The cruelty of the false narrative

Many, including blogging wingnuts, the Bush administration, Haley Barbour, have had their hand in the development of the Katrina narrative of Mississippi is doing great so any failures in recovery in Louisiana must be the fault of that state’s corrupt government and its lazy people and certainly nothing to do with President Bush or the federal government. An example of this narrative would be this from Jonah Pantload’s August 31, 2006 LA Times piece titled:Give Bush a Break…

Long before Katrina, New Orleans was a dysfunctional city in a state
with famously corrupt and incompetent leadership, many of whose
residents think that it is the job of the federal government to make
everyone whole.

The Mississippi coast was hit harder by Katrina
than New Orleans was. And although New Orleans’ levee failure was a
unique problem — one the local leadership ignored for decades — the
devastation in Mississippi was in many respects more severe. And you
know what? Mississippi has the same federal government as Louisiana,
and reconstruction there is going gangbusters while, after more than
$120 billion in federal spending, New Orleans remains a basket case.
Here’s a wacky idea: Maybe it’s notall Bush’s fault.

Of course the reconstruction of the MS coast was not “going gangbusters.”

In fact MS still struggles. The Sun Herald is running a 2 part series on Pearlington, MS titled–Pearlington:Still in Great Need.” Here is part…

Before Katrina, Pearlington was isolated, a little lonely, and many
locals preferred it that way. After Katrina, that made recovery
difficult, to put it mildly. Now, however, an unending stream of
volunteers and do-gooders from across the country – and in some cases
around the world – coaxes the community of 1,000 or so back to its
feet, ensuring its long-term survival. Still, the short-term recovery
is far from done.

“If we hadn’t had those volunteers, we wouldn’t
be here,” said Rodrick “Rocky” Pullman, president of the Hancock County
Board of Supervisors and longtime Pearlington resident. “There’s not
many homes in Pearlington that were repaired that didn’t get some
assistance from some type of volunteers. They’ve impacted just about
every person’s life in Pearlington.”

Pullman said there were about 900 homes pre-Katrina and there are about 350 habitable to almost-habitable ones now.

So in direct contradiction to the aformentioned wingnut/Republican Katrina narrative, almost 2/3 of Pearlington MS hasnot been rebuilt and what has been rebuilt was very much due tooutside volunteers.

Whenever I have written of this false Katrina narrative I have made mention that not only does it hurt the people of Louisiana but also the people of Mississippi. Louisiana is taken down and MS built up in ways that do not reflect reality for either. While Louisiana is vilified, Mississippi has been vaulted yet the needs of each have been neglected as a result.

What is interesting now though is toread the comments to the Sun Herald’s piece on Pearlington. Here is the first comment…


MY GOD! Get up off your butts and do the work yoursevles and quit
begging and depending on everyone else in the country to keep taking
care of you. For all the sake in the world, get jobs wherever you have
to. Get out of that losing state if you have to. Get a life for real.
It’s been three, do you hear me, three years that the rest of the
country has taken care of you and we are sick of it.

From there you have those either chiming in with blame or others defending the good folk of Pearlington. This of course would be very familiar territory for New Orleanians who have had to defend themselves time and again in various forums on and off the internets. In fact one commenter, whether with all due seriousness or in the attempt to capture the obvious irony, posted this…

So, according to these posts, Pearlington is a soup bowl filled with
crime, drugs and lazy, stupid idiots who look for handouts, and play
the blame game. Huh, sounds like New Orleans.

So now Mississippians are in the same boat as New Orleanians. Once upon a time they were applauded for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and now they are lazy begging losers in a loser state. It really was inevitable. When reality can be twisted once it can be twisted again and again. And as I feared, being caught in the middle and used in a false narrative is a dangerous proposition and so very cruel in the end…

11 thoughts on “The cruelty of the false narrative

  1. Interrobang says:

    I think people like the first commenter ought to have their toilet-flushing privileges revoked (public water! built for you by other people!), their driving privileges revoked (public roads!), and their ability to see a doctor rescinded (what’s the matter, can’t you cure yourself?), assuming they’re not a public health hazard. They should also be forced to rebuild an entire flooded house with no help from anyone.
    Big damn talkers. I suffer from an incurable urge to tell people like that to put up or shut up, which inevitably infuriates them. They usually claim I’m missing the point, but I never am.

