ISSN: 1705-6411

Volume 11, Number 3 (August, 2014)


Disasters in Postmodern Times: The 2011 Japan Earthquake

Dr. Maximiliano E. Korstanje
(University of Palermo, Argentina)

Dr. Peter Tarlow
(Texas A&M University, Texas, USA)

Dr. Geoffrey Skoll
(Profesor Emeritus, Criminology, Buffalo State College, New York, USA)

I. Introduction
At 2:46 pm on March 11, 2011 Japan suffered one of its most intense and devastating earthquakes. The earthquake measured some 7.9 on the Richter scale. It was so intense that world’s media provided almost non-stop 24-hour news coverage.  The reports spoke about the number of victims, and behind the reports the ghost of a Chernobyl-like nuclear disaster was ever present. The earthquake followed by a tsunami not only devastated the Japanese coast but also posed serious risks should the Fukushima nuclear reactor suffer a meltdown. Such a meltdown was a more serious threat to life considering the following relevant aspects

The potential for a nuclear accident or worse now became a real possibility, such as a repetition of what occurred in Chernobyl. This potential nuclear threat dominated the public’s anguish.

No one was sure what would be the negative results on the locale’s children.

Humanity once again had to note that in the face of the earthquake and tsunami it was powerless.

Television viewers saw the harm that nature had done both on the land and on the sea.

Television viewers in other countries realized that no one was immune from the uncontrollable effects of a natural disaster, thus viewers once again noted their impotence in the face of natural disasters. For example, the mass media showed pictures of water invading Japanese cities and destroying all that lay in its path.

The media’s emphasis on personal “miracles” not only reinforced the notion of impotence in the face of natural disasters but also introduced an element of the mystical into the tragedy.  Media reports of people who saved their lives against all odds served not only as examples of the exception to the rule, but also introduced an element of humility into the arrogance of modernity.  Science simply could not solve everything and once again we noted the concept of machina ex deus.

The story was brought home by eyewitness accounts by visitors to Japan.


E. Quarantelli (2006), a senior sociologist who devoted his life to themes of disasters, revealed that the way lay people perceive the world has changed. To the classical disasters, as narrated by cinema, another type of new, virtualized disaster has taken place. The more recent one indexes events which never happened in reality. Based on suppositions, speculations, and hypotheses, these new types of mediated disasters have become cultural entertainment. Quarantelli´s assertion led Korstanje (2011) to argue that we are living at the end of resiliency, because our ability to learn from events is being undermined. Any virtual disaster not only set the pace for others, but the boundaries between reason and cause become blurred. The more apocalyptic, more intriguing, and more striking the virtualized disasters, the more they pose a challenge to science. A careful review of the media accounting of natural and manmade disasters demonstrates that the media often have their own agenda. For example, although officially denied, a careful observer will note that the media’s experts often seem to have predetermined roles. Their scripts demonstrate that the media hosts not only guide the expert’s message, but should the expert go off script, s/he faces being cut off.  Media personalities not only control the microphone but also give themselves a sense of self importance. Thus, news often becomes a spectacle in and of itself. Television reporting often becomes a mixture of sensationalism mixed with scientific truth in which media personalities create an apocalyptic image. The report leaves the viewer with the sensation that the worst is yet to come.  If we apply this principle to the case of Japan, we note of how the media spoke about the possibility of a “nuclear Armageddon.”  However, just as in the majority of other disasters stories, the case of the potential “nuclear catastrophe” may have had us on the edge of our seats for a while, it vanished as the media turned its attention elsewhere. 

Jean Baudrillard was one of the philosophers who have devoted his attention to the study of fear and media. His legacy poses the question in a serious debate considering not only how reality is built, but also how disasters are covered and interposed. Baudrillard´s insight influenced the approaches of Korstanje (2010) who recently studied the connection between disasters with the emergence of a new resilience in cultural studies. Stimulating a fertile ground to discuss to what an extent the media created a parallel reality, enrooted in the uncertainty of future, Baudrillard reminds us that in the absence of a clear diagnosis of reasons for a state of emergency, it is impossible to establish successful plans for risk mitigation. Any attempt to reduce risks in the real world, will create new unplanned risks according to the principle of reversibility. Secondly, the attacks perpetrated against the World Trade Center represent the success of the individual over the world of cloning. WTC or twin towers are alike, as cloned from the same model (Baudrllard 2003). Any suicide exhibits the last individual effort at self annihilation in the world of hyper-reality. Like buildings, news reports are copied and distributed to a broader audience, which is pressed to live in an eternal present. If causes and effects are blurred in the same setting, one disaster will set the pace for the others, undermining our capacity to learn from tragedies. Nationalism and patriotism play a pervasive role, Baudrillard admits, because they achieves the social cohesion in context of uncertainty or emergency, and obscure enough of the disaster so as to be repeated again, and again.

In this paper we present culture and travel as two important elements in trying to comprehend the relationship between disasters and consumption. By means of content analysis as a principle methodology, this study uses a letter sent by the FCAJ (Spanish acronym for “Argentine – Japanese Cultural Foundation”) with its main offices in Buenos Aires’ Japanese Gardens district. In the letter the FCAJ invited its members to make a cultural journey to Japan soon after the earthquake. This essay uses this letter to explore the different narratives that comprise the cultural axis of a trip; an aspect rarely studied within the academic literature. Tourism philosophy is presented as a useful tool to figure out questions attached to the symbolic elaboration of misfortune and how tourism deals with human and natural misfortunes.

