Thursday, February 06, 2003
Aldaily linked to a few items concerning the Columbia coverage and wondering what the fuss was about. First up, John Balzar:
Columbia's midair breakup was a shocking event, we were told. To those who were in the debris path, it no doubt was. Perhaps the same for those who take their emotional cues from TV announcers. But the remainder of us? Is it really shocking to learn that something as risky as entering the Earth's atmosphere from space at more than 12,000 mph results in a fatal accident?
From long experience, we know that humans and fast-moving machines are a dangerous mix. Extrapolating from annual statistics, we can estimate that about 115 people die each day in the U.S. from traffic accidents -- events that are shocking to survivors and families of the victims but not beyond. What is really shocking are the grandiose generalizations, the repetitive hyperbole and the sheer echo-chamber volume and mass that accompany the periodic blow-up of big news accounts these days.
Here is the broader concern: We live in an era when democracy is eroding, when dialogue between leaders and citizens is closer to one-way spectacle than the deliberation of a free people. The extreme valorization of the space shuttle and the choreographed pageantry of, say, the recent State of the Union speech seem disconcertingly of a piece.
Meanwhile, fewer people vote, fewer have time for school board meetings, yet we seem to have plenty of time to watch spectacle on TV. You can sense a drift to something not quite totalitarian but far from Jeffersonian.
And Will Leitch:
Several reasons exist for the quietly callous reaction many have had to the disaster. For anyone over the age of 23, the memories of the 1986 Challenger explosion are still fresh. Like many schoolchildren at the time, I watched live in my fifth-grade classroom as the heroic Christa McAuliffe – a teacher, just like Mrs. Lawyer and Mrs. McRoberts – was set to cross that threshold, show that anyone could go into space, break through to that whole other world above. When that closeup shot of the Challenger – with its small spark before the actual explosion, a millisecond of hey, what was that? -- revealed the detonation into oblivion, it scarred us all forever. A world shared in pain and shock; it had happened to all of us, at once.
Saturday provided our television culture less catharsis. Most of the country wasn’t watching the reentry live. Space travel isn’t as exciting as it once was; trips to the international space station have become routine, at least in the public consciousness. We’re preoccupied with matters on earth. And the few images we were provided of the shuttle ripping apart through the Texas skies weren’t the most compelling anyway; in this age, we need extreme closeup to even feel anything. If we can even do that.
This last piece in particular strikes a note I've noticed some other commentators also hitting that has frankly annoyed the hell out of me. Jim Henley, for example, not to mention that Reynolds guy (scroll down to Feb. 1):
But I felt almost immediately that this wouldn’t be another Challenger in terms of its mass emotional impact. There are a lot of reasons for this. The first is that we’ve already had our Challenger...
That's right, it's happened once so when it happens again it doesn't matter so much. I'm sure the families of the Columbia crew would be delighted to be told the deaths of their loved ones were of less import than the deaths of the Challenger crew because the latter died first...