  2. doctorj says:

    Yes Scout, you are correct. As a New Orleanian whose mother lives on the Gulf Coast of MS I have been fighting this concept of “MS doing so much better than LA” from the beginning. Also the “You don’t hear the people of MS whining” thing too. I have to point out to them that the news does not cover MS, so you don’t hear ANYTHING from MS. It was only a matter of time until the people of MS would not be considered Ameicans along with Louisiana because the truth is that the coast to this day consists of slabs and trailers and bright shiny casinoes. They still need as much help as New Orleans. The truth is that the Americans doing the complaining are simply horrible people that can’t see the world past their nose. And believe me there are A LOT of them. It makes me so sad and disgusted that this is what our country has become.

  3. Jude says:

    As a Mississippi native, I was more than a little amused by all the praise for the “amazing” post-Katrina Mississippi. On 28 August 2005, I’m fairly certain that all of the soon-to-be-defenders of the Magnolia State would have referred to its residents as lazy, stupid, ignorant, backward, racist, poor, and generally a drag on the country as a whole.
    However, when presented with a chance to prop up the Bush Administration (and their own inflated senses of personal ability), these people didn’t hesitate to praise the astonishing bootstrapping skills of (mostly white) Mississippians, unlike those lazy (mostly black) New Orleanians.
    Of course, there were, at the outset, plenty of people who blamed coastal residents for being coastal residents. But the “Mississippi rocks! Louisiana sucks!” narrative was more common. Of course, it was a big lie. But that’s never stopped the defenders of the powerful before.
    I guess these people really do think they are islands unto themselves.
    In many ways, our national ideology is just a restatement of the fundamental attribution error; that is, we assume that what happens to people tends to be a result of individual choices and innate qualities, rather than understanding the social and environmental forces that are in play. Look at lots of problems we face:
    1) Obesity. Without fail, when addressing obesity in this country, individual choice is pointed out as the cause and potential solution. Left undiscussed: The kinds of choices available, and, more importantly, the forces that have led to that set of choices (government farm policy shifts during the Nixon years, the astonishing cleverness of food scientists in teasing ever more molecules out of corn, the petrochemical and petroleum industry inputs into the process, and so on). Nope. We don’t hear about that. It’s all about choosing the burger ($1) over the salad ($5).
    2) Voter ignorance and apathy. I caught one of the evening news broadcasts the other day, and they spent about five minutes on the presidential race. They talked about momentum, strategies, upcoming contests, and the like. No one mentioned one word about the candidates’ proposals! Obviously, if they didn’t mention the candidates’ claims, they couldn’t evaluate whether or not they were plausible. But who’s to blame that voters don’t know anything? Why, the voters, of course! We never hear about the extremely poor quality of information provided. Oh, no.
    3) The housing crunch. Whose fault? People taking out loans they shouldn’t have. Not deregulation of the credit industry. Not irresponsible speculators. Nope. It’s the people who can’t pay back their mortgages. Naturally.
    And so on. Pick any American problem, and you almost never see a discussion of the social and environmental forces. Misogyny? Must be a few rappers’ fault. Torture? A few bad apples. Teen pregnancy? Whores having sex. Drugs? Weak escapists.
    When I talk to people at the local bar or some of my friends about these things, they’re just shocked. Then it dawns on them that, yeah, there’s a lot of shit that is just beyond our control, and, when it comes to lots of awful outcomes, there but for the grace of god go we. So talk to your friends, your family, and others. Remind them of this simple yet elusive truth. It’s a start.
    Shit. Why didn’t I post this at my own blog? I guess that’s just a poor choice. 🙂

