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Friday, January 15, 2010

Random double-bullets of intemperate cranking

  • Welcome back to the new, revisionist Phantom Scribbler. You know, the one with no comments on any of the posts. Years of the pixie party vanished, just like that. Thanks a lot, The Company Formerly Known As Haloscan.

  • But I have to admit that I get some bizarre existential glee out of seeing it all wiped away and transformed into a years-long monomaniacal monologue.

  • Except when I had to wipe away the "We'll always have Hogwarts" sidebar. That gave me no glee whatsoever. None. Stupid Haloscan.

  • Also, in order to restore some comment function to this blog, I had to blunder around in my own code and royally screw things up. I think the only problem I still haven't figured out is the one currently on display in these double bullets. But if you find any other good ones, lemme know. Maybe I'll fix them someday. Or, you know, not.

  • Because I have already thoroughly bored all of my FB friends (and, I know, that category includes most of you still reading), I'll say it here one more time: Partners In Health. There is no better place to put your aid dollars.

  • If I might go on an intemperate rant for a moment, you know what I think is the second-best thing you can do for Haiti, after you make whatever donation you can afford? Turn off your fucking television. Why? Because every single person who has been flown into Haiti for any purpose other than to dig through rubble or treat patients or deliver aid is nothing but another example of the shameless exploitation of Haiti in particular and the endless profiteering on human suffering in general. Blah blah blah raising awareness blah blah blah. Our awareness has already been raised. And, besides which, our need to have our awareness raised is NOTHING compared to the need of the people who are suffering. Haitians don't need us to bear witness to their suffering -- they need relief for their suffering. Later, if and when the suffering is relieved, THEN will be the time to bear witness, if by that we mean "listening to Haitians tell their own stories, because they have determined that it helps them on their long road to healing if they can present those stories to others." NOT if it means, "CNN and other media organizations are using this compelling content to raise their audience numbers so that they can charge more money for their advertising slots." Really, if you spend more than a minute contemplating the fact that actual real money is changing hands so that one company can pay another company to advertise to you while you consume images of human suffering, your head will certainly explode.

  • And on that note. Happy 2010, all you vanishing pixies.


Blogger Tall Kate said...

You. are. the best! I just love, love, love your commentary on the matter. Now, how can we get you onto the editorial page of the New York Times? Because that's a message that needs to be heard, lady. Srsly.

1:00 PM, January 15, 2010  
Anonymous michaela said...

Hear, hear on the penultimate bullet. I was gobsmacked to hear that our local daily is sending a fotog/reporter team down "because a group of Mainers is running a hospital there." WTF?!?!?!? That's *really* the best use of those resources (for all involved)????

I literally have nothing coherent to say on this topic.

1:00 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Holly said...

I was at the doctor's office this week (where, of course, heaven forbid they shouldn't have a TV), and from the periphery of my attention, I realized that what was going on was Al Roker doing the nation's weather FROM HAITI. I mean, really? I'm still shaking my head.

1:14 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Magpie said...

I think my head just did explode. Oy.

And ditto on PIH - I've been a supporter ever since the Paul Farmer profile in the New Yorker 10 years ago.

1:23 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger kathy a. said...

excellent rant.

2:19 PM, January 15, 2010  
OpenID chichimama said...

Well said.

2:27 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger susan said...


2:36 PM, January 15, 2010  
Anonymous Rebecca said...

As a former TV news producer, I have mixed feelings about news crews in Haiti. Sending local TV news reporters - and heaven help us, Al Roker - to Haiti is in fact absurd. But I do think that those photos and the video help raise money. People need to know what's going on, and for better or for worse, most folks get their news from TV. Video is so much more immediate and powerful. (Too powerful for me - which is why I don't watch TV news anymore, at all, not even of Haiti coverage - but that's another story all together.) Powerful, personal stories add up to donations, a pattern I saw again and again in a local TV newsroom. But I have also seen first-hand the extraordinary waste of time and money in trying to send local reporters to the Major Disaster Scene - reporters who got a seat on a plane instead of a rescue worker, and just got in the way of real work happening and delivered silly stories anyway. I think the answer is some kind of pool coverage where only a limited amount of journalists are allowed in and they need to share their material. As the industry consolidates (guess that is a euphemism) perhaps corporate media will see the light on this.

