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Foreign Correspondent

Being the Ongoing Tales, Triumphs, Struggles (mostly struggles) and Occasional Adventures of Freelance Foreign Correspondent Shawn Gerald Blore, based in Rio de Janeiro

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Thoughts on Katrina and Television

My apologies to any who attempt to read this blog regularly. Been a long time since the last update. For the month of August I was out on the road, researching an update to the Frommer’s Guide to Brazil, one of the projects I do to keep myself from starving.

Intellectually, the work is not a great challenge (though for restaurant reviews one does have to come up with a cornucopia of synonyms for ‘good’), but it does get me out into the far flung bits of Brazil.

On the other hand, while out on the road I missed my chance to do a quick hit on the bank robbery in Recife, and I missed much of the early coverage of Katrina.

Speaking of which, just flipped on the tube to kill an idle half-hour, and after flipping past a Fox update on Katrina I hit upon yet another of the missing persons shows – they are legion on TV now – Missing, Cold Case, Cold Play, etc – and I couldn’t but marvel at the irony in the juxtaposition.

Television is wish-fulfillment. Viewers see a world they wish was real. Judging by the popularity of the Cold Case shows, what America wants is a government that looks after them: a dedicated cadre of civil-servants, well-educated, well-spoken, balanced for race and gender but all equally good looking, who efficiently make use of all the technology for which America is famous (plus good old American common sense) to make sure that no child stays missing, no mother left to ponder the fate of a missing son, no murder left unpunished. In the show, these super civil servants provide this service to all Americans, regardless of race or class or gender. No Citizen Left Behind.

Now compare this to the reality exposed in the Katrina disaster: nursing homes full of old people abandoned to drown or die in the heat; black residents, men, women, and children, attempting to flee the city centre, driven back across the bridges by gun-toting white suburban sheriffs with order to shoot to kill; corpses left to rot on the street for a week. Every Man for Himself, and the Devil and the rising floodwaters take the hindmost.

In Brazil, television is also wish-fulfillment. That’s why so many novelas (prime-time soaps) feature a Rio de Janeiro populated by beautiful upper middle class white people. But in Brazil, this is fantasy. Rio never was this, and no matter what Brazilians do, it never will be.

But Americans could have a government that cared. Americans have had a effective civil service composed of dedicated and efficient professionals. They could have it again. All they would have to do is vote for it. Just mark a ballot. Instead they vote for a nitwit cowboy who hates government and has nothing but contempt for civil servants, a man who has looted the treasury and debased the civil service. Do Americans see this? Do they add up the costs in taxes and decide an efficient compassionate government their TV habits say they want would just cost too much money. Do they decide they want that government, but only for themselves? Or are they just too clueless to get it? I wish I knew.

More reports on Brazil in the days that follow. I promise.