Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Consuming catastrophe: Authenticity and emotion in mass-mediated disaster
by Recuber, Timothy, Ph.D., City University of New York, 2011, 259; 3477831
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation explores the interwoven fabric of news, entertainment, advertising, and commodities through which Americans have come to experience and understand four disasters of the past decade: the September 11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings, and the financial crisis. Chapter one examines the historical development of the consumption of disaster, from the eighteenth century excavation of Pompeii to the Space Shuttle Challenger's explosion in 1986. It argues that modern culture has increasingly come to value the seemingly fleeting aura or authenticity of mass-mediated images and mass-consumed products, and that this has contributed to the popularity of disasters in mass culture, since disasters are typically viewed as especially authentic. The importance of such authenticity is demonstrated in the second chapter, in which content analysis of television news broadcasts shows that the more immediate, authentic September 11 news coverage generated greater public trust in official risk assessments than did news coverage of the financial crisis, despite the very similar framing techniques employed in coverage of both disasters. The perceived realness of disaster allows even normally skeptical audiences to engage with disaster-related media and products in intensely emotional ways, as is demonstrated in chapter three. By examining two news broadcasts, one documentary film, and one reality television program devoted to Hurricane Katrina and the Virginia Tech shootings, the chapter argues that mass culture has increasingly adopted a kind of depoliticized, empathetic way of viewing the suffering of others. This alternative, empathetic norm is related to the rise of therapeutic, self-help culture, which is discussed in chapter four in conjunction with new forms of online commemoration. By studying digital archives devoted to September 11 and Hurricane Katrina, the chapter reveals that even new, online spaces of disaster mediation evince an individualistic, atomized version of the therapeutic ideal, in which contributing to an online archive is more about helping to heal oneself than helping to heal a community of others. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that disaster consumerism derails the communal or progressive potential of disasters by replacing them with individualistic, depoliticized acts of consumption.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ewen, Stuart
Commitee: Torpey, John, Zukin, Sharon
School: City University of New York
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 73/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern history, Sociology, Mass communications
Keywords: Aura, Authenticity, Consumption, Disaster, Empathy, Media
Publication Number: 3477831
ISBN: 978-1-124-94924-6
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