3:02 PM, January 15, 2010  
Anonymous Cristina said...

We don't have tv so I have watched almost no video coverage. All it took for (scrooge) me to open my pocketbook were the stories and photos in the NY Times. In fact, before reading this blog post it didn't even occur to me that I was missing a whole media frenzy, I guess because I don't think much any more about what I'm missing on tv. I'm only bringing up my own humble perspective because I think it's interesting to think about how one's relationship to such disasters changes w/o tv; I'm sure, five years ago, I'd have been glued to the coverage. I'm also quite sure my donation would not have been any bigger than what I just gave.

5:29 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Paige said...

Amen. Also, you rock.

6:17 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Miche said...

Glad to see you back! Happy 2010!

Buh-bye comments ...

6:33 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

Oh, Rebecca, I agree with you on both counts: the unmatched power of video (that's why I stopped watching TV in general -- the emotional impact was too much for me), and that TV is still the best way to reach a lot of people, particularly older people who may not spend half their day bored and clicking around YouTube. But I also think that having camera crews on the scene was a much more ethically justifiable venture when TV news was not a 24/7 proposition. A five-minute video clip is enough to motivate people to donate. After that, it's just gluttonous consumption of other people's suffering.

(Also, I think TV news organizations are verging on no longer being the people most suited to deliver that five-minute video clip. I mean, if I'm going to get my news from an ideologically loaded and motivationally suspect source anyway, why shouldn't I get it direct from the blog of an aid organization?)

Cristina, I also think that I would have given the same amount if I had watched disaster coverage. But I would have felt more personally immersed in the disaster. And that's part of what I'm objecting to, I think. TV makes us feel emotionally engaged, but it's an emotional engagement that has no benefits for the victims unless it results in donations or concrete action to relieve their suffering. Once the donation is made, the only entity that continues to benefit from that emotional engagement is the one that gets to charge higher advertiser rates for larger audiences, you know?

6:44 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger S. said...

Cristina, I don't have TV either (we have a set for watching DVD's, but don't pay to unscramble the cable signal) so I'm where you are: I really only looked at the NYT and other photo coverage, but I would have given less--about 1/3 to 2/3 less--if I hadn't seen the visuals. We have a set amount we give and I wouldn't have gone over it if I hadn't really absorbed the depth and massiveness of the suffering, and the pictures brought that home for me in a way that words alone couldn't have.

But yesterday (the day after I gave) I spent two hours mostly ignoring CNN while stuck waiting for my car at the service place, and there was something about the earnest peddling of suffering that pushed my "stop it already" buttons. I think it's the commentary. The photos speak for themselves, but the white people in make-up performing their serious faces for the camera was just annoying.

8:48 PM, January 15, 2010  
Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

I SO agree with you about the TV coverage of Haiti. It's ghoulish. It makes me insane.

8:55 PM, January 15, 2010  
Anonymous Cristina said...

Phantom, I totally agree with what you're saying. Your last sentence nails it. And S., yes, the photos did make a big difference for me too. White American media "commentary": *heavy sigh*.

9:52 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger S. said...

Re: that last sentence of yours, Phantom (the one Cristina just made me re-read): there are also all the folks who benefit from the media attention being diverted from whatever else would otherwise be taking up the news cycle right now. Like health insurance companies and center-right US senators, f'rinstance.

9:56 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger esperanza said...

I think I mostly agree with you here--I feel the same way when families are videoed at funerals--that we are exploiting someone's tragedy for entertainment. Not like going-to-the-circus entertainment, but something to keep us occupied for a few minutes during the evening news. Leave the people in peace.

I also think the compulsion to send reporters to the scene of a tragedy (Al Roker? Really?) is at least partially result of our uniquely American compulsion to DO something. Maybe they aren't qualified to give medical help, but by golly, they're *doing* something. And those of us who watch it, by extension, feel like we're somehow doing something too, by participating in the suffering from a safe distance.

