I binge watched Hurricane Irma.
It was a cheap, addictive entertainment.
Like the buildup to the Super Bowl.
The big event, as far as most media was concerned, was the landfall in Florida. This, it seemed, was the point to which all of our lives were leading, the apocalypse that was sure to prove whatever it was we needed proved. Days, perhaps even weeks before this happened, there was wall to wall coverage promising cataclysm. I learned to fear the “Cone of Uncertainty” and “Life Threatening Winds,” I listened to talking heads as if they were debating some sport, and I watched relentless loops of footage of nature destroying any puny mortal concerns that stood in its path.
And as the hurricane carved out it’s terrible path, each demolished, little island a grim foreshadowing of what was about to happen to over-populated and under-prepared Florida, the hurricane was simultaneously a prophecy of doom and a trailer for a Hollywood disaster film. Almost giddy, each day the broadcasters revealed– in all its punitive majesty– another verse in this Book of Revelations.
The media, of course, profited from our obsessive fear, and turned the volume up as loud as they could. The more clicks the better, and if it was terror and anxiety that ushered in these clicks, so be it. At one point a rain-soaked reporter, bent and staggering against the elements, conducted an urgent interview with a man who had not evacuated. Clearly the reporter was hoping for some Florida Man archetype to emerge from the scrub, a guy who looked like Kid Rock and was armed with a crossbow and some alligator mace, and wasn’t going to let some “lady storm” tell him what to do.
Instead, the reporter got a genius cardiologist, who with astonishing knowledge, detail and reasoning, explained precisely why it was safe to be exactly where he was. He was calm, too, not a trace of panic to him, and he made the reporter look like the very bad actor he was.
That the media manipulates and distorts news events, or even creates disaster porn, is nothing new. When 9/11 took place I literally could not take my eyes off the tv.
It was the most riveting thing I had ever seen, and it was a rating’s sensation. Now, with all our various technologies even further entrenched, this sense of chaos and anxiety has become a permanent, immobilizing fixture of our lives. The media, desperate to make a buck, feed us all the worst case scenarios, whipping us into a frenzy of panicky, dependent consumption.
My level of excitement had reached such heights that when Hurricane Irma finally struck Florida, I was actually disappointed–like I would be if I saw a movie where the trailers were better than the actual product they were selling.
This is completely perverse and backwards, but there you have it.
It is instructive when you’re caught in the swift currents of one of these types of stories to look up beyond your computer screen and out the window.
Remind yourself that we are actually living in the safest time in history.
Go outside, for surely something beautiful will fall to you.