It is not uncommon that during emergencies or natural disasters a number of social psychological triggers come to the forefront and place the event in a comprehensible context. Without these social psychological triggers the public would be left in an anomic state, and social disintegration would  set in. Two ways we sort out and make sense of such tragedies are through the twin social mechanisms of nationalism and consumerism. During moments when societies face existential crises, survival may depend on strengthening individuality and group identity. These two social phenomena act as antidotes to the tragedy and allow for group survival. Thus, after a tragedy such as a tsunami or earthquake, national or group pride facilitates the social healing process. It is against this backdrop that we analyze the media coverage and the reaction of the Buenos Aires Japanese community to the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011 and the dangers that ensued from the damage to the Fukuyima reactor. Although this work is about one small community within the Japanese Diaspora, its social psychological insights are not confined to this community, but should be replicable throughout the world.

The main thesis in this work is that both tourism and nationalism operate as ideological instruments as not to fragment the nation. Beyond the trauma and suffering, the survivor develops an exaggerated self-image that leads to ethnocentrism and chauvinism. After all, survivors have passed the proof of death. Their invulnerability is often accompanied with stories linked to strength, fate, pride, and courage. This sentiment, which in the short run, helps people to overcome the wounds post-disaster, at a later time becomes a iron cage, because it upends the causes and consequences of the event. As a consequence, those responsible for the event elude their responsibility. As Baudrillard put it, in a world where the events has been emptied and transformed in pseudo-events, disasters are commoditized to entertain a much broader audience (2002).

II. Travel as an attraction.
Currently, travel and mobility have been transformed into two of modernity’s complementary activities. Not only has travel increased, but also the speed in which we travel has increased.  Connected to this increase, but not necessarily due to it, humanity’s capacity to transmit information across the world has also increased (Lew, 1987; Virilio, 1991; 2007; Urry, 2007; Lash and Urry, 1998; Giddens, 1991; Birtchnell and Buscher, 2011). This increase in both the transmission of information and the increase in travel, while not irrevocable, is hard to stop. Although governments in countries such as China, Iran, and Syria have worked hard to stop the flow of information, their populations have found new and innovative ways to absorb the ever increasing flow of cross-border information.

Respecting travel mobility, often the number of trips made have to do with types of dangers associated with the place to where the trip is to be made or the type of trip. Dangers may include such things as terrorism, diseases, crime, and natural disasters.  Tourist trips facilitate the convergence of fear and social class distinction (Douglas 1997). There is no trip without the possibility of an accident. Despite the risks involved, people do not shy away from travel because they falsely believe that they can avoid all risks. It should be noted that the risk of accidents, and above all it’s the inherent thrill of danger, is a determining factor in how adventurous a trip is perceived to be. This is one reason that people may travel to places that are known for being off the beaten path. For example, a volcano’s eruption may constrict demand for its locale for a while, but once the danger has been removed, the destination often becomes even more popular. Tourism destinations, be they places where there have been battles, or disasters, or have emerged as a product of a previous accident, often become tourism beacons. (Bianchi, 2007; Lennon and Folley, 2000; Korstanje, 2010b; Kaelber, 2007; Poria, 2007; O`Rourke, 1988; Ryan, 2005; Seaton, 1996; 1999; 2000; Urry, 2001; Stone, 2005; 2011).    

George, Inbakaran, and Poyyamoli (2010) emphasize that tourism is different from other kinds of travel. Travel takes us from one place to another, but tourism is circular, and the goal is to visit a place and then return; it is a trip that takes us to where we began. One tourism motivation is curiosity. The sense of danger inherent in any tourism experience leads to both adventure and excitement. Paradoxically, we search for safe places in which to stay and it is the industry’s responsibility to maximize the traveler’s security, while permitting a sense of danger and excitement at the same time. Elías and Dunning (1992), on the other hand, note that we classify business or pleasure trips by a sense of controlled environment that separates us from fear.  A limited dose of fundamental risk provides a social distinction. One aspect of tourism is that it dislocates our sense of belonging and our identity by placing us in an anomie (Tang and Wong, 2009).

The German philosopher C. Wenge proposes three theories to explain the reasons we travel:  a) we seek to evade something, b) we seek some form of status, or c) we go on a pilgrimage. In the first case, that of evasion, Wenge suggests that we seek travel to separate ourselves from life’s routine and drudgery. The traveler seeks relief from work that both alienates and oppresses. Using this perspective, we see a convergence of the aspiration for something new with the desire to get away from life’s daily routines. In Wenge’s second case, the thesis of conformity or status says that we travel to fit into the norms of the dominant class from which comes the ostentatious consumption of experiences and social recognition, a kind of conspicuous consumption (Veblen 1899).  Finally, travel as pilgrimage refers to the need for movement and implies obligation and exhibition. In the modern world pilgrimages often interconnect with messages that the media send forth. Thus, what we read in a novel or see on television or the movies becomes a tourist pilgrimage, of either the secular or religious variety. For example, a visit to many of the monuments in Washington, DC can be a secular pilgrimage. In like manner, many people wanted to visit the train station from which Harry Potter left for the mythical world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or the churches mentioned in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (Wenge, 2007). Wenge does not clarify whether his pilgrimage thesis is a matter of underlining social fault lines or an exhibitionist form of being different. On this point Korstanje and Busby (2010) have explained the origin of tourism may be from the Biblical contexts where sin implies a movement outside of the norms as a form of evasion of responsibility. In the Hebrew verbal root for the verb “to sin: (chet-tet-alef) literally means to miss the mark or for the arrow to miss its target.

