Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrina strips the US bare

I have been glued to cable's 24-hour American television coverage of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans all week long. Last week, my colleagues, watching Australian media coverage, agreed that it was a terrible catastrophe. Today they were coming up to me with much higher emotion. Not that the authorities were slow to help the people. Not that the city is in ruins. But, "Can you believe the scale of the underclass in the USA?", "Who knew there were so many poor?", "Did you know those people were slum dwellers who were too poor to get out?" etc etc. I am a little shocked that so many educated Australians seem unaware of the class divisions of the US. Clearly they have never seen a Spike Lee movie, let alone noticed the level of begging in urban America. It is not that they have not been there. Australians are travellers. They go everywhere. Yet now they are aghast. They are scandalised. They are incredulous. What they perceive is, under the glossy and confident surface of the most advanced superpower First World country lies a veritable Third World for many of its citizens. I don't imagine Australians are the only ones gleaning this new perspective. Katrina has done more than destroy a city, it has exposed the national underbelly.

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