Tuesday, May 10, 2011
What You Never See.
Tuscaloosa tornado aftermath: they're going to put it back together.
RELATED... There's a gaping hole in the documentation of most American natural disasters. We get to see the damage the day after. The TV journalists pose in front of the wreckage of people's lives.
You'll have to imagine the network correspondent in khaki; he's long gone.
They cover the story in accordance with their own traditional values -- Are the people weeping and scavenging the ruins for pitiful reminders of what they've lost, like photographs and crushed tricycles? Is FEMA here? Has the president visited? Yes? The government will provide. Mission accomplished. And all go home to await the next catastrophe.
If you look at the volume of documentaries produced by the various channels that proclaim a nonfiction mission, it seems impossible that they could have missed anything. They're all over dinosaurs, guys who accidentally shoot themselves in the head with nailguns, the pyramids, climate change, brand new old footage of the Titanic, bigfoot, shark week, UFOs, the origins of the universe, Atlantis, Hitler, volcanoes, Nostradamus, the ugliest ever catfish, serial killers and why women marry them, asteroids aiming at earth, the history of mud, more Hitler, fixing gigantic things that are broken, hummingbirds, Nostradamus and the 2012 apocalypse, Roman sexual deviancy, the menace of pythons in the everglades and bears in the suburbs, why Jesus was just a nice guy who got crucified, duplex trans-gender operations, frozen mammoths, Jack the Ripper, base-jumping and other suicidal hobbies, still more Hitler, the Loch Ness monster, the manufacture of microprocessors and toothpicks and skateboards, Satan, things that melt, aggressively fat meter maids, ghosts, stalactites, women unexpectedly having babies in the ladies room, the absolute final word forever on Jack the Ripper, everything in the world you could possibly imagine about Princess Diana, why Darwin was so incredibly right about everything and the Bible not so much, celebrity ghosts, shark month, stone-age Amazonian tribes with breasts, mail-order brides from Russia and how they died, how much we love the Brit royals, angels and why they don't exist, what the world will look like after the pestilence called Man becomes extinct, the Jack the Ripper we never knew until this newest latest revelation, African tribes with breasts, AND a great many of the more arduous strains of blue collar American life -- crab fishing, coal mining, logging, sewer cleaning, hog slaughtering, Alaskan everything, the difficulty of being a professional urban vagina on meth-amphetamines, wrinkled moms who live with a hundred cats and never throw out the trash, plus innumerable treatments of the general awfulness of the south, with a special emphasis on the underground railroad, dead jazz geniuses, and hick spouses who kill each other using their Bibles as silencers.
What you never see, though, is what happens after the news networks fly home to New York after a natural disaster. Well, except for post-Katrina New Orleans, where everybody sat and waited for the federal government to fix everything and, uh, are still waiting.
The word "except" is key here. The experience of New Orleans after Katrina is clearly the exception. There is a zone of the United States called Tornado Alley that rips whole towns to pieces every year. And guess what? Those towns rebuild themselves. Year after year, decade after decade. HOW EXACTLY DO THEY DO THAT?
Think about it. You've seen the splattered houses, churches, hospitals, and stores. Places where it's hard even to figure out which pile of rubble used to be Main Street. But the people who are from there don't leave, and they rebuild their lives. Yeah, I know there's government money and loans and such that figure in, but let's face it, the work is done primarily by the so-called 'ordinary' people we last saw standing on the splinters of their homes and thanking God that most of their neighbors are still alive.
I want to see the process. I want to see the bulldozers and backhoes that clear away the flattened houses and shattered trees. (Where do they put all the refuse?) I want to see how these communities that no longer exist except for the people who lived in them come together and start building anew on the cleared ground. I want to see the churchless church suppers, the pitching in of nearby less damaged counties and towns, the ad hoc schooling that goes on in the absence of air-conditioned classroom buildings and hardwood basketball gymnasiums, the families living with families while they struggle through how long (?) without income, the mayor making deals with contractors and banks and farmers, the doctors who set up clinics at the only gas station still standing, the women who run the food and clothing banks to keep body and soul together for parents and children while the town comes slowly back to life.
It isn't FEMA that does all that. It's American people hewing together and working their asses off to make miracles happen.
We know it happens. Despite all the lamentations about New Orleans, Mississippi -- every bit as hard hit as the Big Easy -- quietly went to work and pulled off the standard American recovery while the Big Easyites wanted somebody else to do it. Why is theirs the only story worth covering?
I'm absolutely certain people by the millions would watch a series about such a recovery. It's a black hole in the media depiction of "the bitter ones who cling to their guns and religion." Because that's not all they cling to, and we all know it. They cling to each other, help each other, work for each other, and give new life to each other.
Are you listening, History, Discovery, NatGeo, Green, Current, TLC, and company? I don't need another fantasy science documentary about brightly feathered dinosaurs. If you're using CGI, you don't know. You're just guessing. What I need is a glimpse of facts that don't require any guesswork. Average Americans routinely, habitually, come back from the brink. Why can't you get off your high horse and show us that?
P.S. Affirmation from commenter Patrick:
I knew from the moment the storms ended (I live in North Alabama) that the people here would pull themselves back up. I actually got nervous when FEMA came in and the president came for his photo-op. My first thought was, "Thanks but no thanks. We need to stick to the people who understand the problem, not ones who will only contribute to it." I'm proud of the people in my community for getting through this with grace and dignity, and that's coming from a guy who is often very hard on his fellow Alabamans. Just stay out of the way. No cameras needed. We don't want your pity. Just let me get to work.
You see. My only point: we want to see, too. Need to see. All of us.
I mean, I know it seems like it should be a private thing, but it's gone beyond that. The rest of the country needs to remember how this country works. And not one micro-second of it is pity. It's learning.