NEWS & POLITICS
Has catastrophe become a kind of emotional catnip for us? You know, the kind of stuff we love to hate?
April 23, 2013 |
Is it too soon to ask this question?
Or is it about time someone did?
I don't know. You tell me.
I fear we have become addicted to this stuff; the drama, the pathos, the tragedy. the tears, the latest villain(s), the newly-minted heroes, the fear?
We've not only become attracted to catastrophe and chaos, but we've created 24/7/365 communication empires ready, posed, even eager to deliver the goods when the worst happens.
So I ask, has catastrophe become a kind of emotional catnip for us? You know, the kind of stuff we love to hate?
Whether it's school children mowed down by a crazed gunman, a bombing, even a fertilizer plant leveling half an American town, we no longer just shake our heads in disgust and disbelief and then go on with life. No, we don't. That was so last century. That's not enough today.
When one of these kind of events happen now an entire industry swings into action. News becomes reality TV - for real -- unscripted, unpredictable, unfolding as we breathlessly watch. And watch we will, because there's no escape. CNN, MSNBC, FOX, NBC, CBS, ABC, radio, internet, it's everywhere, all the time.
If the catastrophe de jut unfolds too slowly, talking heads, whose job becomes filling 24 hours of airtime with words, morph into Dr. Phil's, delving into psychoanalysis and, when that thread runs out, they start to channel Johnny Carson's "Carnac the Magnificent."
Once the dust settles, after the action is over, the drama queens come out by the thousands. They show up by the hundreds, either at the scene of the crime or, if they can't get near that, they set up impromptu "memorials," for the victims.
I know I am supposed to view all that kind of stuff as the the better side of human nature. And, who knows, maybe it is, but I am not entirely convinced. The memorials, piled high with Teddy Bears and flowers and personal little nicknacks, left by sobbing, full-figured women often with young children in tow... it all strikes me as way too much Oprah and one last squeezing of the grapes of infectious drama. And a desire to be part of the latest drama.
Look, I know this may make me sound like just a heartless, grouchy old fart. And, who knows, I may be just that. I'd be the last to know, if so. But, ever since 9/11, and maybe even before that, we've been on a trajectory, an upward one.
Be it the media or law enforcement, the whole thing seems to me to have snowballed into something ominous and unhealthy. Local police have become less and less "cops" and more like soldiers, armed to the teeth, covered in body armor driving around our cities in armored SUVs and carrying the kinds of weapons once reserved for war zones.
So, as of a few minutes before writing this, the latest drama was coming to an end. The two guys who set off the Boston bombs had been neutralized -- which is a good thing.
But everyone had to get a piece of that action .. they made sure of it. A 20-something and his 19-year old brother were the perps. And it took a nation to do it: FBI, ATF, CIA, local, county and state police agencies, the National Guard, and of course, Homeland Security was there to make sure the barn door was closed afterwards.
Back in the old days local and state police, with assistance from the FBI, would have sufficed. But no longer. Since 9/11 we've spent billions fitting out the nation's first responders with some very expensive and exotic stuff, from hazmat suits to crowd suppression gear, to robots.... and, when shit tinally hits the fan everyone wants in on it. It's not just big entertainment, but big business too. A recent study reported that, while incomes had fallen over the last ten years in most cities, those cities with the largest Homeland Security-related industries have prospered.
Look, I am happy these two Boston characters are no longer walking around free. But, thanks to all of what I just wrote above, the way we now go about all this simply encourages the next drama. When everyone gets what they want, they want more of it. Those two nuts in Boston got precisely what they wanted --- attention, and tons of it.
And the first responders got what they wanted - a few days of adrenaline pumping high drama during which they got to drag out all that fancy gear Homeland Security gave them after 9/11.
I'd prefer to see a more mature response, that everyone just dial it back a bit to life's inevitable disasters. When you have billions of souls on a tiny planet, a certain percentage of those folk will be homicidal nuts. Some will be saints. But most of us will be neither. But we are sentenced to serve whatever time we have on this planet together, like it or not. Most of us will never hurt another person. But that minority of nuts will continue doing just that. And the more souls on the planet the more of these kind of things are going to happen.
Which is why I believe it's high time we take a long hard look at how we are now responding to these inevitable events. If we allow catastrophe to become an industry, cultivated by law enforcement and "entertainmentized" by media, then that's what we're gonna get more of.. more live car chases, more TV coverage of the hunt for the latest bad guy(s).
We are creating a kind of perpetual feedback loop; bad guys want big-time attention and an over-eager media supplies it. Law enforcement craves action, and the bad guys gladly provide it. Afterward the media lionizes the first responders.
Then the closing scene: a sad parade of women bearing stuffed animals and flowers with their puzzled children in tow, preparing the next generation of drama seekers.
It's all become quite the show. And it all makes me very uneasy.
Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous books, including Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, which was nominated for a Pulitzer.