We live in an age where we experience events through mediated channels more than with our senses. The drama of a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy becomes as much a media event as it is a meteorological event. Amidst the 24-hour multi-network news coverage, the simple message to ‘be prepared and stay indoors’ becomes totally engulfed in by the torrential barrage of the redundant, monotonous fluff that provokes panicked hysteria and drowns out any other real news.
At the same time, we see the officials desperately feel the need to justify their legitimacy and reinforce a fiction that we rely on them to keep us safe. Figurehead mayors and governors standing in front cameras trying to capitalize on the occasion to bolster their popularity and take credit for the actual emergency work being done by thousands of crews working out in the wind and rain.
These work together to create an environment of fear, and in a position of passive disempowerment, the inability to act in the face of the storm extrapolated into an inability to act at all, in deference to the instructions of the men on the television. We are left only with the choice to do as we’re told, stock up on commodities, stay indoors, keep consuming, be afraid, and trust the government.
Meanwhile, using extraordinary emergency situations as a justification for the ever-augmenting powers of the state is becoming an increasingly popular tactic. Yearly freak hurricanes mean delirious rushes to stock up on water and batteries, and the bureaucrats getting more and more comfortable declaring states of emergency. The constant specter of an unexpected catastrophe means “preparedness” through surveillance, security, paramilitarized police forces, suppression of freedoms in the name of maintaining a tenuous status quo.
This is a distinctly American hysteria.