Of course, the good side of the "do something" compulsion is the outpouring of financial donations. (The stuff? not so helpful at this point, but that's another subject).

Thanks for posting. As always, you make me think.

10:28 PM, January 15, 2010  
Blogger K said...

I just got off the phone with my disaster-management-earthquake-responder father and he has forbidden our children to watch any of the TV coverage. Not because it is too violent. No. Because so many of the facts being reported are WRONG. The reporters are in the middle of chaos, have no access to 'wikipedia' as they write their reports and are quite possibly just making stuff up as go. They aren't experts, so it's quite understandable.

Instead, he has requested that we review this link with them:

Which is probably staid and boring to a normal human, but to my dad it is about as fascinating as can be.

He also went on a long rant about how every glass of water that Anderson Cooper drinks is one less glass of water that a dying Haitian child gets....but I'll spare you that.

He works with FEMA and the Red Cross and is absolutely furious, beyond furious, about all the resources that the news media are commandeering. He's been doing earthquake disaster response my entire life and I've never seen him quite this angry. (Well, maybe with the completely bungled Katrina response, but that's another story.)

8:43 AM, January 16, 2010  
Blogger Phantom Scribbler said...

K., I think your dad ought to be writing op-eds for the New York Times. That image of Anderson Cooper's glass of water is chilling.

10:25 AM, January 16, 2010  
Blogger robin andrea said...

Thank you so much for writing this, phantom. I have been feeling the same way. The news is like watching disaster porn. I don't even turn the TV on anymore. It didn't even occur to me that for every seat on a plane taken up by extraneous voyeurs is a seat unavailable for actual aid support. Or for every glass of water, bite of food, and comfortable bed a journalist has personally indulged is a simple and brutal denial of the facts on the ground. I sincerely thank you.

12:12 PM, January 16, 2010  
Blogger Betty M said...

Ah the advantage of public service broadcasting. There are plenty of BBC types in Haiti - the guy who was in the region anyway, the big name from London, the chap who is usually in the US - but thats all i've spotted so far. But to be frank if they weren't there the amount of cash donated from here would be way less than it has been (about £12million to the central fund so far). There is no colonial link with Haiti and few immigrants from there - without the tv pictures it would be just another random natural disaster to somewhere far away and people would just walk on by.

4:07 PM, January 16, 2010  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

It is times like this I very much appreciate the Swiss news model (or is it European, I don't watch enough Europe-wide news to know). The national news is on at 7:30 pm. The anchors (there are three, who rotate) are news anchors, not pop-culture/media stars. They read the news. They've been leading with Haiti for the first five to seven minutes or so. In that time they cover the situation on the ground, report on the status of Swiss who were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake (by numbers of missing/contacted, not by name), interview people from the Swiss Development Department about what help CH is/isn't offering (they took some heat for not sending a team right away but the head of DEZA was like: Dude, there is no room at the airport. We'll just be contributing to the chaos), in the first day they interviewed geologists who talked about the faultline. They always end the Haiti section by putting the donation account number of the main Swiss charity, which is highly respected, on the screen and the anchor reads out the number two or three times. In today's world I think it would be impossible for the news not to cover the earthquake, but they cover the basics and move on. There are no commercial breaks. Repeat, there are no commercial breaks during the news because we pay a broadcasting tax. The news does not have to sell media time to cover its expenses. So they don't go overboard on being all sensational get the audience so we can sell more ad time. They read the news. Then the news ends and the next news comes on at 10 minutes to 10. It's like actual news, not entertainment wearing news' dress.

4:51 AM, January 17, 2010  
Blogger liz said...

They show news on tv? Mine is permanently set to Nick.

11:42 AM, January 21, 2010  
Anonymous DaniGirl said...

Okay, what? The pixies are gone? Say it ain't so! I mean, it's not bad enough that my bloglines is so crammed with junk that I don't read it anymore and didn't know you'd been blogging and fits and starts, but all that pixie goodness is gone?

Oh, the humanity -- and the wallowing -- and the miles and miles of droll sarcasm... whimper.

7:38 PM, March 16, 2010  

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