The bull died right in front of us. Hooves to the sky, daggers lodged in bleeding flesh. The poor creature received one last stab to the head and rolled over. The crowd cheered maniacally as the matador shimmied to blaring brass celebration and I dropped a full bag of puffed rice on the spectators below.
This was obviously not in my backyard, this was in Spain on the summer Euro-trip I have yet to shut up about. Travel-mate Kimi and I had decided to channel both Hemingway and Neolithic brutality and take in a bullfight. What both of us failed to realize was that we’d see an animal get repeatedly slashed with huge spears, and people would find this enthralling.
This came after our stay in Rome, where we learned of the Hurricane Katrina disaster while standing in violent rain outside a convenience store. Two American tour guides told us about whole cities submerged as we watched lighting snap at the ancient alleys around us. So many people were dead, and we were so far away.
This came rushing back as I sat in the arena and watched two traitorous horses drag the bull’s carcass away. Workers brushed fresh dirt over the bloodstains, and it seemed clear that some creatures are only born to die and be forgotten.
Although Katrina killed thousands of people, it hasn’t impacted our culture or held any thoughtful impression of promised change. In summary, a whole lot of people drowned because they were too poor to evacuate, and their rescue opportunity failed in ignition (as did President Bush’s much-anticipated political fallout). The drama captured all 24 hours of CNN’s feed and was the most obvious illumination of the haves and have-nots in recent history – because, mostly, the have-nots died.
So why is its impact gone so suddenly? There’s been no analytical backlash against our culture, which seems to happen at every recent turn of tragedy. Remember September 11th’s “Death of Irony,” for reasons ironically never collaborated? It seems like doom forces introspection on people normally content to look outwards, but that curiously didn’t happen in the hurricane’s fallout – and right now, we need that reflection more than ever. We, the drooling, pork-rind-eating American consumers are fueling reverence for the opposite of Katrina’s short-lived humility; we’re clamoring for the mindless rich and their mindless excessiveness.
A lot of flighty heroes surround us, and it seems like the former prerequisites of accomplishment and talent aren’t necessary. What does Paris Hilton actually do, besides act as a “stupid, spoiled whore” idol for girls (thank you, “South Park”)? When did being famous for being rich make a logical equation?
The best (meaning most ulcer-inducing) example of what we’ve come to adore is “My Super Sweet Sixteen,” an MTV reality show about teenagers planning million-dollar birthday parties and having trillion-dollar tantrums.
It’s proof that money can’t buy you brains but also that there’s a demand for this insipid hero worship of the wealthy. It wouldn’t air if it wasn’t popular.
What I’m asking is, why didn’t all the coverage of poverty’s continuing tragedy cause some backlash against wasteful extremity? It doesn’t make sense. Celebrities’ platinum sheen are so disposable. Even in the wake of this disaster, people aren’t questioning why they’re consuming these values. Poor doesn’t translate in pop culture, and that’s nothing new – but why does glittery wealth dominate right now? America usually likes it fast, young and easy, but in the last few years, we’ve come to care for socialites and their extravagance. Now, given the great exposure of how the other half lives and died, I wish we’d stop watching, and stop caring and stop the wheel. It seems like we should have tried to.
Katrina should have made us question what we’re absorbing, and it doesn’t make sense that nothing changed after it. The gap is still as happily wide as ever, and our hypocritical concern is really for the entertainment value of stupid people with a lot of stupid worth. If we’ve lived through the “Death of Irony,” let’s make this the Death of Trust-fund Tastelessness and the extremity that envelopes it. You and me, we’ll stop absorbing these empty vessels.
Stacey Anderson is a journalism and music senior and KCPR DJ. Catch her Sundays from 7-8 p.m. and Tuesdays from 2-4 p.m. on 91.3 FM or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.