Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dawn of the Desperate

As my dismay and horror at Katrina's aftermath linger, and in many ways keep building, I'm bothered by how many of the images emanating from the disaster rhyme with those of our most sickening horror films. Last year's Dawn of the Dead remake, which so powerfully distilled feelings of abandonment, of terror at one's own neighbors, and of desperately fragile, ramshackle communities under siege, keeps coming back as a visual framework for the Katrina photos, particularly those in and around the Superdome. With the exceptions that...

1. The dozen holdouts in Dawn of the Dead had a cavernous mall to themselves; the horror wasn't compounded by stepping in each other's shit or waking next to corpses.

2. The Dawn crew was trying to keep the dangers locked out, rather than being themselves locked in by an unimaginably backward "rescue" effort.

3. Less than half of the strandees in Dawn were people of color, virtually all of them skewing middle- or upper-middle-class, and so there was nothing systematic or socially determined about their plight.

4. The people who might have rescued them were actually, presumably, dead, rather than being so tardy in arriving and so flippant in public comportment that you'd think they were dead (paging Mr. Bush and the upper Administration).

5. The horror in Dawn was compounded by the omnipresence of guns, which some of the desperate survivors started turning on each other. (Wait, there's no difference there.)

6. No one knew what caused the rising up of the dead in Dawn. Anyone paying attention knew exactly where Katrina was coming from, not just in the context of days of climatological forewarning, but in the longterm context of telltale signs: virtually unchecked anti-environmentalism and global warming; slashed budgets for levee upkeep; massive drainage of resources by an unnecessary war and a re-elected administration with socially destructive priorities; willful discounting of the many scientific, governmental, and journalistic Cassandras who saw this coming; and entrenched social schisms that simmer away and erupt in such an emergency. Even our national surprise comes tinged, at least among people I'm talking to, with a strong sense that something like this has been coming for a long while. Too many roads all leading in the same direction. Who needs a Bible when prophecy is this harrowingly easy?

7. The terrifying nihilism that consumes Dawn results in death for almost everyone. The terrifying nihilism that has been catalyzed in and around New Orleans is a hot thing, geysering to the social surface the deficiencies in our government and the prejudices in our own society—as though these things were ever less than obvious to begin with. Living in a country where all of this inequity and lethal stratification has been crystallized for everyone to see is going to be no mean feat. What figure, even in art, do we have for how a society moves on or recombines after something like this? Who will lead us?

Katrina and its aftermath are more terrifying than even the fictional and impressively terrifying scenario of Dawn, much more terrifying than 9/11 if you ask me (not to indulge in the morbid act of sizing up grotesque tragedies), and, however unwanted, as with the worst horror movies, the sequels to Katrina—social, emotional, fiscal, medical, even natural—will be multiple and awful.



Blogger tim r said...

It's so weird that you've done this - I was just about to e you about seeing Land of the Dead the other day, and being very struck by the resonances there too. Particularly the last line: "They're just looking for a home". I thought passages of the movie were a little murky and undercooked, and I need to see it again, but there's no doubt that Romero has made yet another eerily prescient piece of work. I only wish this weren't the case.

3:07 AM, September 04, 2005  

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