‘Do Americans love the fact that they’ll never feel safe again?’

Adam Griffiths

All you have to do is look as far as your favorite 24/7 news Web site. The headlines speak for themselves. Take these from CNN:

“Midwest storms deliver knockout punch to power.”

“Final mine bore finds no sign of life.”

“Two die in fiery hot-air balloon crash.”

Even the last issue of the Summer Kent Stater.

” ‘We knew we couldn’t win’.”

As the second anniversary of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has come and passed this week, it’s not hard to realize we’ve gotten to a point where these things don’t requisite a double take. It’s safe and unrealistic to say that Americans deal with the worst disasters of the world today. We haven’t had our tsunami. Open-air markets aren’t the deathbeds they are in other nations. Our brewing religious divide has yet to split the country into blood-shedding sects.

But for all of this and more, Americans love tragedy. We watched in Oklahoma as Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols destroyed the downtown Murrah Building and killed 168 people. We watched as terrorists flew jets into the Twin Towers. We watched the lawlessness and chaos that enveloped the refugees huddled in the Superdome as we flipped through photo spread after photo spread of trapped residents and scenes of natural disaster in New Orleans. We all but popcorn and pay $9 a ticket as the evening news seems more and more like the latest Bruce Willis action thriller.

Americans love before and after stories. We contrast the image of the half-destroyed Oklahoma City federal building with the serene, respectful memorial dedicated by former President Clinton in 2000. The same setting where six years ago firefighters erected a flag in Iwo-Jima memorial-esque media infamy is now watched by a 24/7 Web cam situated to follow the progress, or lack there of, that is being made on a memorial. Images of the clean, brand new Superdome from 32 years ago pitted against shots of the filth and seeming despair of those endless days from August 2005 enhance the entertainment and further desensitize the public lapping it all up.

So you have to wonder: Do Americans love the fact that they’ll never feel safe again? We install home security networks, encrypt the living daylights out of our computers and think increasing so-called security forces will prevent tomorrow’s all-caps headline. But when we lock up at night, do we really worry about someone breaking in, or is it habit? Do security officers make us feel safer, more apprehensive or simply more likely to be in the background when they escort out the latest thief?

The bigger dilemma is whether or not there’s a problem with that. The Time magazine cover story about the anniversary of Katrina that ran last month began with a good point:

“The most important thing to remember about the drowning of New Orleans is that it wasn’t a natural disaster. It was a man-made disaster, created by lousy engineering, misplaced priorities and pork-barrel politics.”

It’s no different than the numerous other disasters and tragedies that our generation has faced from an early age. The next time you see a breaking-news alert, take it in stride.

Are you being entertained, or are you being informed?

Adam Griffiths is a sophomore magazine journalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].