We’ll Make A Drama Out Of A Crisis
I think it’s going to be me one day. You know the ones. The person who won’t leave their home despite the impending earthquake. The farmer continuing to till their fields on the side of the volcano despite the plume of smoke rising in the background. Or the sailor setting a course that takes them directly into the path of the forecast hurricane.
“Why do they do it?” everyone asks, or “Why don’t they listen to the warnings?” Well, I increasingly think I know why, which leads me to the conclusion that one day I too, will be on your screens as the blinkered individual who didn’t listen.
It’s not that we (yes, ‘we’, you can see how far gone I am), don’t understand the concept of risk. Of course we do. And it’s not that we think we are somehow immune to danger. It’s a little more subtle than that. We just resent the huge amount of drama that the news coverage insists on stirring in to every report of potential disruption or harm. And we don’t trust it anymore.
Take the storm that has been approaching the U.K. for the last few days. First it was a few isobars on the long range forecast. Next it was worthy of a distinct mention on the weekly forecast, with a cheery “We’ll keep you posted on that one.”
By the weekend however, it had become front page news. Amber alerts had been issued, worried looks plastered to the faces of every weatherperson across the country and the ubiquitous terms – ‘damage’, ‘disruption’, ‘hurricane’, ‘extremely strong winds’ are employed, not to mention that old chestnut – ‘haven’t seen this since the last … (insert suitable historical gap here)… years’.
But I knew the media were really going in for the kill last (Sunday) night when we were finally presented with the ‘on location’ reporter. Like the fifth crewman on a Star Trek landing party, desperately trying to avoid wondering ‘why me?’; dressed in hi-vis jacket, looking concerned and hardy – usually undermined by local people in the background carrying on as normal.
Most of us in the U.K. are used to this by now – see my Snow reports here.
(Perhaps most cringe-worthy was the headline “Insurance Firms Braced For Multiple Claims.” Oh no, not that! A sure sign of impending doom. Whatever happened to one firms tag line – “We won’t make a drama out of a crisis”?)
Perhaps the most ludicrous circle of conceit, or even deceit, was around the South’s transport system. Due to the issuing of an ‘amber warning’ – which, for the uninitiated means ‘expect travel disruption’ – the rail operators decided to cancel trains en masse before the arrival of the storm. Consequently there is… you guessed it, travel disruption. Not because of any actual damage of course, but because the train companies had cancelled services.
In reality what the transport system didn’t want to have were lots of commuters cluttering up their platforms, complaining that a few trains were delayed. And, to be honest, I can see their point. I’d already seen this happen when I was in New York for Hurricane Irene. The ferry operators too, were probably thinking they didn’t want lots of travellers throwing up on their ships while waiting to leave port, or clogging up their waiting lounges while they wait. Fair enough.
But to say that ‘The Storm’ had caused all this is very misleading. The storm hadn’t actually caused all this. It was our preparation for the storm.
Now most of us, I like to think, could cope with this level of announcement: “We’re closing down just in case there are too many delays and we want to save you a long wait.” What I can’t abide is the “Worst Storm In Ten Years Creates Travel Chaos!” approach.
So people like me lose faith in the accuracy of the reporting and start to take risks.
Imagine you had a friend who was a film reviewer. The only trouble is, nearly every film they review is either ‘epic’ or ‘spectacular’ or even worse – ‘The best (action/romance/sci-fi etc) film for ten years!’ In actual fact most of them are pretty mundane. What happens? You start to mistrust their judgement and aim off.
“Ah, they say it’s ‘spectacular’ which probably means it’s got a couple of big fight scenes.” ‘Classic’ comes to mean derivative. ‘Imaginative’ becomes slightly off centre. ‘Must see’ means it has a few laughs. How much better if they spared us the hyperbole and let us make up our own mind. “This film has some violence in it so if you don’t like that sort of thing, don’t go and see it.”
“If you are on a cliff edge or in a wood where there are lots of old trees do be careful. Otherwise, you’ll probably be fine. Oh, and if trains are cancelled you won’t be able to use them.”
So there I go, continuing my hike into the mountains despite the big breaking news of ‘Avalanche Chaos.’ Or rigging up my boat despite the warnings of the ‘Worst seas for thirty years’. Why? Because I just don’t believe them any more. I have substituted their overly dramatic lexicon of warnings for my own milder version. ‘Thousands at risk of Volcanic eruption’ has become ‘So the volcano is smoking. What are the chances?’
Perhaps the saddest footnote to this reaction is that, just occasionally, some of the un-believers will be caught out. And then we will become just more fodder for the headlines, reinforcing the very hyperbole that we were actually trying to ignore:
- Snow Joke
- The Snow Strikes Back
- Oh Come On Irene
- Live: St Jude storm to hit the UK – but we may just miss the brunt of it (manchestereveningnews.co.uk)
- Britain being slammed by one of worst storms in years (cbsnews.com)
- Stormageddon: UK Braces For Severe Storm (huffingtonpost.com)
- UK braced for hurricane-force ‘St Jude’ storm (abc.net.au)