Monday, April 4, 2011

Fixation on Japans' Nuclear Disaster

The media has become encapsulated with the nuclear crisis in Japan, but why has the coverage on the after effects of the tsunami been so downplayed. If the theories about disaster pornography, or that humans find some sort of sadistic pleasure out of watching destruction unfold, hold true then why are newspapers not filled with both. It seems that double the disaster would be double the pleasure. But yet, all we seem to see are stories on different aspects of the crises, leaks into the ocean, noxious fumes, contaminated cabbages, and the like. So here are a few theories I have:

1. People care more about the present than the past--the nuclear disaster is one occurring in the the here and now, while the tsunami is in the past. Rebuilding is surely already occurring, the wave has come and gone, while the nuclear disaster is still "breaking news." People seem to have a myopia towards most forms of decision-making, why would disaster coverage be no different.

2. People are intrigued by uncertainty that doesn't negatively affect hem--not knowing what will happen next keeps people on the edge of their seats. Who doesn't love a cliffhanger. The obvious addendum has to be that as long as the resulting effects don't have some negative result on them directly.

3. People discount sunk losses--people feel that those losses that you can't get back should become irrelevant. In economics, this notion is known as sunk costs, those expenditures which once you've spent on them you can't get back. Think of buying a car, the down payment you make, you can't get back. This is a bit different then the temporal issue stated above. People just have a harder time placing as much utility on those lives already lost, versus the future expectation of losses. It's a bit of loss aversion, with a twist.

4. Nukes are a human phenomenon whereas tsunamis aren't--people feel that there is more control with regards to nuclear disasters, with that sense of control comes a sense of superiority. People feel that this is something we can and should master. It's almost a sense of romantic humanism, people are rooting for a solution to a human problem. Tsunamis and other weather related phenomenon are viewed more as a black swan, unpredictable and therefore somewhat irrelevant to dwell over.


  1. I think all of these are right, but do you not think that America's history of anxiety over nuclear weapons plays some role? I remember back when John Bolton appeared on the Daily Show and he made the point that America should be the only country allowed to have nuclear weapons--despite the fact that our record hasn't been stellar. That's got to be a perfect example of denial or some other psychosis, and I've no doubt that that strain of thought influences what we see on the TV.


  2. I mean yes, nuclear fixation definitely has a big role to play here. But why do nukes matter to us? Because they are big and go boom, this isn't going to go boom. But you have to think about the sort of uncertainty that people feel with these sorts of issues. Plus, the development of nuclear technology represents the ultimate in humanistic endeavors to conquer our environment. We are able to control even the smallest aspects of our physical world. So yes, nukes matter, but the reasoning behind why nukes matter seem to go beyond some sort of American exceptionalist view of nukes.

  3. tsunami can't hurt the US--only killed one american i think...nuke crisis is being spun as a legitimate "threat"