Friday, September 02, 2005

Stupid things I was taught in college- #1

I was a psychology major in college, but I also took lots of sociology classes. Now, I know that it's been 15 years since I graduated and that the world of education is much different now than it was then. But watching the coverage of the lawlessness and looting and all that in New Orleans I'm reminded of one particularly strange thing that was drilled into us in one of my sociology classes. It seems unbelievable now that this was taught as a scientifically-verified-by-sociological-studies fact. What is this crazy notion that I'm talking about?

That looting after disasters is an exaggerated myth perpetuated by the media. Yes, this was in a textbook and everything. In fact I think I'll go see if I still have that old book.

Not that it really matters, but I'm continuing this several hours later. I looked for my old text books, but apparently they were tossed or sold or something in one of our moves. So I did a little internet research and found that alas, they are still teaching this crap. Here's a link to a course description which mentions the various 'myths' of disasters. The text book for the course is Response to Disaster; Fact versus Fiction and Its Perpetuation, The Sociology of Disaster, Henry W. Fischer, III, University Press of America, 2nd Edition, 1998, ISBN 0-7618-1182-6. In case you don't want to look at that class description here's a quote:

Students will perform a short analysis of the media to determine if one or more of the common disaster myths (panic flight, looting, price gouging, contagion, martial law, physiological dependency, disaster shock, evacuation behavior, shelter use, and/or death, injury, damage) are contained in the story. The analysis should contain: a brief summary of the disaster, a list of any disaster myths found, your opinion on whether you feel the reported myths were factual or exaggerated, and the link to where you found the story posted on the Internet.

Well, we didn't have no stinkin' internet when I was in college so we had to look stuff up in books at the library. Archaic, eh? Anyway, I find it funny that sociologists are still perpetuating the myth that looting is a myth when we have clear evidence that looting is a fact. Yes, I'm not so far removed from academia and intellectualism that I don't realize that part of the purpose of these sociology classes and studies is to examine the media's treatment of disasters and their aftermath. I do believe we should question the motives and veracity of news reports. I don't believe everything I hear on the news, but I do believe what I see with my own eyes. And what I've been seeing is totally contrary to any suggestion that looting is exaggerated by the media.

Here are the course goals listed on that course site:

Course goals: After successfully completing this course, students should be able to:

1. Differentiate between the cultures of research and practice.
2. Identify social factors that are causing disasters to increase in number and severity.
3. Describe how empirical field research has undermined commonly held beliefs (myths) about disaster behavior.
4. Describe disaster warnings as a social process.
5. Discuss social factors that may constrain people who evacuate unnecessarily after a warning is issued.
6. Discuss social factors that constrain initial responses.
7. Explain the reasons why there is a relative lack of panic among disaster victims. 8. Identify social factors that cause differential death rates.
9. Describe myths about public responses to disaster.
10. Describe disaster impacts on community functions.
11. Identify social factors that intensify disaster victim stress effects.
12. Discuss techniques for planning media relationships.
13. Explain why emergency managers need to understand public apathy toward disaster preparedness and other aspects of hazard preparedness.
14. Discuss disaster research as an applied social science.

It's #3 that I'm talking about. I vividly recall in my sociology classes being taught that the majority of looters were really just people going through their own property and salvaging what they could and that the media only portrayed that as looting. Back then CNN was still in its infancy and FoxNews didn't even exist so news coverage wasn't what it is today. I wonder if the academics will ever get their heads out of their asses and actually see what's going on around them. And I wonder if they will have to start rewriting their text books to reflect reality instead of fantasy. Empirical field research my ass.


Kristi said...

I would like to hear what some egghead would say after watching footage of some looter absconding with armfuls of clothing and shoes. I too went to college and wondered if my profs ever got their nose out of books long enough to see what was really happening around them.

The media is notorious for overhyping every detail in the hopes for ratings. I've noticed many video clips can appear to be completely different than what is real, thanks to shrewd editing. Reports should just report what is out there. The way it is edited can sway viewpoints. Two sides of the same coin.

Kat said...

I love it when you get pissed about something! You are so thorough in your rants!

DHammett said...

