Many times, the fear of something can be even worse than the thing itself. A child, for example, can for years have a firm belief that there is a monster dwelling under the bed and even though the bed has no actual monster under it, the fear of the monster can lead to many sleepless nights. Considerably worse than the actual empty void under the bed, a lack of actual monster not making a difference to the child.

A little over a week ago, an Egyptian Cobra escaped from its cage at the Bronx zoo and was missing for a full four days. During that time period, daily newspapers had terrifying headlines about how the snake was venomous and deadly. A few days after his being found, we can look back and think about the way that the snake story was presented versus the reality of the situation.

Let us also giggle at the hilarity of the fact that some people were clever enough to not take the snake story too seriously and created a Twitter account for the snake — an account that even got the attention of some celebrity Twitter accounts. Since Twitter is basically a fluid stream of nonsense, however, we can’t be sure this really amounts to much.

Looking back at the articles about the snake before it was captured once again, I couldn’t help but notice a pattern. Up front, the article would talk about how deadly the snake was. A little later in the story, it would go further into detail about how the snake wouldn’t survive long in the cold spring weather, and that it was mostly in a confined, non-public area of the reptile house and not possibly just wandering the streets of New York.

Naturally, you can just imagine that many people like me who briefly skim newspapers on the train didn’t get that far in the article and so were going to work in a fear of encountering the snake and getting bitten and leaving our babies without fathers. Well, I certainly was. It was a tremendous relief when I found out that the snake had been recaptured but then I felt like a bit of a fool when I found out that the likelihood of being actually attacked by that very snake was not particularly high. Probably even lower considering that I commute from Queens to Brooklyn every day with not much time spent in the Bronx.

Perhaps in the future, when confronted by exploding headlines about impending doom, we can think back to the snake that turned out to be not so much of a threat at all.

12 Comments

  1. Great article, Gordon! It’s funny that the Bronx Zoo is promoting this “menace” right on their homepage!

    The media hysteria is in hyper drive. Forget snakes… I’ve been hearing for four days how we were going to have this terrible, horrible, 48-hour period of torrential rain and thunderstorms and how we needed to be prepared and take cover… and we’ve only had a few drips and drabs.

    1. They must be proud of that snake at the zoo.

      That’s so odd. I only look at my Accuweather app for weather news and I’ve been oblivious about this torrential rain — other than it said that there was supposed to be a thunderstorm at 6:00AM and, when I walked outside at 6:10, found not a drip.

      1. I watch the weather pretty closely because it influences my outdoor exercise and walking — I love the Weather Channel’s 15 minute forecasts — and we were supposed to be continually wet from Sunday night to Tuesday night. Nothing happened! The weather guy was called on the lack of rain on the radio this morning — CBS FM — and he just said “things changed” and that we should be happy we didn’t get drenched. Harr!

        If it bleeds (or slithers!) — it leads… if it rains, it won’t pour.

          1. Now that’s another entire argument. When I was young, you bought stock based on whether or not the company would make a profit. You got the dividends, and those served as your real payout – not hoping the stock would quadruple in price like a poker hand. Now, people buy stock based on projections made by accountants and the advice of brokers who aren’t supposed to have a non-disclosed interest. The market is no longer based on reality but fantasy. I’m actually surprised there was a different advisor; most say whatever they want with impunity. No results are typical – so no apology necessary.

          2. If it helps, this took place in 1996. Thanks again for a great comment! Disclaimers are the standard everywhere now. This coffee may burn you! Weight loss results are there — but they may not be!

  2. Mass hysteria? In NEW YORK? You are not a native New Yorker (born in Perth Amboy; hhmmm…). Over time, New Yorkers have confronted REAL terror, from Redcoats to gangs to mobsters and gangsters to people who want to blow us up, and sometimes actually have. A snake on the loose? A snake who can’t open doors or windows and had to be somewhere in the building, threatening all of New York? Please. Our “hysterical” response was much more the humor kind of hysterical – and very much New York.

    1. Barbara,

      Thank you for your comment.

      For my article, I really went by the articles that I read in : AMNY, Metro NY, the Post, and the Daily News. They all led with how the snake could kill you and then buried underneath was how it wasn’t actually likely.

      1. As someone who had childhood aspirations to be a journalist, I DO sometimes wonder what they teach in schools of journalism. Hyperbole, demagoguery, and fear mongering would be my guess, based on what appears in the news. And they wonder why so few care to spend any money to read them… My main point was, while there were certainly many of the articles of which you speak, I would posit they were mostly written by either non-New Yorkers or those from the schools of thought that I described above. In reality, the average New Yorker would be unlikely to even see such a thing as a snake wriggling across the street, and if seen would be just as unlikely to do much more than call 911 while quickly stepping along his or her way. I’d hazard the suggestion that, if threatened, any small group of New Yorkers would be more likely to stomp the thing to death rather than be “threatened”, but after we’d adopted her as the symbol of liberte that was unlikely. If anyone was “hysterical,” it was with laughter at how silly the whole escapade was. Got some nice publicity for the zoo, though.