Buffalo BEAST - Buffalo's New Best Fiend
 

Oct 19 - Nov 2, 2005
Issue #86

  ..Buffalo's Best Fiend
   
Grand Perjury
A Miller's Tale
Allan Uthman

Disrobed
Are Female Genitals Enough to Qualify for the Supreme Court?
Paul jones

Getty Some
Hot Movement Action
A Monkey
Jurassic Dork
Michael Crichton's Science Fiction
Kit Smith
Harold Who?
Ode to Pinter in 1 Act

Alexander Zaitchik

Theatre of War
Inside the Psy-Ops Studio
Matt Bors

Drown Together
On Katrina & Disaster Fatigue
Jeff Dean
FAUX-TURES
After terror threats, New York begins efforts to clean shit out of pants
Clayton Byrd
An Open Letter to Jessica Alba
Irresponsible Mayoral Speculation:
What do Bflo's candidates have to do to win/lose?

Shop for Porn Like a Pro!
Hyman Bender

BOOKS
The Assassin’s Gate
America in Iraq
by George Packer
Review by John Freeman
The Big Wedding
9/11, the Whistle-Blowers and the Cover-Up
by Sander Hicks
Review by Russ Wellen
LOCAL
Buffalo Soldiers
Hutch Tech's New Program: Forcible Conscription
Allan Uthman
Another Corporate Psycopath
The Barnacle at Delphi
Chuck Richardson

The BEAST Blog
Irresponsible vitriol on a near-daily basis

[sic] - Letters
Wide Right
Bills Football & other sports
Ronnie Roscoe
Kino Korner: Movies
Michael Gildea
Page 3
Separated at Birth?
Beast-O-Scopes
 
 Cover Page

COMIX:
Idiot Box
Perry Bible Fellowship
Bob the Angry Flower

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Drown Together
On Katrina & Disaster Fatigue

Jeff Dean

It’s been over a month since Katrina flattened the gulf coast and the ensuing flood burst the levees around New Orleans, but the television and newspaper images of corpses sailing over neighborhoods in the fetid soup remain indelible on my memory. I ache for the families torn asunder and cast to all corners of the country, many still not knowing if the others survived much less how to reconnect. My nights are haunted by the thought of desperate, bloody hands clawing at roof boards to get above the swirling brown death, only to sit for days without food, water or medicine, waiting for someone to notice, someone to help. These things haunt me still. So, can anyone explain to me why I’m mentally composing this article while glibly lying face-down in the sterile blue waters of a YMCA pool, performing what kids call the “dead man’s float”?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m aware that there’s not a damn thing I can do for those people, whose ruined lives torment me. I gave money, and I gave food, like everyone else. I could have done more, like everybody else. And, like everybody else, my satisfaction in giving has been well tempered with a dollop of guilt. It’s not the action (or inaction) that defines this significant point on the nation’s timeline that concerns me, but rather the attitude, the collective gravitas that has marked tragedies in the past, that has gone missing.

In the weeks following September 11, 2001, it seemed as if everyone had one mental foot at ground zero. People started speaking to estranged loved ones, neighbors greeted one another. The news was full of stories about people who quit their 9 to 5 jobs and followed their dreams. Divorces were canceled and feuds were ended. Crime rates sank. All the flag-waving nonsense aside, it seemed that America was headed for a new era of empathy and kindness.

This was, of course, a happy little dream that fast dissipated like smoke after the first report of a shooting over a TV remote control. But for one brief moment, it did seem possible. It was naive, but people did believe the dream. In October 2001, the Buffalo News published a lengthy article by Laurie Githens called “An End to Overkill: Planning a Kinder, Gentler Halloween.” The article explored the public’s turning away from guts and gore, focusing instead on the fun aspect of the holiday.

“What do you do when a holiday that centers around terror and gore approaches and you’ve already had a month of the real thing?” Githens wrote. She answered by interviewing employees of local party and novelty shops as to how they were approaching Halloween differently that year. Githens quoted Tom Kowalski of Spencer Gifts as saying “This time of year we carry a lot of body parts, gory eyes, feet and things like that. I just moved them to the back out of respect.” An absurd notion, but it was an absurd time. Chris Baran, then a manager at the Blasdell Party City, told Githens that “customers come in and go right past the grim reaper display. There seems to be a changing of morals.”

Four years later, with no accurate body count from the Gulf and fresh video of Pakistani earthquake victims still looping on cable news networks, has America returned to the defiant optimism and respect that defined those strange days in the fall of 2001?

Currently at the Transit Road Party City, Baran told me that he’s seen none of the shunning of gory Halloween tradition that he witnessed in 2001. “If there’s been any difference from other years,” he said, “it’s just that people are starting earlier.” Baran surmises that the reason Katrina hasn’t affected peoples’ psyches is that, in 2001, there was fear. “The attitude was ‘all these terrorists were attacking us.’ Patriotism was very big. Even though the loss of life will probably be bigger [from Katrina], there was more of a sense that everyone was in danger [in 2001].”

Mare Manuel, a manager at Baran’s old store, concurred with his opinion that Katrina had not affected people’s Halloween plans. She reported that, while military and firefighter costumes were hot four years ago, Batman and Darth Vader were the big choices this year. For its part, Spencer’s now bans its employees from speaking to the media. But the display windows tell the tale: death is back and bloodier than ever.

In so many ways, the aftermath of Katrina echoed the aftershocks of September 11: Donations, Red Cross scandals and telethons. Even the “Shelter From the Storm” celebrity telethon seemed to throw sensitivity to the wind, with musicians offering song after song of water-themed music. Sheryl Crow warbling the “Water is Wide” and Randy Newman’s ode to the New Orleans flood of 1927 somehow slipped under everyone’s radar, though had Mellencamp sung “Crumblin’ Down” after September 11, he’d likely have been hanged. Hell, in his 2002 concert at the HSBC Arena, Neil Diamond failed to sing his classic “September Morn,” though everyone was waiting for it, if only to see if he’d dare.

Don’t misunderstand: the idea of curtailing the “terror and gore” of Halloween was bunk. It’s good to see the nation seems a bit more grounded in reality this time. But what has changed over these last four years? Is fear really the difference (even though one is far more likely to die by an act of nature than by a terrorist attack)? Or did September 11 set the bar so high that the destruction of one of the country’s most iconic cities doesn’t quite measure up? Or did the rubber band snap back so hard that we’ve relapsed to a point beyond empathy? Has our visceral outrage been exhausted? Is our compassion on autopilot? Have we irretrievably traded empathy and kindness for shock and awe? The television networks didn’t suspend commercial programming, and the radio continued offering us OnStar commercials featuring real, live recordings of moaning and bleeding crash victims.

Maybe we just shook off that insane spell in which we once indulged. After all, those reconciled families have split up again, neighbors are back to calling the cops on each other, the people who quit their day jobs found that raising alpacas just isn’t what was promised in the video, and the police blotters are full of man’s inhumanity.

Now, as I finish this mental column and prepare to get out of the pool to get it all down on paper, I see the children pouring from the locker room for family swim time. And as the warm, yellow tide of urine seeps toward me from the wading pool where they splash around, I am finally able to connect with my brothers and sisters in the Crescent City’s toxic gumbo.

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