I never took a sociology class in college. Guess that's why I have such a clear view of what's happening around me. *blushes* Anyway, what do you think about price gouging? Is that maybe looting from the other side?

Rae Ann said...

kristi, I totally agree about the shrewd editing. I hate the news now because it's rarely just straight reporting without all the editorializing.

kat, thanks, I get pissed alot. LOL

dh, to be honest I don't know that much about price gouging. I did hear a gas station owner on the radio defending the sharp increase in gas prices. Someone called in and asked why the gas they already had was costing so much more. The owner said because they have to make enough to replace it at the higher cost. And he also said that one drive-off takes a whole day's profit. He was a small 'mom and pop' station owner. But the contractors and other people who raise prices so much just to take advantage of people are terrible, like the people trying to sell ice and water for exorbitant amounts. They suck!

mr_g said...

I guess I understand why someone would steal food from a boarded up store to feed her family after no relief came for several days. However, I will never get why people feel a disaster gives them the right to as many big screen tv's as they can haul to their houses! Disgusting... And on the price gauging issue, absolute a form of looting. Prodution costs went up due to a natural disaster. That means if we're going to take a hit, the oil companies should too. However, to them, we should take all the hits so they can remain highly profitable. Talk about having us over a barrel!

DHammett said...

Talk about having us over a barrel! lol I was talking to a friend, an accountant, yesterday, who said that the price of oil per barrel is based on futures. That is, not what is being paid now for oil, but what is expected to be paid 6 months down the road. So, even though we're paying over $3 a gallon, the oil companies still haven't felt the pinch and are making record profits. And regarding the gouging, as I understand it, the stations aren't making the money with $3 gas, but the sure are when they raise the price to $6, which I've seen in some of the areas hit by the storm. That's not right either. Sure wish I had oil stocks right about now. :-(

eatmisery said...

It kills me that blacks are referred to as looting and whites are doing the same thing and it's called finding.

Rae Ann said...

mr g, yeah, it is insane. If everyone is expected to pay more then the oil companies should suffer too.

dh, I've never understood that futures thing. I wish I had stock in a lot of stuff right now. lol

eatmisery, yeah, I haven't noticed that so much this time. The looting seems to apply to the people stealing things they don't need to survive whether they are black or white.

Average White Guy said...

The New Orleans Police Department took over a walmart so they could have supplies---the news did not call them looters! Great Post! This has become one of my favorite stops. I won't stalk you--but I seem to have a crush on your wit!

Rae Ann said...

average white guy, thanks! you made me blush.

hfischer said...

Rae Ann, you failed to learn from the course and the book. Such a disappointment you are. I cannot believe you are 37 and a mother--good help your kids.

YOu better look closer at those tv pictures of "looting" food and you better look closer at what the mythology says that looting rarely occurs.

Such a dumb ass you are.

hfischer said...

oops, typo, i mean to say "god help your kids" mothers shouldn't be so dumb

oh well, i guess i could start a blogg entitled, "dumb students i had in college"


Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

I tend to agree with Mr.G. and your follow-up comment.

My children and I had a discussion about this......looting, etc.

Being a single mom for 20 yrs, YES if it came down to take food and water...I would HAVE to do it only for the survival even though I would ask for forgiveness. I despise thiefs...that is on my top ten list of things I am totally against and will not tolerate. But in this case, the moment I heard of what was happening..and the extended coverage....I had already made that statement and I stick to it.

I see you put a lot of time into this post and it is much appreciated....thank you.

Rae Ann said...

hfischer, I suppose it's a hard thing to read someone criticizing your book. But you've missed my point, which is that there is often a discrepancy between what is taught as fact and what is indeed fact. I've touched your arrogance nerve haven't I?

suzie, I totally agree. If I got stranded like that and had no other way of getting food and water I'd take it where-ever I could find it. But I wouldn't steal the money from the busted up casinos, and I wouldn't steal tvs and guns and other unnecessary things. Anyone who tries to say that looting doesn't happen is totally out of touch with reality. I'm not talking about the media calling white people 'finders' and black people 'looters.' I know the difference between the two. It doesn't matter what color people are if they are stealing plasma tvs and guns just because they can. And they DO. No amount of sociological justification can change the fact that they are nothing but thieves.