Reality Television

The spectacle in New Orleans only confirms to many what has been apparent for a long time. One of the very few silver linings to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, (as well as other calamitous disasters like 9/11), is the profound reality it exposes, the resulting awareness of how things are, as opposed to how we wish them to be. Whether Bush is to 'blame' for instance is so irrelevant as to be laughable if it was not a symptom of a very serious malady. Americans (and most of the West) have become an unserious people. The national and international discourse following the tragedy reveals the utter lack of understanding about the nature of our dilemma. Our 'problems' as the politicians and pundits like to say, are not political, economic, educational, or racial; they stand revealed as cultural and, at base, moral.

During the long stretches of peace, the resulting decline of our common culture is hidden in the vibrant consumer and entertainment driven remnant of a once proud Republic. Through inertia we wake, work, buy and sell, recreate and vote, living on assumptions and foundations built by our fathers, unaware of the rot and mould. Only when a startling event occurs to rock us from our clueless lethargy do we become aware, as we gaze appalled at the results of our moral decline.

From day to day we exist in an unreal world of modern construct; instant entertainment, physical comfort, heat, air—conditioning, abundant food, technological gadgetry to amuse and placate, government insured financial security, and a ever—growing monolithic federal sugar—daddy to cradle us and keep us from harm, taking special care to shield us, of course, from any mention or reference to God.

We avidly measure our happiness with polls of every sort. Basing our contentment on ever—rising income levels, election returns, and presidential favorability reports. We cheer the rising stockmarket and worry about inflation, meanwhile every cultural indicator is a cause for alarm, illegitimacy rates, divorce rates, educational scores, savings rates, household debt, our entertainment industry awash and sodden with filth.

Increasingly, our moral choices turn on an economics or convenience. Shades of gray get shadier and shadier. Should a baby be delivered or killed in the womb? Should we pull the plug on Grandpa? Should white—collar crime of the Martha Stewart variety be condemned and punished or condoned as business as usual? Lying to a Grand Jury —impeachment anyone? Moral wrongs turned upside—down to be championed as 'rights.' Who is to judge? 

Why then be shocked by New Orleans? To loot or not to loot? that is the question. 

Even the good and noble inhabit an unreal world of fantasy. Proud of our past and patriotic to the core, they fight and defend an America as unreal as it is largely forgotten. Do the young warriors in Iraq see the democracy they are installing, a mirror of our glorious beginnings, as it is, or as they wish it to be? Will Baghdad become New Orleans on the Euphrates? Ask yourselves, would the valiant marines that perished on Iwo Jima recognize the nation for which they gave the ultimate sacrifice, a nation adrift on a sea of Asian debt, consumerism, pornography on demand, gay rights and Oprah worship?

A tragic blessing in travail, our leaders have been shown the as ineffectual blowhards they have long been. We have been humbled by the elements. Inadequate to the most essential demands, governments show themselves as positively destructive.

In nature there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences. 

Katrina and its aftermath invite us to ponder some serious questions. Who are we? What do we commonly represent? What is important? And where do we go from here?

Andrew Sumereau is a frequent contributor.