Disaster Mythology vs. Disaster Reality

Prior to reading Fischer’s Response to Disaster, I was unaware of the existence of disaster mythology.  From my disaster knowledge and experiences, which I admit are rather limited, I would have referred to this “disaster mythology” as preconceived notions about disasters. However, Fischer’s description of disaster mythology embodies a range of human activity that I would not have necessarily included.  According to Fischer, disaster mythology “includes a belief in looting, price gouging, panic flight, deviant and selfish behavior, the necessity of marital law, psychological dependency and disaster shock” (Fischer 53).  After reading this definition, I was taken aback by the emphasis on negative human behaviors.  I would have thought that disaster mythology would focus more on psychological trauma and coping mechanisms.

I was hoping to better understand Fischer’s perspective through his explanation about why we believe the disaster mythology.  Fischer suggests that “the type of news coverage, the interview incidence within a news story, the disaster period being reported on, the size of the newshole devoted to the disaster, and the disaster type” (Fischer 76) contribute to the extent to which “disaster myths will be reported as fact” (Fischer 76). He then proceeds to divide news stories into two categories: hard and soft.  In a hard news story, objective facts are relayed to the reader/ listener about the type of disaster, duration of the disaster, and approximately how long it took to restore services (Fischer 76).  A short news story is “essentially a human interest story” (Fischer 76) that consists of interviews from local officials, victims, and emergency personnel and bystanders (Fischer 76).  Therefore, Fischer believes that if soft news stories are more common, then there will be a greater chance that myths will be present within these stories.

I tried to use Fischer’s rationale to better understand the news articles that I read about Hurricane Sandy.  However, I still struggled to decipher myths within personal accounts.  In one of my earlier blog posts, I mentioned Long Beach victims’ reactions to the persistent cold weather.  Even though the victims’ stories may be correspond to what Fischer described as “disaster shock” in his definition of disaster mythology (Fischer 53), I am somewhat uncomfortable applying the word mythology to these personal experiences.  Perhaps some of my discomfort stems from the dialogue that I have observed on the “Long Beach Hurricane Sandy Information” Facebook page.

Much of the conversation on this Facebook page reflects Long Beach victims and their friends and relatives sharing information as well as demonstrating their commitment to a community bond.  I have never interpreted any of the posts to be myths.  Instead, I view each of these posts as legitimate expressions.  I wonder if communication among victims is considered to be less of a myth and more of a reality.  Attached I have included some screen captures of posts within the Facebook page. Image





The posts demonstrate Long Beach victims’ and their extended networks’ portrayals of solidarity.



Fischer, Henry W. 2008. “What is a Disaster?” Pp. 49-87 in Response to Disaster: Fact versus Fiction and Its Perpetuation. New York: University Press of America.


One comment

  1. Great post! I think that’s a point that wasn’t covered in our reading and something to talk about when we get together as a group. How do you separate yourself from your work? Do we need to be “objective” in order to see disaster mythology? Does labeling something disaster mythology automatically discredit the experiences of those we study? Can we use the Haney and Barber reading to help us work through this?

    Timothy J. Haney and Kristen Barber (2013). “Reconciling Academic Objectivity and Subjective Trauma: The Double Consciousness of Sociologists who Experienced Hurricane Katrina.” Critical Sociology.

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monica byrne

novelist . playwright . traveler . futurist . feminist


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