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Tuesday, January 4

On horror, perspective and the media

So there was a tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and it rolled over the beaches of Phuket, where my brother lives (an english teacher in Phuket Town's Satree School for Girls), and my parents were visiting for the holiday season. Woke up one morning and was reading an email from my brother (see below the post from the 26th of December) telling me he'd survived a tsunami just as the radio informed me of said natural disaster. From that very first bit of communication with someone on the spot, it was clear it was going to be bad. For days, the death-toll mounted, and Greg (my bro, I guess i'll need a Dramatis Personnae for this blog soon) by email or IM, clearly indicated that there were many, many missing, families shattered, and much volunteer work. He concluded that he'd seen what shellshock does to people, how hard it is to be the survivor. After a couple of days, the news reports reach a level of coverage, an intensity of hushed horror, and a lack of inhibitions in showing blackened, bloated bodies or bereaved relatives of the missing, which fully validates what Greg's been saying. The horror, which was fully visible at ground zero, has seeped into our mass counsciousness, and equilibrium has been reached, right? Wrong. I get a series of emails from my dad in which he makes little of the disaster, not denying it, but indicating that the destruction is limited to narrow band along the shore, that it's already business as usual in many parts of the island, etc... My initial reaction is that the old man is full of shit. (He's my old man, I can say that about him, and hell, he certainly FEELS like it every now and then, but hey, that's family for you). I check with Greg, who rages about dad's insensitivity (that I'll believe) and other shortcomings (on which I'll take the fifth), but then dad makes Greg even angrier than he makes me, mostly. In any case, i dismiss the old fart's tale, and am fully vindicated, when on the phone on NYZ, he finally tells me that they're in a different part of the island, pretty badly hit, that he's finally heard how many dead or missing there are and they're lucky to have made it thru the disaster with so little upset. Two days after the numbers for Thailand have really soared on the news here. So Greg gets the news first, cuz he's connected to the local society and does volunteer work in the aftermath, I get the news second cuz I live in a country with modern media in a language I understand, and dad gets it last bcuz he's disconnected. Different perspectives. Different time-constants, to speak engineering gobbledygook. Okay, that makes sense, and everyone is on the same page now, so consensus reigns supreme, and all is well in the world, since the UN now has 2 Billion dollars of aid promised for the area. Wrong again. Today, the news showed people sunbathing on Patong Beach, and a debate has started about whether it is better to cut vacations short, in respect for the dead, and the risk of epidemics, or the fragility of local infrastructure, or rather to stay, and continue to spend hard currency as means to support the local economy, which both NGOs, goverments and the UN are already saying will need much support to recover. This is backed up by the FIRST indications by the press that the damage is very limited in spatial extent, that it is already cleared in certain areas, and that business as usual IS going on in many part of the island, sometimes half a block from ruins being torn down by bulldozers for rapid reconstruction. Wait a minute, that's what my dad was saying days ago, and recanted friday night! It's like hearing a cannon being sung in a cathedral, like frere jacques, at the wrong speed for the echoes. You get a mishmash of the same things coming at you at different times, occasionally making sense, and sometimes just a jumble of syllables. I draw a few conclusions from this (don't expect anything world shattering, i'm not Stephen Jay Gould or Stephen Hawking) : 1. Reality is more complex than portrayed by our media (well, duh! ... except this time, I caught them at it) and my old man was right both times! (dang, admitting that was painful, and I know Greg will disagree) 2. Even today, in our superfast, no time for analysis, here's the image media, there IS a delay in the story getting to you via the media, and there IS a chosen bias from which the story is told. 3. You never get the whole story from a single source, even one on the scene. Having said all that, what's left? The horror. And life moving on. Both exist at the same time, side by side. You just don't hear the echoes at the same time. And I'm just glad this one missed my loved ones, and the echoes of the horror will die down quickly for me. Location : Beauvais, France

2 Insights :

Blogger Soulful intuited...

Just wanna drop a line & stranger-to-stranger relief words: I'm glad that your parents & brother are okay.

1/07/2005 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Mathieu intuited...

Thank you, Flower Girl.

1/07/2005 08:39:00 PM  

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