Maxed Out 

Disaster as spectacle, motivator

By G.D. Maxwell

The earth shrugs, indifferently. Thousands die. Dreams, villages, lives, the past and the future are swept away, ground to bits, bloated by the tropical sun. Change the channel, honey, we’ve seen this movie before.

A somnambulant, hung-over first world awakens from its post-Christmas binge of indulgence, reaches into its pocket and flips some spare change, a Tums and a ticket to the opera it won’t be able to attend to the flooded street bums of the Third World. "Sorry, it’s the best I can do on short notice."

Challenged by an unimportant do-gooder from an irrelevant part of town and upbraided by his friend for being stingy – stingy? Moi? – he fumbles in the other pocket, the one with foldin’ money, and coughs up another $20. His friend, not waiting for the taunts of parsimonious penny-pincher, ups the ante with $40 of his own. And the new wave of giving goes round and round, each friend in turn raising the bet, sweetening the pot in a seemingly endless cycle of call and raise. The game takes on a life of its own.

But no one stops to ask, "Hey, just what the heck is the appropriate response to this catastrophe?"

In the aftermath of the unwanted Christmas present visited on Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, et. al., what’s a first world boy supposed to do? Send money? Lots of that being promised, bundled and headed in the direction of the people who need it and the miscreants who’ll siphon off more than their share. Demand government action? Lots of that being demanded, with heads of state being chided for stinginess and delay and general inaction. Pitch in and help? Don’t know if it’s such a good idea to add another body to an area unable to nurture the living already on the ground.

Go on vacation?

Last Saturday’s Globe and Mail ran what was possibly the photo of the year on its front page. Under a colourful beach umbrella, poked into the sand and secured with a piece of rebar driven in for support, sit two crudely-made, wooden chaise lounges, one with a very crooked leg. A woman with a one-piece body lies on one. She’s wearing a bikini. She’s white… very white. Well-fed. Looking well-rested but for all we know, she’s just spent three days in travel hell trying desperately to escape from a high-pressure human resources job where she’s spent the previous year downsizing thousands of working stiffs into oblivion for the benefit of the company’s shareholders.

She might be asleep or just resting her eyes. We can’t tell since she has shades on. A small table beside her holds an item of clothing, maybe a book beneath. The ironist in me likes to think it’s Krakatoa: East of Java but it’s probably some vacuous Danielle Steele pageturner. Maybe she’ll read later. Maybe she’ll go for a swim if there aren’t any more bodies in the water on her stretch of beach.

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