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Category — Media

Disaster! Catastrophe! Armageddon!

News you can use.

For those in the path of hurricanes, for those threatened by wild fires, daily, hourly – minute-by-minute — reports and updates are a necessity and a blessing. The media providing these reports offer important, sometimes life-saving information. Thank you for your service.

For the rest of us, deluged not by tropical storms but by a tsunami of hyperbolic media coverage, the purpose of this incessant attention to natural disasters is problematic.* This ginned-up, brave-reporters-holding-onto-poles-in-100-miles-an-hour-wind journalism is overwrought. Of course I care (both in the abstract and because I have family in Florida and Georgia) about people in harm’s way. But, as there is nothing we can do while whatever unfolds unfolds, as we are not ourselves threatened, it seems to me that our position as spectators is uncomfortably like that of drivers slowing down to gawk at a accident by the side of the road. Also, as some media explicitly packaged Harvey, Irma and the forest fires in the west as “Armageddon,” we feel even more besieged, more vulnerable, more victimized by forces beyond our control than we have during the past six months sinking in the quicksand of Trumpism. Now there is a unnatural disaster for you.

For the media, these back-to-back-to-back “catastrophes” are gold. The storms are stories that come neatly pre-packaged in three acts: Act I: The Anticipation, Act II: The Event, Act II: The Aftermath. There’s video, oh so much video. There’s drama you don’t have to look for because it literally slaps you upside the head. No deep reporting necessary. Point the camera at trees whipping in the wind. Stick a mic in the face of a person who made it to a temporary storm shelter. How bad was it? How much did you lose? Insert yourself (and camera) into the ongoing challenges of a first responder. It may be momentarily dangerous for the intrepid reporter, but it is easy peasy. No pesky FOIA requests, no scouring documents, no spending weeks, months trying to understand communities and cultures. And the clicks! Oh Lordy, the clicks. So much traffic to the site. So many eyeballs. What a boon a good disaster is for the media!

And what a disaster for us, as we settle deeply into our lives of spectatorship (football, anyone?), as we are hammered by messages of our victimization, as we embrace what psychologists call Learned Helplessness, as we avoid the deep issues and challenges that don’t just zip across the landscape, dump on us for a few days, lose their force and move on.

*Early on, there was minor attention to the idea that the hurricanes were tied to human-caused climate change. There appeared to be little scientific evidence to support this.

September 13, 2017   No Comments