  4. MapleStreet says:

    Just because the folks on the coast have paid taxes and flood insurance for years, why should they expect the govt to do anything for them?
    Not to mention, even in the NeoCon handbook, the national govt is there to have the resources for problems that are too big for the local govt to handle. It doesn’t make sense for every little town on the coast to keep a full cadre of support for “the big one”. Instead, you keep the resources spread out, then when a disaster hits one area, you sent the support to that area.
    Otherwise, I might ask why the feds should have provided releif to NYC for 9/11 (and note that Giuliani isn’t whining about that any more). I might also ask how many square miles were leveled in 9/11 and how many were affected by Katrina. I might ask how much of the 9/11 was living space (necessary to sustain life) and how much of 9/11 was business space (you can move an office rather easily, but you’ve got to have a place to place your pillow at night). and then I might compare the numbers to Katrina.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think that one of the major reasons why this narrative continues is because BushCorp knew immediately from the beginning of the post-Katrina aftermath that it had fucked up the response and the reconstruction for both LA and MS, so it went into damage-control mode for BushCorp alone, and left the hoi polloi to fend for itself. Thus, this assministration has devoted its energies on the message, on spin control, on covering its own ass. Like everything else BushCorp does, this effort is also a failure.
    Also, I agree with Maple Street, those people paid premiums for years to insure their homes, and now the insurance companies don’t even want to write policies for that area, anymore. But those companies sure don’t mind getting on their knees to beg the government for some relief.

  6. spo cko says:

    X vs. Y narratives are the bread and butter of the newspaper biz. And it only takes a little shove to give them one that they like. Also, rarely do the press come back and do the 2 years later “We were wrong, what does it mean? Who pushed that story?”
    They have moved onto the latest disaster with a celebrity that people can hold in their heads.
    Also, Jude | January 23, 2008 at 13:50
    Nice post. Thanks for putting it here.

  7. Athenae says:

    Fucking assholes. You know when you turn from being righteous bootstrap-pullers into whining lazy handout-seekers? When you dare to make the point to their sheltered asses that we are obligated to one other, for fuck’s sake. When you dare to point out that we are supposed to take care of each other. It’s been so long since anybody’s talked like that to them that the only way they can process it is to call you shiftless and tell you to fuck off, because a long fucking time ago, guilt was bred out of them.
    Every day, I am appalled that the debate in American society has become about just how much of a motherfucker you can be and get away with it.
    A.

  8. pansypoo says:

    all i hear is what is on NPR and reading bits and pieces. i hear the little people are being fucked over in each state. welcome to ameWica.

  9. judyb says:

    Pansypoo, knowledge is power. If you would like to know the REAL truth about what’s going on down here, check out the blogs of people that live here.
    Here’s a list of NOLA bloggers
    http://thinknola.com/wiki/List_of_New_Orleans_bloggers
    And a list of NOLA and other bloggers here
    http://www.angelfire.com/la3/judyb/linx.html