In agreement with the above authors, S. Larsen (2007, 2009) introduces a new category which he calls “worry” as a form of normative reinforcement. Worry is an inference that transcends the cognitive field exclusively with the appearance of probable results, coupled with a person’s or group’s negative energy that created a desire for travel. Worry is related to danger.  Furthermore, as worry increases, there is a decline in our willingness to assume risks. For this reason travelers have greater worries when they are at home imagining their trip in comparison to when they are on a trip   (Larsen, 2007; 2009). In recent decades, professional advice has become a way for people to seek an efficient way to put threats into intellectually understandable contexts. The travel professional has been become the go-to person in order to obtain technical advice and to measure risk.  Professionals are precisely those who are empowered by society (or in some places the state) to protect individual’s lives to maximize earning and reduce dangers.  (Bledstein, 1978; Beck, 2006; Bauman, 2008).

In the case of tourism, the professional’s familiarity with potential dangers sends a reassuring message to the client giving her/him a certain sense of security that s/he can take on the trip.  (Fielding et al, 2005). Moving beyond the field of travel we note that Sjoberg considers that there exists a differentiation in the way in which an expert analyzes a threat in contrast to public opinion.  For example, a professional who is dedicated to a nuclear threat will view the threat through the lens of his knowledge base and in a different way from that of someone with a lesser knowledge.  This type of knowledge is often called high knowledge as opposed to low knowledge. A person may have high knowledge in one area but in other areas only low knowledge. There is no consensus in the literature on this point. For example, there are studies that demonstrate that in the field of medicine both doctors and patients perceive high levels of risk in the face of high potential for illnesses. According to Thomas Kuhn (1962), experts are often committed to the paradigm of their discipline, and therefore hold onto this belief with a high level of confidence. To be an expert is to believe in one’s ability to grapple with, and seek ways to treat the problem. Politicians, on the other hand, must react to public trends and therefore tend to hold much lower confidence levels.

There are two roles that expert play in the management of risk: protector and promoter. The first type refers to the professionals who are part of the public information services with the goal of informing the public so as to avoid states of emergency. Protectors tend to be upset that the public may have scarce information about a determined risk, and these experts will put their efforts into shaping the debate regarding specific social questions—for example, doctors, first aid workers, or experts in natural disasters. Their desire to shape the debate may mean that the so-called experts may become part of the problem. In much of the population there exists the perception that there is a relationship between technology and risk, a pessimistic perspective which signals that technology is responsible for the risk.

III. Risk and Technology
The sociologies of Beck (2006) and Giddens (1991) have examined the relationship between technology and risk. From Beck’s perspective, a societiy’s means of production is ever changing even when it is in the world of “as if or might be.”  Beck argues that societies feign practices and customs from previous decades, even when the market and its forms of production have changed direction.  In the social world we observe a preliminary state that stands between an industrial society and a risk society. The globalization of risk assaults the individual’s integrity. Beck is conscious that the process of modernity regressed soon after the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine.  Chernobyl altered radically the way in which we perceive risk and threats. These post-Chernobyl risks differ from the risks that medieval travelers faced. The medieval traveler evaluated his personal risks before setting forth on his/her adventure. Modern risks, on the other hand, are presented not on the micro scale but rather on the macro scales such as global risks, world catastrophes, and chaotic situations in which the traveler is enveloped into a sense of impotency (Beck 2006).

According to Beck, minor threats or individual risks eventually become tolerated by society, but as these risks accumulate they become major threats. For example, the random murder of innocent civilians by terrorist groups in places such as Israel is often tolerated by the world, but when the numbers become such that Israel takes action, then the individual tragedies of rocket attacks on school children become international threats to world peace and the United Nations becomes involved. The saying that the destruction of even one life is the destruction of an entire world has now been lost to the modern media. In this way, as opposed to the business class that maintains a strict line of separation between economic classes, modern society confronts a new configuration in its social order. This new society receives the name a risk society whose principal characteristic lies in the risks that are equally distributed throughout the classes and social groupings (Beck 2006). Against the logic of material appropriation of merchandise, we now are presented with the antithesis: the logic of denial.  By means of selective journalism privileged groups hide information about risks and minimize the collateral damage produced by hyper-consumption. Responsibilities and rights blur the borders between innocence and culpability. From this perspective, risk production is proportional to the distribution of wealth. Beck’s main thesis is that the imposition of risks on the consumer involves the idea of a limited stimulation by the market. From this perspective, fear is the only necessity that has no end point and there is always room for more (Beck, 2006). As production increases so do risks.

