Image Credit: The Birkes via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

When I was a kid I loved a good storm. I would gather every bucket I could find and place them around the back of our house to catch the rainwater pouring down eaves. While it rained I’d man the buckets, moving them to more efficient places, pouring smaller pails into bigger containers. I’d keep these buckets for weeks after the storm until the water turned brown from dirt and dead leaves and I would have to dump them out. Maybe I kept the water because we lived in a desert, or maybe because I wanted to keep something of the storm around after it had passed, because I hoped to capture a part of its grandeur.

Watching news coverage of storms, I would always hope for something really terrible to happen: mudslides, flash flooding, cars floating down the street, sink holes, people stranded on rooftops rescued by helicopter or boat. It’s not that I wanted people to die, I just wanted some truly incredible thing to happen, some tragedy that shook the foundations of civilization, even if it was only momentary. I felt about the same towards fires, earthquakes, mass shootings, riots, all those events that a healthy person laments and prays will never come.

Unfortunately, I’m ashamed to report, these feelings have not matured a whole lot in 20 years. I still get a thrill at the news of a great disaster and a part of me still hopes that it will be worse than expected, something wholly out of our control. The difference is that I’m old enough now to repress these feelings and ideas so that I don’t generally show my excitement when people’s lives are in danger, but it’s still there whether I admit it or not.

So, when images and reports of Hurricane Sandy hitting the East Coast start to come in on Twitter and Facebook, I felt that thrill again, particularly the images from New York City. Images of blackness where there should have been Union Square. Shots of streets flooding. Reports of the Statue of Liberty going dark. Hospitals losing backup power and having to evacuate. I’ll admit it. I didn’t read these reports and stare at these images because I had a sincere desire to pray for these poor people. I was interested because something fantastic was happening. I suspect I’m not the only one, either.

Image Credit: Glyn Lowe Photoworks via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

It’s never been easier to be in the midst of a natural disaster or tragedy from some safe distance. You can get instant images and reports from a multitude of sources in the middle of the event with little-to-no commentary or time to distance you from it thanks to social networks. This information might grant us the ability to care for, pray for, and provide for those in need more immediately and sympathetically, but it doesn’t, at least, not always. Instead, quite the opposite tends to happen: a natural disaster turns into yet another disembodied, raw factoid to be molded into endless iterations of memes and ironic statuses and thinly-veiled voyeurism. Obviously this isn’t always the case, but it is frequent enough to cause us to reflect on our reactions to Hurricane Sandy.

Consider, for example, how quickly fake images of the storm began to spread across the web. Or the fact that before the storm even hit, Twitter was flooded with ironic, humorous tweets about the storm–comments about how Romney would try to blame Obama for Sandy. Or how Obama would blame the storm on a YouTube video. Don’t get me wrong, these comments were funny. But they were also ridiculously callus to what was actually happening at that very moment to millions of people on the East Coast.

Image Credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

None of this is surprising to us, probably. By now we’re all pretty used to the ultra-inappropriate humor that defines the internet. And the media’s coverage of storms has been sensationalistic for decades, selling us natural disasters as reality TV for higher ratings. But being self-aware is our post modern condition. We get that we’re being hurtful and insensitive and voyeuristic when we trivialize an event like Sandy for retweets and Facebook Likes, but that’s kinda what makes it so funny. We know better, but we do it anyway. And perhaps something similar goes on when we get a voyeuristic thrill out of looking through images of tragedies–we know we shouldn’t use the pictures as an object for our pleasure, but we do it anyway. We are entertained by Hurricane Sandy.

Maybe we do it because we desperately want there to be something uncivilized, unaccounted for, uncontrolable in our world, something to remind us that our lives cannot be reduced to the ordered world of modernity. Or maybe we do it because our lives are oversaturated with tragedies from all over the world and our technology has invited us to objectify the suffering of others and to treat it as merely one more factoid for us to use.

In any case, my God, what a terrible human being I am.


  1. Oh my god! This mirrors my thoughts this morning. I was feeling guilty about my excitement of the three major storms across the world. Currently we are being hit by non stop rains from the Cyclone Nilam near Tamil Nadu in India. And the typhoon in far east is also no less.

  2. As a Long Islander who witnessed the devastation first-hand, I would like to express what a piece of shit you are. People have lost their entire LIVES in this, hundreds of thousands are STILL without power, people DIED. Being you expressed that you do not care, and are actually ENTERTAINED by these kinds of things, it’s safe to assume you are a cold-hearted psychopath, and won’t take any of my words to heart anyway, so I won’t waste anymore of my time. I will say, though, that you usually have to PAY for entertainment, so why don’t you donate some fucking money to the cause that brings you so much joy? Jerkoff.

  3. I agree with SMFT. You are fucking sick. And you call yourself a Christian? You are the kind of Christan that makes me glad to be an atheist, you reject of society. I personally know people who lost their houses and all their possessions in this storm, you sick freak.

  4. Just to be clear, for SMFT and Jet, the point of this post is that I’m confessing an emotion and desire which is sinful and suggesting that many of us share in this sin. The point is to draw attention to it so as to condemn it.

  5. Alan,
    Unlike the others here I don’t think you are a terrible human being. I think you are A human being. With flawed thoughts and actions. That’s part of living in this life we are in. I understand your morbid fascination with storms and tragedy. I will justify the purpose of your article here and confess to my own level of fascination. As a child I would hope and pray the power would go out. I loved the sight and scent of the candles. Now it scares me to death, “how long will I be with out my internet????” But I do find myself drawn to the pictures and stories of natural disasters. But, and maybe I’m trying to justify here, but maybe it’s because it’s one of the few proofs we have in this technological, cold, scientific world that a greater power exists. We are no match to that awesome power, and I think sometimes it’s good to be reminded that we are not the top dog. So don’t feel bad. At least one person out here totally understands.

  6. Alan Noble,

    You’re not that bad. The really bad people, the truly horrible human beings are the ones who continuously give into their dark urges, and don’t even care. If you were a really horrible person, you wouldn’t even care that you have these feelings.

    Anyway, here’s a way we can all help the disaster relief efforts. We can donate to Red Cross. Here are some links for people in different countries who want to help.

    American Red Cross,

    British Red Cross

    Australian Red Cross

    Canadian Red Cross

    New Zealand Red Cross

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