During one of the many iterations of my life thus far, I worked as the executive director of a non-profit that rescued endangered animals. The non-profit was funded by a very wealthy woman who, along with being addicted to percocet, loved animals far more than she did human beings.
After the tsunami in 2004, she wrote an email to the President of Sri Lanka. On the email, she cc’ed George Bush and Hilary Clinton, both of whose addresses she had in her Rolodex. She was infuriated that, in an attempt to make room for the survivors of the tsunami, the President had re-located a number of wild elephants. The human lives, in her opinion, were less valuable than those of the animals. The President of Sri Lanka answered the email; he asked her to come meet with him.
I lasted at this particular job for four months, which is a relatively long period for me.
I’m thinking a lot of the woman today, looking at the images of the destruction in the wake of the Oklahoma City tornado. It’s a tragedy that, yet again, is beyond words. I don’t know how to process what it means.
What I can process is the imagery. And what I’m noticing about the photographs from this particular horrific event, in comparison to other recent ones, is that the media is showing a lot of hurt pets.
This is probably fucked up to say, but I wonder if a lot of that is because of some subconscious connection we make between tornadoes and “The Wizard of Oz.” Dorothy and her Toto. The news has become so closely entwined with entertainment that the way that even The New York Times reports on events is informed by the associations we make with pop culture. The image above, for instance, is one of 17 the paper chose to display on their homepage to capture the event. A horrifying image of a hurt dog.
I try to think of what good it does, to show all of these photographs. A lot of people do, and have since the advent of media.
Today, I think of the woman I used to work for who cares more about animals than she does human beings. And I think of her seeing these images of dogs, and feeling profoundly, deeply affected by them. Maybe it will call her, and all of her money, to action.
I think it’s important for all of us to look at these photographs. I think it’s important because it prepares us. I think it’s important because, I suspect, these new super storms have a lot to do with what we’ve done to our environment. I think it’s important because bearing witness, collectively, as a society, is the only way we’ll take action to change things.
And I think it’s important because the people in the midst of it need our collective empathy and love, even if it doesn’t help them directly. They need the dignity of acknowledgement. They need to know that we are with them, that we care about them, that their suffering is ours.
I could ignore the images; I chose to feel them instead.