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September 01, 2005

Contradictions of Disaster Porn

We call what's happening in New Orleans a natural disaster, yet its worst effects were almost entirely man-made. We say it's a surprise that the results of this storm have been so severe, yet something exactly like this has been predicted for years. We're amazed to learn that so many people apparently ignored warnings to evacuate before the storm, as if we don't know full well that probably close to a third of the people in New Orleans simply had no resources to leave. We decry the looting, pretending again from high atop our horses of righteous indignation, that we don't understand what it means to live in utter poverty. There are so many questions we won't see asked or answered on our idiot boxes because the asking and answering might make us uncomfortable, disrupting the hypnotic trance of our voyeuristic fascination with the latest footage of poor people waving for help from their rooftops or climbing out of store windows with arms full of goods they didn't pay for (forgetting, apparently, that there was no one there to pay and people still need to eat!). Do you wonder why it fascinates you? Do you wish you had cared about these people and their problems before they were placed in mortal peril? Do you wish that acknowledging all of these contradictions would force us to face them and do something about them?

I do.

Posted September 1, 2005 09:22 AM | general politics

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Excellent post.

One thing that strikes me as really sad is the looting, though. First, I don't think "stealing" food/water/medicine to survive is "looting". But I've *seen* pictures and video of people, ordinary people, taking things that are just plain ridiculous. Dead bodies floating in a flooded urban waste-land, and you're taking a TV??

We didn't hear these stories of rampant looting after the tsunami disaster, if I recall. Perhaps it's not so much "utter poverty" that is at the root of this aspect of the disaster as is the rampant consumerism promoted in our culture. I don't know, but I think it's another question to add to that excellent list.

Posted by: Dave! at September 1, 2005 12:03 PM

I have to agree with Dave! I don't think even the authorities are too concerned about looting for food and such (though they'll say they are for the sake of social order); but people stealing designer jeans, yelling out "it's OUR store"; people taking things like TVs and appliances when there's no electricity...that's the kind of looting that gives rise to mayhem.

It also speaks sort of dramatically to the class structure in N.O. The poverty of those left behind is the kind of poverty that doesn't see the ridiculousness of stealing appliances when there's no power.

Posted by: kristine at September 1, 2005 02:15 PM


Posted by: asianprovocateur at September 3, 2005 06:40 AM

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