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Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.
Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.

Stubborn, defiant Attitudes in Tornado Alley

Are the media misleading victims and viewers about battling Mother Nature?


This is a cranky blog. There is compassion behind it but it has been eclipsed by irritation. Over the past days, I watched the dramatic aftermath coverage of the monstrous EF5 tornado that razed-demolished-lawn-mowed-down miles of homes, schools and businesses in Moore, Oklahoma.

Unquestionably, it is a community in the bull’s eye of Tornado Alley. Moreover, its terrain is flat and open, effectively catnip for an energy-pregnant weather system looking for a manger to spawn tornados.

Many of Moore’s home and school structures were curiously unprepared for its latest encounter with extreme weather events—storm cellars at the schools would have come in handy. I think it’s fair to say that Moore is a community for whom the wisdom of its geographic existence is open to question.

My irritation doubled at the media tropes, the running tableau of words and pictures of heroic and gutsy victims calling out Mother Nature. But I was also angry for the children of Moore—alive, dead or missing—who were without choices. Would the children choose to rebuild in Tornado Alley?

Moore child with no choice

Journalists covering natural disasters have a time-dishonoring tradition of probing survivors’ states of mind and coaxing out explosive feelings about the nightmare. I know too well, I went through this media rite of passage when flood waters washed away my Hollywood hillside home. I was in shock with a microphone in my face.

As disaster coverage of the past has amply evidenced, some survivors can marshal the verbal resources to offer a coherent narrative of the horrors. Others find words trapped in their throats, they are unable to provide glimpses of their personal hell. They can’t talk about their trauma, grief and anxiety, they can’t express their fear for loved ones still unaccounted for. Their emotional ensemble of tears, gulps, tremors and palpable anguish make for dramatically arresting images, the media loves it.

And then there are the defiant ones, those who will not be beaten, bloodied or bowed by an EF5, who will rebuild what nature has angrily taken from them. The same defiance they had in 1999 when their homes were leveled by “The Mother of All Tornadoes.” And if it happens again in 2014, they’ll rebuild again on the same ground, To do anything else is to let Mother Nature “win.”

The defiant ones are the darlings of the media, sought after and trotted out, presumably as some sort of inspiration. The fist-shakers are current incarnations of Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Unsinkable Molly Brown

Legendary Molly was the celebrated, heroic passenger on the Titanic who lived to tell about it and saved other passengers in the process. But something Molly does not share with Moore, Oklahoma’s Defiant Ones is that she was not interested in booking passage on Titanic II.

How is it that survivors , who “by the grace of God” are talking to reporters, ignore, “God helps those who help themselves”? If you believe in God and believe in his advice, wouldn’t the sensible, self-preserving thing be to get outta Dodge?

The defiant people of Moore are not unique. People live at the base of active volcanoes. Like Moore’s victims, they wouldn’t know where to move, “It’s our home. We’ve lived here for generations.”

Malibu fires

Others live on the eroding cliffs of Malibu, despite the absolutely predictable disasters that will befall them. “It’s so beautiful. How could I live elsewhere?” I agree, why move and miss the adventure of watching your house wash into the ocean or burn to the ground or fall off a cliff?

People of Moore, climate change promises a roundelay of extreme weather events and that includes increasingly manic tornadic visitations. People of Moore, do yourself a favor -- be less defiant, less stubborn. Be more reflective than reflexive. Test your mettle somewhere else!

The life you save may be your six year-old’s.

About the Author
Stuart Fischoff Ph.D.

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., was Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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