Category: McCoy 432 Spring 2018

A Further Exploration of Names and Hurricanes

Female-named hurricanes are more deadly than ones with male names. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, and repeated again and again by news sources looking for an easy story, this is because female names create expectations about severity levels and the need for evacuation.

Specifically, female-named hurricanes are seen as less likely to be severe and dangerous because of stereotypes around women, the study suggests. As a result, people do not evacuate and there is a higher death rate because of it.

This study has, since its publication in 2014, been questioned due to certain procedures the researchers used, including doing little to control for storm severity, which has nothing to do with the name. These are picked out years in advance. However, the fact remains that male-named storms still do have fewer deaths on average, and it’s an interesting concept to explore in the context of Roach and Blood Dazzler.

As all things come back to Roach, I’d like to start off by discussing him- though we will return to him at the end of the post.

Roach introduced the idea of performance and the ways people either choose to perform or are conscripted into performance. I’ve discussed this idea in earlier posts, but it’s one that continues to fascinate me and one that I always seem to be able to explore further. In this context, the performance is that of the name of the hurricanes, specifically the gender.

Clearly, the gender of a hurricane name affects the actual conditions of a hurricane by zero. In fact, until 1979, hurricane names were generally female, much in the vein of sailors naming their ships after women, much in the vein of sailors naming their ships after women. However, the important thing is people’s perceptions of the storm.

A name is a kind of conscription into performance. It sets expectations that people inevitably believe will play out into reality, despite evidence otherwise, as mentioned by Christina in her last blog post. As such, the use of feminine names evokes societal constructs around what women are “supposed to be like.” These stereotypes are soft, docile, nonviolent, even sensual (further discussed later)- precisely the opposite of a hurricane. Male names evoke the opposite- rage, violence, and other stereotypes of manliness. I do not condone these stereotypes and think they are outdated and simply not true, but we as a society have not yet moved on from them, but I digress.

Because of this, I was somewhat bothered when reading the first poems of Blood Dazzler, a collection of poems about Hurricane Katrina. Patricia Smith characterizes Katrina as a seductress. In “5 P.M., Tuesday, August 23, 2005,” Smith writes “…every woman begins as weather, sips slow thunder, knows her hips…” and goes on in this vein. It feels as though Smith trivializes Katrina by characterizing the storm in this way, feeding into that performance of stereotype that makes feminine-named storms more deadly. Hurricanes are incredibly destructive and violent, a brute force- not a temptress that seduces a city into ruin.

“Violence is the performance of waste,” writes Roach (I did promise we would return to him). It feels as though this accidental byproduct of giving hurricanes both feminine and masculine names is a form of violence. Waste is unintentional, and the violence is caused by the performance encoded in the names. We can do better, whether it be moving on from outdated stereotypes, avoiding the perpetuation of those stereotypes, moving to a different naming system- I don’t know the answer, but I do think that the waste caused by the current state of affairs is unnecessary.

How are Hurricanes Named?

In class we speak very intimately about hurricanes. We also have spoken about the significance of names, as they can be a representation of identity and experience. Naturally, such discussion leads to the question, “how does a hurricane get its name?” I had already started doing research on the subject but became motivated to write up my findings when the question came up in our last class meeting. So here are the Twenty-one Names To Avoid Calling Your Baby This Year Unless You’re Planning to Romanticize Hurricanes:

Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sara, Tony, Valerie, William.

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The Infamous “We Got Him Party”

May 2011 sparked a very interesting perspective on American culture. Osama bin Laden was killed by navy seals, and we celebrated. At the time I was a junior in high school, and I remember GOING CRAZY. Me and my gang of kooks got a bunch of beer and threw the infamous “We Got Him Party,” and like you guessed, at no point did we stop shouting in each other’s faces “WE GOT HIM!” The performance of celebrating death certainly empowered us, which was what really got the momentum of the shin-dig going. However, this performance of death is important to analyze in that it is like no other I have ever witnessed and is still happening. In reflection I now look back at that party with complicated emotions. Yes, this was a productive event for the safety of our nation, but what about my celebration of death made it insensitive?

“Echoes in the Bone” quotes Victor Tuner in his book “Forest in symbols” saying “Celebrations of death function as rites of social renewal, especially when the decedents occupy positions to which intense collective attention is due, such as those of leaders of kings.” The connections between this text and the death of bin Laden is blatant.

I would never hesitate to admit that the death of Osama bin Laden was a great thing. He was the most impactful terrorist in American history. Obviously, he was viewed globally with intense collective attention since he was responsible for the formation of the terrorist group Al-Queada. Although Al-Queada is still an active terrorist group, since the death of their leader in 2011, they have had “tactical issues,” with its leadership and no longer operates on the scale that the group previously had. This is fluent with Peter Metcalf’s quote in “Echoes of the Bone,” “It seems that the most powerful natural symbol for the continuity of any community, large or small, simple or complex, by a strange and dynamic paradox, to be found in the death of its leader…

The news of his death provided a sense of comfort (or social renewal) to a large part of the American population who were living in fear of terrorism since September 11th 2001. By renewing the sense of powerful American pride, the death of the terrorist marked a turning point for American moral in the war against terror. Obviously, this event called for some sort of celebration.

