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  • Defining Chaos Down

    Posted by Shannon Love on July 7th, 2005 (All posts by )

    The Guardian’s blog entry on the terrorist bombings there is titled:


    Bomb blasts plunge London into chaos

    The only problem is there doesn’t seem to be much chaos for London to plunge into. The city seems quite orderly. Chaos would seem to imply rioting, looting or a collapse of services, none which is occurring. Everyone seems to be doing that stiff-upper-lip thing the Brits are so good at.

    I think this is an example of how the media impose a preconceived narrative on actual events. I remember on 9/11, when TV reporters’ voice-over said that people were “fleeing in panic” from the vicinity of the towers, when the images they broadcast clearly showed people moving in orderly fashion, even stopping to help those who fell behind.

    A lot of studies were done on the behavior of people in New York during 9/11. The studies concluded that only a small minority, probably less than 10%, succumbed to panic. The rest dealt with the situation in a rational and competent manner. This is in keeping with research done on similar events like plane crashes. Most people do not let fear overwhelm them, and remain rational and functional. They self-organize to save their own lives and the lives of strangers.

    These facts did not prevent the media on 9/11 from repeatedly describing people of Manhattan as generally panicked and disorganized. It is a narrative, a preconceived story, that the media imposes on such events because the journalists intuitively believe that people do fall apart under such stress. The journalists see what they expect to see, not what is actually happening.

    Likewise, the Guardian is imposing a narrative of “chaos” on London’s orderly and rational response to the bombings. The city is no more “chaotic” than it would be had it suffered a major transportation accident. It is just that the Guardian expects a terrorist attack to plunge the city into chaos so that is what they report.

    [Note: I stitched this post together from some comments I posted on a thread on Reason’s Hit and Run.]

     

    3 Responses to “Defining Chaos Down”

    1. Lex Says:

      Metafilter has this, confirming your point that panic is not the usual response to these kinds of situations.

    2. dsquared Says:

      Shannon’s quite right on this, though I think “chaos” is not such a strong term when used by the Guardian in this context; it usually appears in the British press in the phrase “transport chaos” which refers to the inconvenience caused when more than two flakes of snow fall together.

      The Tube was running this morning when I came in to work

    3. Al Maviva Says:

      “Attacks Plunge Grauniad’s World View, Intellect, Into Chaos” is more like it.