Anthony Giddens proposes to understand modernity and technology as an epistemological break that is divorced from ideals to the point of creating fragmentation and uncertainty. According to Giddens, capitalism needs a degree of risk to maintain its raison d’être. The mediation of capital fulfills a primordial role in the configuration of risk, as it absorbs the dangers derived from fear.  For example, an insurance company that assumes third party risks demands a specific amount of money as compensation. Traditional societies are nourished by trust in the past while at the same time blurring the past.  In a like manner, modern technology has eroded religion, even to the point of transforming itself into its own god. Thus, we observe that experts have replaced priests in the selling of fear. In the Christian world the notion of Hell has been replaced by modernity’s use of risk (Giddens, 1991, 1999, 2000).

According to Leo Marx (1994) the conception of technology during the Enlightenment began to change radically with the arrival of modernity. The Enlightenment created a utopian ideal with respect to progress, but technology played a limited role in its relationship to this ideal. With modernity, the relationship became reversed creating a technocratic and technological truth in which technology begins to subvert the Enlightenment’s ideals. Postmodernism criticizes the use given to technology by the Enlightenment. Postmodern critics argue that if these goals rest only in the technical then these goals are amoral and irrational in and of themselves. From its creation, soon after the French involvement in its Vietnam War, postmodernism has been pessimistic regarding the use and role of technology. It rejects not only the Enlightenment’s ideals concerning technology, but also the narrative constructed around the notion of historical progress. Nevertheless, there is an internal contradiction in that postmodernism offers a much more technological vision than that which it aims to destroy. This contradiction holds especially true in the excessive role that the communication industry has taken in this process. In its diehard criticism of ideology and the system of ideas, postmodernism demonstrates multiple contradictions (Marx 1994: 25).

R. Pippin expands this line of reasoning when he writes, if the first Marxists (including Karl Marx) considered technology as a leap backwards in the course of a society’s progress, it was after the intervention of Lukacs and especially after the Frankurt School that technology was begun to be seen as an instrument of alienation within Capitalist sociology. (Pippin, 1994: 99).  On the other hand, it was clear that technologies, such as medical technology, supported up dominant groups with respect to risk. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that with the decline of technology we have seen the decline of the basis of scientific authority. Fragmentation of knowledge accompanied by an anomie of established norms resulted in an increase in each society’s threshold of uncertainty. Fear is determined by the degree of narcissism developed by the self.

According to C. Lasch (1999), there exists an almost irreversible tendency to conceive of the external world as dangerous, catastrophic, and/or chaotic. This tendency is a product of a changing values and a cosmic vision that appeared for the first time in modernity. The current situation is despite the political rhetoric, that no one really seeks a solution to potentially catastrophic problems, but rather stresses individual survival. Lasch argues that in a narcissistic culture that elevates the ‘I’ it is hard to understand the future of the ‘we.’  Modern culture shows a a lack of interest in the past and lacks a sense of tradition. In a narcissistic culture, the past only represents a trivial form of commercialization and exchange. At the same time, fear has been converted into a way for therapists to make money. Moderns have subordinated all of their inhibitions to “the company” and are incapable of satisfying their own needs. Personal self-fulfillment is presented as the maximum measure of success in a narcissistic society. There exists an entire cultural critique that holds that psychological therapy tends to indoctrinate the lower classes into upper class goals, such as personal development and self-control. Modern society and its productive system appeal to a division of social relations and subsuming them before technical and expert dominance (Lasch, 1999)

IV. Spectacles and Cultural Dominance
Scaremongering, explains E. Berbeglia, comes out of a double tendency to reconcile opposites. On one hand, there is fear, while on the other hand there is hope. Both stake their claim in reconstructing a new form of linkage between members of a society. The imposition of panic by means of multiple mechanisms is complemented by political messages whose ultimate ends are indoctrination and control. If on one hand scaremongering emphasizes worst case scenarios, on the other hand it provides sufficient security to present a solution to the problem. In this way threats that promise to destroy civilization converge with possible solutions as presented by science and its community of experts. Catastrophes imply a cultural rupture, produced by human intervention in nature or by nature itself, in which humans either adapt or perish. Catastrophic events generate discussions that serve as warnings, and alternate between hope and fear. For those who follow plans, such as evacuation plans, there is hope, and for those who choose to ignore these plans or disobey them, fear is ever present. Examples of this hope/fear continuum are hurricane warnings given along the Gulf Coast. Residents are routinely told to follow evacuation orders or they risk death. The Katrina disaster that struck the city of New Orleans in 2005 versus that of Hurricane Isaac demonstrates the political symbolic construct of a disaster (Berbeglia, 2002).

