Franz Kafka has his tale about hunger artists, people who starve themselves as spectacle. In Kafka’s story, people with money could buy tickets to watch the hunger artists. Starvation as entertainment. You see a version of Kafka’s tale on CNN and the BBC now, as ratings depend, at least for a while, on what will happen to the earthquake victims in Haiti. Haiti as show and spectacle.
Today, the Guardian ran a story about some well-to-do people enjoying themselves on a vacation in Haiti.
Sixty miles from Haiti’s devastated earthquake zone, luxury liners dock at private beaches where passengers enjoy jet ski rides, parasailing and rum cocktails delivered to their hammocks.
The standard response is to be repulsed by those who are enjoying themselves so close to a massive disaster for human beings. Yet, how is what is happening on the cruise ship all that different from what has gone on with Haiti for years and years? Before the recent earthquake, the haves rested in their hammocks, visited tanning booths, went to the movies, purchased tickets for spring break, and parasailed, all while the people of Haiti lived in poverty. The haves just did not happen to be in such proximity as the people on the cruise ship. The haves were partying and entertaining themselves in Miami or Long Island or Los Angeles.
Why do we have the ritual of rounding up the homeless in American cities whenever one of the cities hosts a political convention? Is the point to remove the homeless from people’s consciousness, because their proximity would, as the kids says, put a harsh on the (political) party? No one believes that homelessness has been solved because no homeless people are visible during the political convention. The attendees accept that capitalism will produce haves and have-nots, though that can make some people uncomfortable when the haves and have-nots occupy the same space — when that space is unregulated. Much more comfortable to have gated communities, or lovely shops like Starbucks where one can be with one’s own kind, and purchase something overpriced, knowing that a portion of the cost will be distributed without our knowledge or vision to the have-nots, to those who are being excluded from our gated communities. Why get upset when the party comes to the economic scene of horror in the form of a cruise ship? Is it the distance that is unseemly?
If we are to believe the reports during the first day or two after the earthquake, some foreign rescue crews in Port-au-Prince concentrated their efforts on recovering people from the Hotel Montana, the hotel where former President Clinton said he had visited, and where some of the heads of various missionary agencies dined. How many Haitians do you think were staying or dining at the Hotel Montana when it collapsed?