The next day I did an interview with Daisuke Oono, a journalist with NHK who is from the Sendai area. He was on the scene immediately after the tsunami struck. He spoke honestly and movingly about the tension between being a journalist and a human being in that situation.
Most strikingly, he described the immediate aftermath as a “disaster utopia”: a period when everyone transcends their daily troubles and comes together, finding their true values and living them out. One of the notable differences between the coverage of the March 11th earthquake in Japan and, say, that of Hurricane Katrina in the US was the identification of the stoic and calm Japanese response versus the chaotic and violent one of the Americans. Having done further research since the interview (thanks, Meiko!) I have discovered Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built In Hell which shows the fallacy of this stereotyping. In fact, there is widespread evidence that the typical response to disasters is calm and generous. Communities pull together. Events that are reported as looting might actually involve citizens taking food and basic supplies from destroyed supermarkets: hardly evidence of chaos.
In my previous post I mentioned Zeitoun which provides a vivid example of this trend. This is a fundamental and far reaching observation. How can we find ways of engendering this behaviour without a disaster prompting it? Can we make a piece of work that responds to that challenge?