Friday, August 15, 2003

Power Failures Hit US and Canada

Yes, I watched a fair amount of CNN today (thanks Jon!). Yes, the dark skyline of New York looked awesome against the sunset, and I got way too hyper over the red and white stripes of Manhattan's avenues -- color indicated which direction the one way went. But, really, it's just electricity. We lived without it for thousands of years. I'm very glad it wasn't (to our present knowledge) an "attack" that lead to much of the Eastern US and Canada being in the dark. However, the specter of The Day That Made It Patriotic To Shop needs no further invoking. It is done. Make them stop.

From Mayor Bloomberg's "a lot of people walked down a lot of stairs today" to the BBC's ode to the non-attack, the ghostly image has lurked. I say, it is a ruse. Sure, there really are no lights in NYC. But today, when folks walked down the stairs, or across the bridges, they were walking. They were not saving themselves, running as fast as they could from billiowing smoke and falling debris. They were not watching co-workers who did not run fast enough choose to leap from upper stories rather than burn to death. Yet, for the gravity of the TV coverage, it may as well have been happening all over again.

This seems symptomatic of the way in which those who shape public perception operate: keep them afraid of the dark. Maybe it's a blackout, with night coming on. Maybe, as Michael Moore points out in "Stupid White Men," it's an anonymous, ubiquitous black face that has come to represent crime and violence to much of white America, despite overwhelming evidence that crime is more likely to happen intra-racially and violence is most likely to be suffered at the hands of an aquaintance, family member, or spouse. Whatever its manifestation, the darkness has proven an easy fear to sell (see Barry Glassner's "The Culture of Fear" for a detailed examination of the strange things Americans are afraid of and the dumb-assed reasons why). There are so many great metaphors that help peddle antidotes to darkness, who could resist? New intelligence measures implemented with the passing of the Patriot Act will "shed light on" terrorist activity in the US; from there it's a short jaunt to "bringing to light" the ones "responsible" for each terrorist act world-wide. There was a lot of light shedding over in Iraq, too, but the infamous, deadly WMD still reside in darkness.

I happen to frequently like the dark. Hell, most of the time I revel in it (if I weren't busy ranting, I'd be doing so now... until I fell asleep). It doesn't scare me to be without light -- I know that the sun rose and set in a stable pattern long before Thomas Edison took up kite flying. The blackout doesn't scare me, though I'm sure that folks in Manhattan were terrified, at least at first. And the poor folk caught in the subway -- now those people with some very legitimate discomfort. Me? I'm just amused right now. It'll get sorted out, and maybe we'll learn from it and fix the power grid up a bit (not holding my breath). So far, no one's been killed or injured (to my knowledge), so I'll count that a blessing. And I heard one of the funniest things today: people are rioting in Ottawa, but not in New York. Fear the Canadians!!!


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