Another scholar, S. Zizek (2011) discusses the paradox of a modernity in which certain things are permitted, but only when they link people with mobility and technology while prohibiting other things that would lead us to question the foundations of capitalism. In keeping with Zizek’s argument, our world allows us to get to the moon as tourists, but it is not permitted to break with the ideas of the bourgeois or with a distorted idea of modern democracy. In short, experts’ roles and the content that they produce only aids the market’s ideological machinery. In his Blaming the Victim, William Ryan (1971) showed the subtle tactics used by capitalist elites not to face the responsibility for their decisions. Ideology serves as a system of belief that preserves the power of elites. These types of ideas are a distortion of reality reflecting intentional purposes. Blaming the victim seems to be an ideological process that distorts the real causes of emergencies. If, for instance and in keeping with Gandhi, poverty is a state of disaster, in American society the poor are blamed for socio-economic condition. The social forces that generate these unfair situations not only are not criticized but are preserved. The difference between assistance or charity versus subordination becomes blurred if not erased in the blaming-the-victim strategies. In this respective, blaming the victim happens with exceptionalist frameworks that apply on universal values. Whenever journalists or other analysts point out that poverty is a reason for disasters, the blaming-the-victim strategy is used to negate their analyses (Ryan, 1971: 16-17). It is safe to affirm that social problems and disasters play a vital role in configuring the ideological discourse to blame the victims for the events.

If, as Baudrillard suggests, we are living in a time of the decline of the nation state and of religion, its resurgence can be explained after a natural tragedy occurs. Nationalism constructs a discourse to feed its own logic in the face of  adversity, chaos, anarchy, and disorders. Nature is neither tamable nor always understood, and we often perceive it as hostile. Yet there are symbols that offer hope in this desolate social and political environment. Hope is often found in symbolism. For example, the figure of the rescue dog trained to save human lives transforms the harshness of nature. The Chilean or Swiss rescue dog inspires patriotism and these nations’ citizens wave their flags in unison as a sign of pride. Symbols can also be human. For example, the Israeli medical teams that came to Haiti’s aid before any other nation and within some forty-eight hours had tent hospitals up and running. They created a great sense of pride in Israel. The theme there was as Europe and the American nations talked, Israel acted. Far from having disappeared, nationalism and the nation state appear to have been transformed and are doing quite well.

Another example is that Chilean nationalism became activated in the face of the earthquake that occurred there during the end of February 2010. Words such as courage, uprising, and battle appear in the testimonies of the survivors as well as in the announcers’ voices or those of the commentators who came on the air. Survivors served their society by helping to construct a national feeling to give testimony to the event. This testimony is necessary for the national dialogue that permits healing.  The same phenomenon can be found both in both the Jewish world and Germany after World War II. However no such dialogue took place in France and so the nation never healed.  France has no equivalent to writers such as Ellie Weisel and only now some 60 years later is coming to terms with its political earthquake.

V. Jean Baudrillard and the sense of reality
In post modernity, the event succumbs before the logic of the spectacle, and is transformed into a non-event.  By transforming the event into a media tale, the story comes to symbolize the lack of real events and becomes the production of non-events. The September 11, 2001 attack against the Twin Towers inaugurated the end of history and the re-elaboration of potentiality. The media decided which events became facts and transmit daily thousands of similar events which numb the senses and make the unique common. This same method is used by academics who produced so many ostensibly scholarly articles that they succeed in dumbing down society. Ever since SARS and until September 11 the concept of efficiency has created a system of functional non-events for a market that produces ever greater amounts of gradually subjective publicity (Baudrillard, 1995a, 1995b, 2001, 2002). Modern capitalist society lives under two cultural principles: the proliferation of the computer and a high degree of sexuality as expressed in the media. Threats mobilize resources with the end of legitimizing the social order. AIDS, terrorism, crack deals, and electronic viruses all put into play a process whereby society examines a whole series of processes and speculations that people may have on one of these subjects.

The event creates a break between “the before and the after”, the succession of events are the result of history. Extreme phenomena acquire great virulence to the extent that they falsify human tools that are destined to the examination of the internal world and its surroundings. Baudrillard argues that humans need catastrophes so as not to be lost in emptiness or absolute nothingness. Baudrillard writes: “The total catastrophe would be that of the omnipresence of all information, of that which is totally transparent whose effects are luckily eclipsed by the computer virus. Thanks to it (the virus) we will not go on a straight line until the end of information and communication which would be death” (Baudrillard, 2000: 16).

The catastrophe has turned into a kind of tool with the end of avoiding that worst. In emergencies and catastrophes danger paralyzes our social lives to elude a state of disintegration. Global threats function as a virus taken from the physical body, as a fact or event X, which then moves to be virtually disseminated to other bodies from which it can infect other organisms. The mass media function as a perfect mechanism or vector to make the disaster spread.  Baudrillard goers on to explain that “electronic viruses are the expression of information’s homicidal transparency throughout the world.  AIDS is the emanation of the homicidal transparency of sexual liberation on group scales.  The stock market Cracks are the expression of murderous transparency of the economy between itself, of the rapid circulation of values that are the base of both liberation from production and interchange.  Once liberated, all of the processes enter into super-fusion on the scale of nuclear fusion that is its prototype” (Ibíd.: 42).

Given the right conditions, political manipulation proposes an objective, an evil, a problem that only it can solve or exorcize. The superiority of certain groups to define good or evil is accompanied by an ideological conversation whose maximum tool is the diffusion of fear.  However to differentiate himself  from Beck, Baudrillard admits that we have weakened quite a lot in creating Satanic energy, which implies that evil has been stripped of its symbolic function. It no longer acts as a deterrent, but as a fetish blurring the limits about which we should fear. This fear does not have an objective. It is similar to an existentialist anguish. The Western World lives in a protected capsule, not unlike riding in a pressured airplane capsule, and terrorism is implicit the effect of depressurizing. Violence practiced on the East turns against the West, which reciprocally weakens ethical and moral values.

