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White Noise

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I try to live my life with no regrets; regrets seem to be such a negative emotion. Dwelling on what might have been rather than what could be. I had regrets once. Being the only child of a divorced family, both parents entrepreneurs and business owners, I had a lot to live up to. As young child growing up in two households it was hard to grasp the effects of divorce till I was on my own. A graduate of high school with a scholarship to a large public school I was set free, set free to make my parents happy. Unfortunately that was not the case, my independence only led to misfortune. The first year passed with a completion of five credits along with substance abuse and alcohol abuse. Essentially I had taken my parents dreams and flushed them down the toilet, along with their money. School no longer allowed me to take classes, I no longer talked to my parents, and I was in a deep dark hole. I really needed to pull myself out. My walk of shame home in apologies was inevitable, and changed my life forever. I was forced to find a job immediately, and of course the only jobs available were in the kitchen. I found a new love, forgot about drugs and alcohol, and focused all of my time and money into food. As I said before, I had regrets, but when I think about it, I shouldn’t. I do feel bad about what I did to my parents, but that is life. In light of my personal disaster, I learned more about myself than I ever could have if nothing had happened. I found a love for what I do and my parents respect that more than ever. The disaster turned out to be a blessing. While it is natural and in no way wrong to think of catastrophes in a negative context, they have also proven to lead to opportunities.

In his extraordinary novel White Noise, Don DeLillo presents a scene of the technological age. A dysfunctional family of the post-1970's era, two adults and a collection of children from previous marriages, is gathered on a Friday night in front of the TV set, eating Chinese takeout. The family is entranced by the scenes of “floods, earthquakes, mud slides, erupting volcanoes” (Delillo, 64). The sight is all too common, but there is something especially interesting about the family’s engagement in the media’s portrayal of adversity. Jack Gladney, the father figure and professor of Hitler studies, says “Every disaster made us wish for more, for something bigger, grander, more sweeping” (Delillo, 64). He realizes this while the family is engrossed in the television. The incident bothers him, and by the next day he is looking to his university colleagues for explanations. Jack asks, “Why is it…that decent, well-meaning and responsible people find themselves intrigued by catastrophe when they see it on television” (Delillo, 65)?

Why are disasters so intriguing? Why are these images ever-present? White Noise by Don Delillo is essentially a story about a disaster, “The Airborne Toxic Event.” Troubled by the fear of death, the novel presents our interest in disasters as an expression of concern, as an entirely natural response to dealing with thoughts of personal and collective annihilation. Jack’s colleague, Alfonse Stompanato, replies to the previous question with, “Only a catastrophe gets our attention. We want them, we need them, we depend on them” (DeLillo, 67). DeLillo and Stompanato put disasters as a modern craving, hinting of what is now and what is to come. Alfonse sees disasters as a break in the flow of everyday life, they grab our attention. He explains peoples interest in disasters as “natural…normal…it happens to everybody” the longing for “an occasional catastrophe to break up the incessant bombardment of information” (Delillo, 65). In our world of constant information, only the severe events get our attention. This, he says, is why we watch, simply for the emotional and visual impressions they make rather than for any moral significance or meaning they may possess. Disasters are common place in today’s society but, who is it exactly, that needs disasters?

Essentially we, the consumers of society, need them. Disasters consume America on a daily basis. Consider entertainment today: movies, television, the nightly news, shoot-em up video games. Calamities in the media are more prevalent now than ever. Catastrophes are presented in movies like Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, Cloverfield, and the list could go on. Television is saturated with catastrophe shows, Tru Tv a network devoted to real life disaster experience, Worlds Most Amazing Videos, and the nightly news are all sources of calamity on television. America is obsessed with the fascination of other people getting hurt or the world coming to an end. It is appealing when considering why disasters rule our television screens, to single out the role of the news and entertainment industries. Technology and the electronic mass media have totally transformed our senses, changing what we notice about the world and how we feel about what we see. The everyday bombardment of disasters by the media numbs our senses. Even to the extent that in order for us to recognized we are going through a disaster, it has to first be confirmed by the media.

The first example of disaster in White Noise is a near plane crash. Jack and Tweedy, his ex-wife, are picking up their daughter Bee. They see people staggering like zombies down the hallway of the Airport. One man narrates the tragic event to a crowd, as Bee comes up behind. As a crowd gathers, one of the passengers tells the details of the near crash they just survived. The plane had lost power in its engines and began hurtling toward the ground. The man states, “our fear is pure, so totally stripped of distractions and pressures as to be a form of transcendental mediation…they will find our bodies in some smoking field, strewn about in the grisly attitudes of death” (DeLillo, 90). If you notice, the man has seen a plane crash before on the news, for it is a common, familiar scene to him. Most crash landings are in an abandoned field, bodies scattered about the smoldering plane. As people prepared for a crash landing, the plane suddenly regained control. As the officers and flight attendants transitioned back into their smooth corporate mode, everyone wondered why they had ever been afraid in the first place. Jack finds Bee and Tweedy, and Bee asks where the media had been during the plane crisis. Jack tells her that Iron City has no media, and Bee responds with, “they went through all that for nothing” (DeLillo, 92).

A similar occurrence happens during “The Airborne Toxic Event.”



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