Little Green Men, Meowing Nuns and Head-Hunting Panics

A Study of Mass Psychogenic Illness and Social Delusion

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About the Book

“For a two week period in 1956, residents in the vicinity of Taipei, Taiwan, lived in fear that they would be the next victims of a crazed villain who was prowling the streets and slashing people at random with a razor or similar weapon. At least 21 victims were reported during this period, mostly women and children of low income and education.” A thorough investigation revealed however, that: “five slashings were innocent false reports, seven were self-inflicted cuts, eight were due to cuts rather than razors, and one was complete fantasy.” This is one example of many cases of what has traditionally been called “mass hysteria” that are examined in this comprehensive study of human beings’ fear of the unknown. Beginning with a concise history of mass hysteria and social delusions, the author differentiates between the two and investigates mass hysteria in closed settings such as work and school, and mass hysteria in communities with incidents such as gassings, Pokémon illnesses in Japan, and medieval dance crazes. Also examined are collective delusions, with information on five major types: immediate threat, symbolic scare, mass wish fulfillment, urban legends and mass panics. The book ends with a discussion of major issues in the area of mass hysteria and a look toward the future of this intriguing subject.

About the Author(s)

Robert E. Bartholomew has taught sociology in Australia at The Flinders University of South Australia and James Cook University in Queensland. A former broadcast journalist and contributor to news organizations such as the Associated Press and United Press International, he currently teaches at Botany College in Auckland, New Zealand.

Bibliographic Details

Robert E. Bartholomew
Foreword by Erich Goode
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 303
Bibliographic Info: photos, tables, notes, index
Copyright Date: 2001
pISBN: 978-0-7864-0997-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword     1
Preface     3

SECTION ONE: OVERVIEW     5
1. Mass Hysteria and Social Delusions     7

SECTION TWO: MASS HYSTERIA IN CLOSED SETTINGS     25
2. Epidemic Hysteria in Schools     27
3. Epidemic Hysteria at Work     55

SECTION THREE: MASS HYSTERIA IN COMMUNITIES     79
4. The Mad Gasser of Virginia     81
5. The Mad Gasser of Mattoon     95
6. Pokémon TV Show Sickens Thousands in Japan     122
7. Rethinking the Medieval Dancing Mania     132

SECTION FOUR: COLLECTIVE DELUSIONS     143
8. Penis Panics     145
9. Imaginary Air Raids on Canada     158
10. The Phantom Sniper of Esher, England     169
11. The Ghost Rockets     183
12. The Wish Mania as a Moral Panic in Reverse     197
13. Before Roswell     213
14. The Martian Invasion Panic     217

SECTION FIVE: MAJOR ISSUES AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS     225
15. From Demon Possession to Environmental Fears     227

Notes     237
Index     297

Book Reviews & Awards

“vivid title”—Hysteria; “the book will interest any reader…it is extensively documented and food for thought”—Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences; “important…extensive critical apparatus”—Fortean Times; “addresses major issues”—Reference & Research Book News.