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."
Timothy Recuber is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Communication Department at Hamilton College.