Baudrillard calls attention to the fact that threats mobilize resources with the end of legitimizing society’s order. AIDS, terrorism, financial crack, and electronic viruses put into play a process whereby society reviews a series of procedures and assumptions that touch upon a specific theme.  The event creates a break between “a before and an after”, and linking these events becomes history. Extreme phenomena acquire greater sensitive virulence to the measure that they become sophisticated human tools destined for the exploitation of the internal and surrounding world.  Catastrophes become a tool with the end of avoiding that something worse might happen.  The pursuit of manufactured events erases the principle of reality in the mind of the media. 

G. Coulter (2012) says that Baudrillard proposes a new concept of reality based on Greek philosophy in the form of an allegory of the second law of thermodynamics, which prevents reversibility for certain processes. Any social structure, like empires, is subject to the possibility to collapse because of its own strength. If the linear evolution of technology implies moving forward to a next stage, reversibility evokes poetics as a form of displaced dialectics (Coulter, 2012). Of course, as post-structutalist, Baudrillard knows the virtualization of the media blurs the distinction between fiction and truth. Unlike other philosophers, he does not look to the truth of events. What today people know about history is by means of movies. This reveals certain ignorance about the past, but the history has ended. Starting from the premise reversibility is a natural antidote against determinism. Baudrillard argues that poems come from ambiguity and uncertainty, which are rooted in the language. Like truth, language determines the boundaries of being, in which any meaning are subject to proper understanding. Alluding to the metaphor of precogs in “The Minority Report” (Dick 1956), who anticipated to the crime before it was committed, Baudrillard‘s most intriguing point of debate is that fiction, like theory, give sense in order for us to understand the world. The construction of concepts reveals that nothing can be said about events. Therefore, visual appearances seem to replace meanings of the past. The vertigo of interpretation imposed by the media, is based on an immediate future; it also destroyed the history. Coulter adds that we are not able to find the truth simply because remains hidden from human cognition, and it is only accessible by means of fiction. However, fiction cannot be empirically verified. After all, truth is only an illusory construction designed in order for human beings to reach nothing. The truth is like the fish that bites its own tail. Therefore, Baudrillard is convinced that 9/11 never existed. He is not the philosopher of nonsense as some other scholars proposed. Baudillard´s legacy consists in a sharp criticism against modernity and hyper-reality, to the extent of defying compliance with the market in science. Hyper-reality of the media have been paved the way to create a show to be sold to an international audience where the reason and the effects of disasters are presented. As reality is not necessary in modern times, history has been commoditized to work together with nationalism and patriotism. Philosophers should distance themselves from the illusory nature of patriotism and tradition.

VI. Intellectuals, experts and Nation-state
Baudrillard criticized against the work of Susan Sontag and Noam Chomsky, arguing both were moved by certain chauvinist interests. Sontag, he said, begins with a false and mediated solidarity with humanitarian gestures in the Balkans, but these acts not only are not real, they are counter-productive for the goals she claims to pursue. Sontag, to some extent, acts in complicity with the status quo. The splendid coverage she receives, represents hypocrisy and a hidden patriotism that does not deviate from American partisanship (Baurdillard, 1985; 1986).  What intellectuals do not appreciate is that terrorists do not hate the United States, because it is the freest, most prosperous, wealthiest, and  most democratic republic of the world, which values are incidentally imposed by means of war and violence. More importantly, terrorists get their weapons, tactics, and strategies from the United States. Baudrillard explains how hate is caused by humiliation, not by exploitation. The United States and the West, especially Britain and France, colonized the Middle East mind long ago. 9/11 exhibits a response to the humiliation inflicted by global powers. Neither Sontag nor Chomsky seems to realize they are using suffering to propagate American values in the world. Their inability to see the problem of democracy, or Anglo-American democracy, as well as the asymmetries given by globalization, allude to a much broader change in the means of production, as the  nation-state and capitalism are inextricably intertwined.

Another interesting viewpoint comes from Paul Virilio (2010) who complemented the thoughts of Baudrillard. Is technology responsible for human disasters? Virilio says that technologies and mobilities not only have created new forms of displacements, but also have blurred the relation between time and space. As a result of this, people have full access to any geographical point of the globe in hours. The time of waiting has changed forever. Travelers now are moved by visual consumption. There is no genuine contact in visited lands. Events in the past formed history as a continuation of ordered facts, but global transportation and communication technologies make a new kind of real time in which people can no longer synchronize watches. Citizens have been transformed into consumers. History has been emptied into a fragmentation of events, dispersed globally and broadcast repeatedly. The function of  the modern university is no longer the production of  knowledge. Now the university is producing experts conducive to the actuarial concerns of the insurance industry and various market demands. Virilio argues that everything happens at the same time in hyper-reality without a logical sequence. The world stage is represented outside the planet, in an exo-earth. The days of science, as an all-encompassing instrument based on rational understanding, has changed. It has been transformed in an exo-science that promotes the simultaneous globalization of fear, whilst biology and astronomy are eclipsed by the eternal present. Virilio emphasizes the mea culpa of science for its failure to create an ethic of life. Based on the belief that the global warming is not reversible in the short-run, science should explore issues from the perspective of homeland safety and security. To be protected, big corporations, banks, and the capitalist elite call climatologists and geographers to design catastrophe simulation software that provides some information about where the next disaster will take hit. In this vein, a new profession is rising, the economic-disaster-modeling-geek. This expert seems to be more interested in finding and eliminating the risks to businesses, or finding ways to profit from such risks, than in protecting the environment. The philosophy of the science today is determined by the logic of digital screens. The simulation of  a future that characterizes the digital world has replaced the daily life (Virilio, 2010).

