Examines the media's coverage of four American disasters, arguing that media attention directs our concern for the suffering of others toward efforts to soothe our own emotional turmoil
Mass Culture in America's Decade of Disaster
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Horrified, saddened, and angered: That was the American people's reaction to the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings, and the 2008 financial crisis. In Consuming Catastrophe, Timothy Recuber presents a unique and provocative look at how these four very different disasters took a similar path through public consciousness. He explores the myriad ways we engage with and negotiate our feelings about disasters and tragedies—from omnipresent media broadcasts to relief fund efforts and promises to "Never Forget."
Recuber explains how a specific and "real" kind of emotional connection to the victims becomes a crucial element in the creation, use, and consumption of mass mediation of disasters. He links this to the concept of "empathetic hedonism," or the desire to understand or feel the suffering of others.
The ineffability of disasters makes them a spectacular and emotional force in contemporary American culture. Consuming Catastrophe provides a lively analysis of the themes and meanings of tragedy and the emotions it engenders in the representation, mediation and consumption of disasters.
"Consuming Catastrophe is a fascinating contemporary-historical analysis of a cluster of major recent disasters, complete with exploitation, media roles, and ‘authentic ’ emotions. Recuber provides imaginative methods and probing conclusions about the vulnerabilities of American individualism."
"Recuber draws from a wide variety of theoretical perspectives spanning the fields of media sociology, cultural studies, and psychoanalysis to illuminate the way catastrophes, both natural and social, are mediated in the new media environment. The result is the most complete discussion of catastrophe media available. In Consuming Catastrophe, we learn the limits of mediated empathy, fear, and redemption in our society's attempts to come to grips with the ‘reality ’ of catastrophe. But it is the nature of a realistic take on catastrophe that is itself at issue in post-mediated society. Creative, learned, and singular in its perspective on interpreting catastrophe and its coverage, Consuming Catastrophe is a fresh take on an increasingly important issue."
"My impression is that Recuber, far from chastising us as a generation of moral ghouls feasting on disaster, actually regards sympathy as our original or default mode of moral perspective (rather as some 18th-century thinkers did). His case studies of disasters from 2001 to 2010 are, in effect, accounts of sympathy being frustrated, exploited or otherwise short-circuited in diverse ways by the channels into which the media directs it."
"Consuming Catastrophe is a must read for emergency managers and those interested in the disaster space. Recuber provides insight into the connectivity between media and disaster which is a topic that anyone working in the emergency management space should better understand, especially in today's environment where phenomena such as 'fake news' are drivers in how disaster responses are being covered.... An eye opening read on the continued desire for media sensationalism, which may come at the expense of those impacted by disaster."
"Consuming Catastrophe is an insightful, innovative, interesting foray into mass media and disaster that could—and should—spark further scholarly attention, especially employing the empathetic hedonism construct Recuber has developed."
"(T)he bulk of Consuming Catastrophe applies discourse analysis and close readings to various disaster-related cultural artifacts: television news broadcasts and programs, documentaries, and online memory banks.... The book's greatest strength lies in its conceptual vocabulary and schema for theorizing the interplay among socially constructed media narratives, media technologies, the subjectivities and psychology of media consumers, and elite interests..... The book also offers a novel analysis of how individualistic capitalist social relations—with consumption practices standing in as the salve for the ills of modern life—have shifted response to the suffering of others inward in the form of personal demonstrations of empathy. Consuming Catastrophe is a thought-provoking and conceptually rich book that contributes to the literatures on disasters, mass media, and consumption. Scholars of these fields—especially those appreciating qualitative methods and textual analysis—will surely find the book useful."
"Thorough research, thought-provoking ideas, and analyses of varied contemporary disasters make this book a useful read for students of disaster/crisis communication or media literacy."
"The book's strength is in its narrative nature and ability to situate the studies around a similar thematic argument.... While the chapters are longer because of their richness of detail, each one is a complete study with substantial method, findings, and discussion. Each chapter creates its own strong narrative about consumption of catastrophe and the culture Americans have developed as a result of the lens provided by the 11 September attacks."
Timothy Recuber is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Communication Department at Hamilton College.