Fri Sep 12th, 2008 at 07:36:26 PM EST
I'm currently watching live Ike coverage on a stream from ABC13. It's not reassuring. In spite of a NOAA public advisory literally guaranteeing certain death for people who don't evacuate, the roving journalists are interviewing people who are fooling around in the wind by the coast, their flimsy wooden beach-front houses behind them.
The coastal storm surge is predicted to be 15-17 ft, with up to 25 ft inland. At low tide 7 hours ahead of landfall, areas are already underwater and there's evidence of a surge of 9ft or so. So there's going to be at least another 6ft of water to come - at best - on top of the usual tidal variation. Plus an extra 5-10 ft from wave crests.
Even so, between 20-40% of the population have stayed behind. Some remember a 14 hour non-evac on a freeway ahead of Rita, and don't want to go through a similar experience again. Some are staying in tall stone buildings which are reasonably likely to survive.
But others are in one or two storey wooden boxes, and the anchors on ABC13 are stretching their ability to be euphemistically circumspect to their limits. Apparently these people are 'going to be in for a surprise', and staying 'really isn't a good idea.' The emergency services are 'frustrated' - sometimes even 'very frustrated' - with their attitude. There's been footage of people in a beach-side bar saying they'll be fine because their house is on stilts, followed by them hoping that the surge won't be more than ten feet because 'That would be bad.' One shopkeeper has stayed open for as long as possible, and a news crew faithfully shot video of water lapping over his sandals and feet as he served customers. (How far off the ground is mains wiring in the walls of Texas stores?)
I suppose anchors aren't allowed to say 'Get the fuck out or die, you lunatics.' But that's TV. In among a storm of blather, rescued labradors, and ZOMG!, a hard fact slips by every minute or three, and it's easy to miss it if you're feeling the awe.
Parallels to the election are obvious. It's impossible to think critically, and difficult to plan rationally, while watching news, because it's mainlined electronic ADHD. Trivia and essentials are equally weighted, and there's no time to think through consequences or implications because now it's over to the next segment with our roving reporter/meteorologist/significant re-used footage.
But it's also addictive. The unreality of reality, which includes the fact that on a bad day reality can kill you without blinking, is easily lost in a maze of reportage, maps, fast cuts, wobbly camera work, excitable anchors, and people in uniform making speeches.
Also, crawling text.
Before it turned into another free-market zombiefied corpo-bot, the BBC's aims were 'to educate, entertain, and inform.' These still seem like good goals today, but perhaps the language needs to change. Messages do still seem to percolate through today's twitch-media, and given the facts, most of Texas has decided to act rationally.
Some of the people who didn't get the story about Ike will die.
It's hard to guess what slow-news would look like, and harder still to speculate if they'd have had more of a chance in a slow-media culture. But for the future, it's worth wondering if tamer news presentation could perhaps be less distracting and more socially useful than today's traditional fact-squirt blip-media culture. It might also, at a wild guess, turn out to be better for participation and practical bottom-up democracy as well.