To what an extent the Science has become in an irreducible ally of market? Not only the software, but geologists today are poised to assist insurances companies, to know where nature will strike tomorrow. The problem of ecological risk seems not to be of extreme importance of experts, unless by the economic losses they generate. Modern science lacks critical discernment of the information it produces. More interested in anticipating to the future than understanding the past, the science coupled to technology, simulates reality to mitigate risks. In this respect, Virilio and Baudrillard agree: “We might note a recent project whereby detection of major risks is reversed, since the computer in question is involved in producing said major risks. At the end of 2006, IBM effectively decided to build the most powerful super calculator in the world. To do so, it will use processors capable of up one million billon operations per second, accelerating by as much the reality of the disastrous progress in weapons of mass destructions… which prompts personal question: after having resorted to meteorologists and other climatologists to calculate the economic risk of catastrophe, will the insurance and reinsurance companies one day have to call on the army and their new strategists to detect major ecological risk of nuclear proliferation”(Virilio 2010: 18).

Although the specialized literature up to date has focused on the probabilistic nature of risk, it is socially negotiated and communicated. G. Skoll and M. Korstanje (2012) said that risks are conducive to economic production. To some extent, risks only can be mitigated once they have occurred, not before. If a correct decision is made on the basis of a scientific evaluation of risks, specialists admit the negative effects of disaster can be reversed. Rather, risks seem not to be a result of human’s ignorance but a gradual process that allowed the replication of capital. From eighteenth century onwards, the dangers travellers face carrying goods from one to another point of the globe determines the final transaction price. From this viewpoint, risk was functional to the expansion of mercantilism and later capitalism. Each society develops particular forms of living democracy according to a sentiment of autonomy that alternates between efficiency and institutionalism. Given this argument, Skoll and Korstanje (2012) explain that risk works by the introduction of a text, a discourse, mediated, produced and defended by experts. While some properties may be widely exchanged, depreciating their value, others are banned but in high demand. The value of the latter goods is so exorbitant that they become inalienable possessions. Furthermore, those actors who monopolize the possession of these taboo-goods enhance their prestige and gain further legitimacy than others. This generates an economic asymmetry among citizens. Validated by the future, ordinary people may buy for insurance-related protection prior to a disaster. As Baudrillard and Virilio put it, risks enable some tactics of capital reproduction based on the future. As a result, the present and history do not exist anymore. The disaster-related news leads people to mass consumption, while the nation-state introduces nationhood to legitimate the use of violence in case of internal dispute.

In her book Unspeakable Violence, Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez discusses the disciplinary instrument employed by states in borderlands to domesticate foreignness. They employ selective memory to reinforce the belief of nationhood awakening. Nation-states are formed under process of differentiation and its economic reorganization of territory. The centre of hegemony, like ideology, works by controlling what we denominate as authenticity. Mexico, for instance, promoted an image to the world based on the multiculturalism and respect for aborigines. However, less is said about how the government reserves the monopoly of force to discipline some peripheral ethnicities. Although, The Aztec (lo indio) heritage is elected to denote greatness, power, and empire, other indigenous groups are relegated to secondary positions (Guidotti-Hernandez, 2011). The guide books offered to international visitors not only trivialize their history, but inflict an unspeakable violence to legitimate the cultural values of elites.

The events in Japan makes one forget the causes and the effects of other catastrophes of the same magnitude such as that of Haiti, whose circumstances are similar, or of Chile, New Zealand, or New Orleans. Culture fills the vacuum generated by modernity through which each actor and member of the group receives a value and identity which distinguishes them. Personal value is assigned to each citizen according of their salary. We connect this value to the person’s capacity to be able to operate with risks, through professional advice. Thus, when we affirm that an accident impacts the market, we are not only harmed, but we underestimate its internal logic. Accidents give value to the product. Natural or manmade disasters are valued in the market according to the specific demands of the consumer. It is not the same to travel to ground zero where the Twin Towers were located as to go to location X on the globe without media representation.

VII. The Episteme of Risk
The importance of Baudrillard for disaster-related research has been ignored by some specialists, in part because few risk-related researchers are familiar with philosophical texts. Epistemologically speaking, Baudrillard was a pioneer who envisaged the connection between risk the  future by presenting an all-encompassing framework to understand the psychological impacts of disasters in our daily life. Baudrillard´s studies influenced the work of many other philosophers and sociologists, interested in risk research suchas Niklas Luhmann or Anthony Giddens.

