The horrific earthquake in Haiti has captured our attention. It is, for us, a media event: the suffering beyond words of the people of Port-au-Prince brought into the comfort of my family room. In time, they will be displaced by NCIS and American Idol.
For reasons which should be clear to any reader of this blog, I don’t watch TV news. I have watched the last two days. I tried to learn about the dead and the sufferers, but mostly learned about newscasters: disproportionately female, disproportionately blonde. They had nothing to say, and little to show us.
Yesterday nobody could get video out of Haiti. By today, the anchor-blondes were in place, but seemed at a loss about the proper tone to strike. Katie Couric strained to look lugubrious: I didn’t recognize her. They stood surrounded by shadows and talked, as if the disaster needed their words to achieve reality.
One of them call the earthquake “a massively catastrophic event.” A CNN doctor told us how he saved a Haitian teenager: the broadcaster as hero to himself. It was a bizarre performance.
A clear media narrative emerged today: “a race against time.” People are buried alive. Help isn’t arriving. They will die because of someone’s incompetence – the Haitian government’s, the Haitian people’s, the aid rescuers’ – pick your putative villain. Earthquake logos are in place; sad theme music puts us in the proper mood.
We are edging into Katrina territory.
I have stopped watching the TV news. The photojournalists have done better at conveying the pain, loss, and stupefaction visited on the people of Haiti: this reminder of their smallness in comparison with a monstrous and all-powerful nature. It’s a lesson none of us wish to learn.
About far-reaching disasters, I said my piece after the tsunami struck, and I don’t want to use each new horror as an excuse for a literary exercise.
According to Ecclesiastes, there’s a time and a season for everything. This is ancient wisdom, but cold comfort for the tens of thousands whose time ended so suddenly, with a brief trembling of the ground; no comfort at all for the survivors and the wounded, left alone in the wreckage, trying to make sense of the event.