Disasters and Popular Culture

This week one of our readings was  “The Popular Culture of Disaster: Exploring a New Dimension of Disaster Research” by Gary Web.  In this piece he discusses the importance of studying popular response to disaster in addition to structural response (which is currently the focus).

Research of popular response to disaster is extremely important because understanding of it can lead to more effective disaster response. Some examples he gives is the fact that ignorance of popular culture leads to perpetuation of disaster myths, such as the myth that disasters lead to a break down of society.  In this case, the perpetuation of this myth actually impedes citizens from helping one another and slows down recovery because legislators take steps (such as enforcing curfew) to prevent these unlikely occurrences (436).

Webb also looks into how an understanding of culture can contribute to faster recovery, disaster mitigation, and prevention. For example an understanding of culture can lead to more clear and credible disaster warnings that contain clear instructions that will reach the diverse audiences in a particular society (59).

Long Beach would also benefit from study of the cultural responses to Sandy.  In my study of cultural response on the Long beach facebook page, including photos, videos, and poems, I have found that these cultural productions really help one gain an understanding of what is important to the citizens.  The legislation passed to aid the area by the federal government most definitely provides funding for recovery and reconstruction of many effected areas, but where to begin recovery and focus funding in this moment is something that should be dependent on the citizens expressed needs.  Because, after all, it is the people experiencing Sandy who know what is vital to their society’s functioning and where their community took the biggest hits from the superstorm.

Work Cited

Webb, Gary. “The Popular Culture of Disaster: Exploring a New Dimension of Disaster Research.” Trans. Array Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research: Handbook of Disaster Research. Springer430-441. Print.



  1. Nice beginning, but I’m left wondering what is important to the citizens? What have you uncovered so far?

    1. I have a post in progress on that topic actually but am going to wait until I have gone through the remainder of my facebook month and have a full picture to post it. Right now, I am finding that citizens seem to need the very basics, not full new houses (though that is often the case) but a couch, or baby clothes, things that will get them through the period immediately after the disaster so they can stay in Long Beach (at their home or another’s) and begin the hard work of long term fixes. The citizens also seem to have a serious need to feel closer as a community (as evidenced by their events and community help pages), to know that they are not the only one going through a tough situation and that if they reach out they will find people willing to help them with anything. So perhaps from a legislative standpoint, simply providing better, more specified community forums would do this type of thing.

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monica byrne

novelist . playwright . traveler . futurist . feminist


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