The title of this post is no doubt a weak tribute to Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen,” even though it hasn’t anything to do with Hurricane Irene nor does Eileen begin with the letter “I”. The truth is, I too have given way to the daily immersion in the headline hook. I think of catastrophic events in terms of soundbites and catchphrases and this is certainly no exception.
I write this a day ahead of Irene’s supposed landfall on New England and already it’s beginning – the “in-the-wake-of”phrases, the boasting, the finger wiping of glossy touch-screen maps and tech-heavy charts and the seemingly pointless interviews with people who don’t quit grasp the weight of which the reporter would like them to melt down on camera.
The coverage of this hurricane is excessive and over the top to say the least. Newscasters, over-animated and giddy with the smell of death on the horizon, exaggerate their adjectives and copycat catch phrases as each hit the tip of their lips. The “coulds”” and “woulds” of such possible destruction is irresistible to this cast of D-list actors hungry for their big chance at being the next Sam Champion or Dallas Rains (actual newscaster names, by the way). And while the situation is probably dire, I can’t help but chuckle over their absurd method to bring us such “news.”I literally laughed out loud at one point as a jubilant newscaster, reporting shin-deep in the water’s edge and desperately trying to stay upright, attempted her mighty reporting to a camera off in the distance. Of course wind doesn’t take kind to such arrangements and all we were left with was a silly man pantomiming in wet pants sunken into a storm-riddled shoreline.Needless to say, sensationalism has become the face of American news media and it does not bear well as I sit here ashamed in the lobby of my Boston hotel with my lot of British folk and friend shocked at the rate and awe of such reporting.
I admittedly fled here from New York City like the thousands of others, but not because of the fear of destruction. Instead, it was the off hand coincidence of my fiancé’s family flying into Boston that lured us out of Manhattan and up the coast to Boston. The idea of 80-mile-per-hour winds and torrential downpours excite me, don’t get me wrong, but not in the way the weather forecaster gets off on it. For me, it’s the way that imminent devastation brings people together in a goofy and forced way. I feed off of the interactions of others when they’re quarantined from their customarily cushy lives. It gives me the same satisfaction as a warm cup of cocoa and a fireplace during a blizzard in the Sierra. It’s comfort for me and I welcome it, regardless of the possible outcome.
Overzealous newscasters spitting nonsense
That’s not to say I don’t understand the possibilities at hand. I get it. No one wants endangerment to the human race or wreckage to his or her beloved property. On September 21st, 1938, The Long Island Express hurricane snuck up on New York and ended up stealing the lives of hundreds in the area. In 1906, the giant magnitude 7.9 San Francisco quake devastated an entire metropolis, ended up spurring a deadly fire and became one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. Those scratchy black and white images are forever imprinted into our minds and we fight tooth and nail to keep them as distant a memory as possible. But back then we didn’t have weather instruments that now allow us a voyeuristic peek into the second-by-second whereabouts of natural disasters personified with names like Andrew, Ike, Katrina, Ivan and Irene (the same instruments that are about to die off without additional funding). That technology gave us this god-like ability to stretch out prime time newscasts and interrupt our already brainless television habits with unnecessarily and ineptly timed “breaking” stories that progress us no further than the last.
The in-laws. Waiting for… nothing really
Now, as we play with the profitability and catchiness of such ruin, Mother Nature seems to take it a bit more serious, throwing all her cards at us at once. A rare East Coast earthquake only days ago, quickly became old news as the Hurricane of the Ages bore down on the Eastern Seaboard only to be once more trumped by a severe Tornado warning – all in the same region and all in the same time-frame.It is a rude awakening to just how poorly prepared we really are for such widespread wreckage. In the same vein of Orrin H. Pilkey’s article “When will we ever learn the lessons of hurricanes?, communities in vulnerable areas just pick up the pieces and set up shop again in the same spot. There truly is no logic in rebuilding in areas not made to withstand building in the first place, but unfortunately we are slow to lesson learning and like to believe our human ingenuity overpowers Mother Nature herself, but that’s just not the case. Mother Nature will have to actually deliver the “imminent devastation” often enough for us to perhaps change the way we look at our place in the world and that is a scary proposition. So as the rains and winds die down here in Boston and leave little to show for their human-predicted obliteration, I’ll venture to answer the title to Orrin’s article by simply saying: NEVER!All caps, bold, exclamation point.