Saturday, September 10, 2005

Spectacular Vulnerability

Usually we associate spectacles with displays of strength and coordination — parades, marching bands, air shows with fighter pilots soaring high, stadium half-time shows. But Katrina offered us spectacular displays of vulnerability, desperation, and political impotence.

Poverty at home — not the swollen-bellied poverty of far-off Darfur or tsunami-ravaged Indonesia or Thailand, but American poverty — was rendered telegenic. And the racial class and caste system that is usually glossed over came into sharp and undeniable focus.

Economic vulnerabilty that is usually private and invisible was made spectacularly public. Like the fingerprints rendered into evidence at a crime scene — for this sort of poverty in a nation as wealthy as the U.S. can only be thought of as criminal — the storm waters traced the usually invisible lines into stark relief.

As the waters rose, the frayed and threadbare social safety net was all too apparent as tens of thousands of people fell through, stranded on roofs, in a squalid convention center and sports arena, or wading through chest-deep vermin-infested and toxin-ladden flood waters.

I had a chance to speak with business journalist David Schepp about these issues earlier this week.