CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
October 6, 2005
In case you were under the delusion that our tacky culture couldn’t possibly get any tackier, check out your local supermarket newsstand this week. Shelved next to the latest dieting magazines and word search puzzles, you’ll find copies of “Remembering Katrina,” the official Hurricane Katrina souvenir program.
The glossy 64-page “pictorial record,” suitable for coffee table display for those of us whose coffee tables are not under water, is stuffed with color photos of victims clamoring for food and helplessly staring at their destroyed homes. The $6 souvenir program also includes a scorecard of the “most intense” U.S. hurricanes since 1851, with an apologetic disclaimer that Katrina’s ranking could not be determined at press time.
“However, residents who experienced the fury of this powerful hurricane know that no big storm can be taken lightly,” the magazine condescendingly adds.
“Remembering Katrina” includes no bylines, masthead or information on how to contact the publisher, MMI Publications. The reason for their low-key demeanor is obvious. The editors couldn’t possibly purchase enough dental insurance to cover the amount of facial punches they deserve.
A Google search on MMI Publications only turns up a French-language Web site mentioning “Celebrity Style Hairstyle Specials Presents… Desperate Housewives and Other Prime-Time Vixens.” At least they had the class not to critique the hairstyles of hurricane victims.
It turns out that the legitimate media — the magazines and newspapers that do take credit for their work – doesn’t score much higher on the integrity scale when it comes to natural disaster coverage. An investigation by the Times-Picayune of New Orleans determined that reports of widespread assaults, rapes and murders – especially at the Superdome refugee center — were wildly exaggerated rumors “treated as fact by evacuees, the media and some of New Orleans’ top officials.”
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had declared on Oprah that Superdome refugees were trapped for days “watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people.” According to the Baltimore Sun, other phony reports included an infant’s corpse being found in a trash can, sharks swimming through the flooded city and hundreds of dead bodies piling up in the convention center basement.
The latest official casualty numbers are 885 dead, with less than 10 believed to be the victims of homicide.
Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss inexplicably pulled out the race card in an interview with the Sun, claiming that if “the dome and convention center had harbored large numbers of middle-class white people, it would not have been a fertile ground for this kind of rumor-mongering.”
Big disconnect for me there. Are blacks more afraid of sharks than whites? Did any journalists, black or white, track down a marine biologist to verify the likelihood of sharks surviving in extremely polluted river water?
So, the news media does a collective confession that serious journalism mistakes were made, but what about the veracity of the investigation of these rumors? Here’s a peek at next week’s headline: “REPORTS OF MEDIA EXAGGERATION WERE GROSSLY EXAGGERATED.”
Meanwhile, much closer to home, a Massachusetts woman told the Metrowest Daily News that the brutal stabbing she witnessed at the Superdome was no exaggeration. Adrienne Long, of Holliston, was stranded in New Orleans after bringing her son to Tulane University. She said she saw two men fighting over a bottle of Jack Daniels. One man repeatedly beat and stabbed theother with a wooden stick.
“I saw the guy with all the holes in him and his head,” she said, adding that “nobody helped him because nobody wanted to get involved.”
Just a guess, but I assume Ms. Long won’t be rushing out to the supermarket to buy a souvenir program.
Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column runs every Thursday in Encore. Reader comments are welcomed via email at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.