Recently Rob O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden, has appeared in the media for speaking out against president Trump’s plan for a military parade. His status in this story proves we as a culture still celebrate his achievement even years later. If any other SEAL spoke out against Trump’s military parade, they would just be another person speaking out against the president. By acknowledging O’Neill in the news, we are celebrating the death of bin Laden since it is known that is the only event changing O’Neill’s status from Navy SEAL to celebrity is his achievement. Most news outlets didn’t even use his name in their headlines, they only printed “ Navy SEAL who killed bin Laden slams Trump’s military parade”

The mission to kill bin Laden was also performed in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty” which was celebrated in American box offices only a year after the event. It stared Chris Pratt and Jessica Chastain and made $132 million by marketing its narrative as “the greatest manhunt in human history.” It received overwhelmingly great reviews from publications like the New York Times and Time Magazine.

When talking about the performance of memory, this movie is the most obvious example. The events in the film are supposedly accurate performances of the mission to kill the terrorist and also explains how the mission was a near disaster. By performing the memory of the assassination—just like the actual assassination—it empowered Americans in the face of the things many of us have come to fear, via celebration.

Largely the difference between this celebration of death and the party I attended, is that the movie considered all events surrounding the assassination. In addition to explaining the mission, it offered a wider perspective by highlighting the ones lost in terrorist attacks, honoring the ones protecting our country and meditating on the progress that still needs to be done. Since the movie properly noted all the sensitive topics surrounding the assassination, this celebration of death was largely not viewed as offensive.

Looking at on my phone, I still have a photo of me and my friends smiling and holding the banner that said, “We got him!” and I know now that we took this too far. This can clearly be viewed as insensitive, not because a horrible human was killed, but because the “We Got Him Party” focused in on one death by ignoring the larger scope of a situation that included thousands of innocent deaths. This performance is the same and different as the performance of the tot-tanic that we discussed in class. It’s different in that, a celebration of death wasn’t out of line; but it’s the same in that we chose to ignore sensitive subject matter that was affiliated with the event for the empowerment of our performance. A celebrating a death that implies progress and greater safety in our country wasn’t an issue, attending a party that’s invitation said “come over and devour some chips and al queseo” was.

Dogs, Elegies, Progress, and David Byrne

I left class on Friday with no shortage of ideas for blog posts, prompted by Beth to consider why Patricia Smith would elegize Luther B (a dog) in several poems across Blood Dazzler. The poems tell a story of how the “Rottweiler, bull, whatever” (30) Luther B is left chained to a tree in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, struggles to survive and eventually “ascends” (69), assumed to be towards heaven after dying; however, the dog’s owner evacuated her home, and a poem from her perspective shows her belief that Luther B would have escaped the chains and easily ridden out the storm.

There is a lot to unpack in these poems, but I want to focus on the overall importance of the elegy – why a dog deserves an elegy, and why the story of a dog deserves to be told in Smith’s collection of poems about Katrina. I was also inspired by themes of dogs and progress in David Byrne’s album “American Utopia,” so I apply Byrne’s perspective on what dogs can represent and relate it to the importance of Luther B’s elegy. Read more

Racial Tension: Beyond the Surface

In my earlier blog post, The Boundary Between Light and Darkness, I commented on the light-dark interplay that Steve Prince’s “Katrina’s Veil: Stand at the Gretna Bridge” and Francisco Goya’s “Third of May 1808” utilize. Namely, in Prince’s piece, I saw the use of only black and white as a commentary on the racial tension present in America, namely New Orleans. The white and black simultaneously blend and separate figures in the print, showing how there was tension between citizens of the same city before, but particularly after, Katrina. Beth commented on this post, mentioning that there might be merit in looking at how surface tension connects with racial tension. After digging up my prior experience in general chemistry and looking at the definition of surface tension, the connection between the two terms was as clear as water.

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Sentinel Species, Range, and New Orleans

Science and literature are different languages to express similar concepts about humanity. This blog post is an attempt to explore the relationship of science and literature in the context of some class concepts. Weeks ago, Beth (1) mentioned the concept of “the canary and the coal mine.” We did not unpack it at the time, but that moment made me think about range, as discussed in my Biogeography class and When the Levees Broke.

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Children: The Interplay Between Effigy and Paratext

A trend that I’ve noticed in the physical classroom so far is the problem of reading paratext out loud—some people skip over the paratext, while other people don’t. Paratext is outside the main body of the text, i.e. it is not central, but paratext is needed in order to complete a text. Paratext then, by nature, is peripheral but also necessary. This reveals a hierarchy in the physical pages of books—the main body of the book is imperative to read, while everything else is considered supplemental, which parallels how we frame Others in society—groups of people who are necessary but overlooked, and therefore, invisible.  Read more

Stumbling across relevant poetry

I found this poem in a chapbook entitled Counting Descent by Clint Smith, who is one of my favorite poets/writers/people to follow on Twitter. I was reading when I came across this poem and naturally thought this could serve as a good blog post, especially since we’re going to be looking at Blood Dazzler in class soon and we looked at poems in class last week. Read more

Scooby Doo & Voodoo

A few class periods ago we looked at and examined the FEMA USR signs and their curious correlations with some Haitian voodoo vévé images and symbols. My group’s discussion on this topic turned into a very eye-opening conversation on our origins of our knowledges of voodoo, and I was surprised to uncover what the connotations that some of our first exposures to voodoo in popular culture, film, and television had in relation to what we have been discussing on Roach’s ideas of relationships with the dead and performances of memory.

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