the picture of the U.S. hidden in the attic until now

outside the New Orleans convention center today

While still lying abed this morning I listened to the BBC World Service coverage of the New Orleans disaster. Unfortunately I did not get the name of the (American?) woman being interviewed in London who used Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" as a very dramatic metaphor for our contemporary U.S.

The BBC guy asked her to explain what she meant when she said something like, "we're now looking at the picture of Dorian Gray which had been hidden in the attic." She meant that the world can now see the America we have hidden behind the image of prosperity, liberty, equality and well . . . yes, fraternity.

Poor Americans on television? Poor African-Americans on television? And we can all agree they're certainly not looking their Sunday best. How is that?

I believe the world knows much better than we do what has been going on here for decades, but now they have good pictures.

There was a related reference to this catastrophe's elements of race and class in a segment from another show this morning. Although I can't stand the Brian Lehrer Show, this morning I stayed around during the opening segment in order to hear The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel (whom Rush Limbaugh, taking childish delight in her given name, has blamed for the hurricane and everything else he sees wrong with America). Before her good sense could be "balanced" by someone from what is euphemistically referred to as a "Right-wing thinktank," vanden Heuvel pointed out that Americans haven't seen poor people on television for years, and now they are forced to do so, day after day. I would add (I don't recall if she said something similar herself) that they see these images now only because of events not unrelated to our long-time abandonment of these folks, the least powerful elements of a very cruel, capitalist society quite full of itself.

[image, a pool photo by David J. Phillip, from the NYTimes]

Well said, James.

And it is fascinating how rapidly the media moved from apparently dull human suffering to the excitement of looting and rioting. How could they turn down such a great opportunity to portray poor black people as lawless and out-of-control? Why stray from the standard paradigm just because millions are left homeless?

The current function of news is to dress up advertising. Looting and hysteria are more likely to give an adrenaline surge than homeless folks desparately searching for lost parents and children.

Shoot to kill, baby, shoot to kill.