs

Urban Nightmares is a very readable chronicle of the moral panic over the urban poor and marginalized which has come to be the dominant story of U.S. urban life in recent times. All the familiar ingredients of an underclass ideology are to be found in this persuasive brew.

Variant

Macek has done a great service to those who are at the forefront of attempts to push back such conservative and neo-liberal attacks on the city and on disadvantages and oppressed populations.

Urban Studies

Urban Nightmares

Contents

Introduction: A Landscape of Fear

1. The Origins of the Crisis: Race, Class, and the Inner City
2. Inventing the Savage Urban Other
3. Catastrophe Is Now: The Discourse on the Underclass
4. Crack Alleys and Killing Zones: News Coverage of the Postindustrial City
5. The Cinema of Suburban Paranoia
6. Wouldn’t You Rather Be at Home? Marketing Middle-Class Agoraphobia

Conclusion: Awakening from Urban Nightmares

Acknowledgments
Appendix: Selected National Television
News Stories about the Urban Crisis, 1989–97

Notes
Bibliography
Filmography

Index