  10. Pamela De Baun says:

    I guess I’m one of the whining losers the rest of the country is so sick of hearing. For the most part, I’ve had to do everything by myself to recover from the over 10′ of water and numerous trees through my roof…from hauling everything out of my house to the street, to salvaging what could be salvaged, to getting funding to fix the house, to paying the bills while trying to be in two places at once (working and home to guide volunteers or at appointments for help). I’m not a young strong man, I’m a woman in her early 50’s. The only family I have here is my 75 year old mother. I’ve been taken by contractors, fallen through every crack one can fall through, denied a Katrina Cottage after doing all the work and spending the money to get ready for it, and now face losing the Toxic Trailer, i.e. FEMA camper I live in. My house is still gutted and the city I live in is nitpicking me to death so I can’t get past an open inspection. I’ve done everything I know to do and still can’t get my life back. I’m exhausted and sick all the time, but I’m still trying. Stress is my middle name and constant companion. My credit rating has gone from 718 to the low 300’s. Not because I’m a deadbeat, but because there are too many demands on the money I can make. I did get a grant, but the numbers were artificially lowered so what I received was nowhere near what was needed to fix my house. Why didn’t I have insurance? Because when I was in my agent’s office in July 2005 to buy a windstorm policy, she told me I had to pay it 1 year in advance and I only had half. She also didn’t tell me I could now buy flood insurance (when I tried to buy it when I bought the house, she said the gov’t wouldn’t let me because I didn’t live in a flood zone. That changed, but she never told me.) I could have left her office with both policies, but instead went home to save the rest of the money for the wind/storm. Why didn’t I have a wind/storm policy already? Because every year the company I had quit doing business in MS and instead of renewing, I had to come up with huge chunks of money for new policy down payments. In 2005 I didn’t have that much when the policy expired. I’ve done the best I could all the way down the line, worked my ass off and at the end of the road, I’m a whining loser in a state of poor sharecroppers on welfare. I’m beginning to understand why people lose their minds and take rifles out and start shooting…not that I would, but I can now see how that happens. It’s extremely difficult to keep a positive attitude when you’re screwed at every turn. I hope the people who are sick of hearing about those of us who are homeless people with mortgages never have to walk a mile in our shoes…most people wouldn’t make it half that far before they just gave up, but I haven’t given up yet!

  11. Well, I posted a comment on 5/3/08 and here it is 2/7/09 and nothing has changed. At least not with my house. Plenty has changed with me, though. I’m now on a walker due to constant dizziness and severe pain in my left leg. What is that from? I have no idea, being dizzy all the time means I can’t drive or work and haven’t been able to since June 08, so no money for medical tests. I can go to the free clinic, though, and the Doctors there said I am definitely toxic from the camper. Yes, I still have it, but it will soon be gone, and this time there will be no reprieve. FEMA says three years is long enough. The mortgage company says I’m just a bum and they have a foreclosure sale date on my house in 2 weeks. I talk to the disaster section in the hardship department and they say I have to have a job. What part of can’t drive or work hardship do they not understand? The bush administration says they did enough for the people on the Gulf Coast. Really? I would think that before he had the balls to say that, he’d say we had done enough for Iraq. But wait! I forgot! We’re all a bunch of whiny lazy good for nothing welfare losers, all AT LEAST 10,000 of us, just in MS, just sittin down here doin nothing, waiting for the world to take care of us. Wonder if it’s occurred to anybody who’s throwing daggers at us here that the loser takers are always the first in line for everything. Of course it hasn’t. Anyone who is sitting down doing nothing by now is 99% likely doing it from sheer exhaustion. Exhaustion from fighting with insurance companies, trying to fix their homes, fighting with building inspectors who think they have the Power of God and none of the Compassion, dragging everything they own to the curb and gutting the house by themselves, trying to hold down a job while also trying to fix their home, ect. the list is endless. Exhausted mentally, emotionally, physically. These people have no idea how much harder it is to rebuild a home than to build one from scratch. The one thing none of us should be exhausted from is dodging the sticks and stones thrown at us by our fellow countrymen while we try to put our lives back together. Comments like the one that started MY GOD! Get up off your butts… make me sick to my stomach. The cold callousness is superseded only by the stupidity of such a suggestion. Does the speaker believe that every person here possesses the tools and know how to build an entire house alone? That we are all licensed electricians, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, painters, cabinet makers, window installers, etc.? We should all just get busy and do it all alone. In our spare time left over after working, raising families, taking care of aging parents, disabled children, whatever…we should just go rebuild a house. And it should NOT take 3 years to do it! What a fucking idiot. I am appalled at how many people present themselves as *all for me, none for you* uncaring, selfish, self-centered, finger pointing idiots, devoid of common sense. I am stunned to realize that no one seems to think there could be a problem here that ISN’T the citizens. Unbelievable…unfreakinbeLIEVable.

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