VIEWPOINT;CAREENING TO THE NEXT INEVITABILITY

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Last year we headlined our coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing "The End of Innocence."

As Advertising Age columnist Jim Brady wrote: "Whatever made us think that we were immune? Didn't we know that even in Middle America we were sailing in harm's way? Who gave the United States a free pass in a world careening intermittently into madness?"

In the aftermath of the bombing we asked Leo J. Shapiro & Associates to find out how the bombing had changed Americans' attitudes and behavior.

Interestingly, most people responded that the Oklahoma City bombing was more important to them than the Persian Gulf War or the World Trade Center bombing, but that it wouldn't really change their lives.

As we reported: "There appears to be a disturbing sense of fatalism, a knowledge that any spot, any building is potentially ground zero for a terrorist attack." Of those surveyed, 87% felt there's nothing they can do to protect themselves against a bombing, even though they felt the authorities were doing all they could.

George Rosenbaum, CEO of Shapiro, said at the time the survey results showed "a resignation to living with a raised level of anxiety and fear."

A year later, Mr. Rosenbaum sees the same resignation but mostly stemming from Americans' fear of the loss of their jobs or income.

"The real end of innocence," he told me, "is a loss of confidence in the American dream."

Mr. Rosenbaum said that with such events as the current standoff in Montana, the Unabomber's random acts of terrorism, and also the threat of losing their jobs, "people feel less and less in control of their lives. In the American dream you control your own destiny, but the feeling is now, `I can no longer be in charge.' Consumers are feeling anomie-a state of apathy, of `I don't know what way to go,' kind of being off course. It's the opposite of autonomy."

Bob Garfield's take last year was that nothing would change. "The fact is this is a society of ever-escalating violence, personal and impersonal, and we grow ever more accustomed to living with it. Wednesday's bombing was no watershed; it was the next point on the continuum.

"Maybe this moment will resonate and take root in the collective consciousness, like Dec. 7, 1941, and Nov. 22, 1963. Probably, though, it will not, because for all the horror and grisly drama, this attack was not really a surprise. It was the realization of grim inevitability."

Nothing that happens any more is much of a surprise, and expectations are no longer very high.

As George Rosenbaum says, with O.J. Simpson, the McVeigh brothers and now Theodore J. Kaczynski, the nation "has developed an appetite" for one good trial a year, and that seems enough to carry us forward to the next inevitability.

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