Although risk perception studies use highly complex algorithmic mathematical categories, there is no fundamental epistemology to study risk from a qualitative perspective. Unfortunately for researchers in tourism who are interested in studying risk phenomenon and the threat of the natural disaster, these scholars do not publish their studies from the qualitative viewpoint. From projection techniques to diverse ethnographies or content analysis, there exists a never-ending variety of techniques that permit a scientific study of risk which escape the logic of a number (Luhmann, 2006). According to N. Luhmann, one of the characteristics of risk is that despite being placed in a limited possibility of avoidance, it also becomes a product within the financial decision making process. An airplane crash, airline luggage theft (in the United States usually perpetrated by US government security personnel), or a suicide bombing, among others provide choices of risk. Individuals assume their own risk when they participate in the decision making process that results in the expected, or not so expected, results. Events outside of the subject’s decision-making process are understood as a threat or danger. This is one of the most common conceptual errors as applied to travel. Nonetheless, as we shall see in the following section when the subject avoids the formal professional channels risk increases.

VIII. From Disasters to Cultural Travel
The Administrative council of the FCAJ (Fundación Cultural Argentino-Japonesa/ Japanese-Argentine Cultural Foundation) headquartered in Buenos Aires’ Japanese Garden (Jardín Japonés) organized a cultural trip to Japan to take place in 2012. The trip was organized prior to Japan’s 2011 earthquake. The earthquake did not cancel the trip, but postponed it. However, the way in which it was organized changed considerably. This post disaster context travel, engendered risks associated with radioactivity. Defying more than four decades of literature in risk avoidance studies, what in normal circumstances would be a motive of rejection, here was the steppingstone for travel.

The pamphlet or flier published by this association (FCAJ) mentions of the number (quantification of the desire as an argument for sale) of questions that the association had received with respect to the potential trip: “A bit more than a month had passed since the terrible event in Japan, we gathered our forces to revisit the subject about the Cultural Trip to Japan to occur in 2012 and answered some of the questions. We received in those days a visit from the Ms. Srta. Mariko Hamamoto, a member of the Advisor Council of the Foundation’s administration who currently was residing in Kyoto.  She transmitted to us information about the current situation in Japan. With these concrete data, the FCAJ was able to evaluate the subject and decided to continue the trip”.   

Although the trip was planned prior to the earthquake, FCAJ could not avoid the fact that the situation had changed. The cultural trip to Japan was based on the ideal of brotherhood between communities, and as such this implied sharing of risks. The narrative of the trip to Japan, however, presents specifics that distinguish it from other narratives. The mediated image of the disaster, the virtual danger, the professional advice, and the culture are current matters when we read the official letter of the FCAJ.

Likewise, it is of interest to note that the trip’s tours had been scheduled to keep a considerable distance from the Fukushima nuclear plants. As for the rapid recovery of Japan, that the Argentines of Japanese descendent longed for, is added the layout of an centerfold showing places to where they were making a pilgrimage. The trip literature implied that despite everything that had happened it the danger had not increased over other excursions that the FCAJ had previously made to Japan. The organizers displayed a high degree of professionalism. For example, they informed the travelers that the trip would go through Canada rather than the United States to avoid visa issues, and were there to be any danger, the trip would then be cancelled. “The travel plan remains without modifications. For everyone’s tranquility, we are informing you that the cities to be visited, according to our itinerary are some 500/600 kilometers to the south of where the tsunami struck and where the explosion at the Central Nuclear Electrical plant occurred (see details on map below). We are confident in a rapid Japanese recovery. We further want to inform you that our first meeting of about our Cultural Trip to Japan was a complete success, last Friday (March 4). We thank everyone who attended and we remind you of the topics to be discussed. …  Two possible itineraries have been handed out; these are the ones that the travel agencies with which we are working have given to us. Once the final group is formed the final itinerary will be developed. Although the majority of those interested are confident in that which has been proposed until now. With respect to the travel route, we will try to avoid the USA due to difficulties in obtaining visas. A possible route is through Canada. Getting a Canadian visa is a simple process. (Remember that these procedures are your responsibility) We calculate (including time on board, layovers) more than 30 hours of travel until we reach Japan. Once we have ten confirmed reservation the trip is confirmed”.

A second aspect of tourism must be the cost-benefit analysis. The FCAJ, just as any organization that is sponsoring group travel, must weigh the trip’s desired results, maximize earnings, and minimize losses. Toward this end the FCAJ had to take into account security concerns, and assure the traveling public that they would be safe while demonstrating cognizance of the risks involved.  Like Sontag’s trip criticized by Baudrillard, there is nothing real in this travel. Tourists want to have an outstanding experience, already labeled by Television.At a first glance, they seem to be risk-taking travelers, but in fact, the cultural adventure is completely safe. Commoditized, framed and sold before starting, this cultural travel may be equaled to what Baudrillard calls a pseudo-event. The Baudrillard model is helpful in understanding that cultural consumption is related to the rational estimates of the outcomes. Travelers must evaluate the costs and benefits emphasizing their own security. In such a process, culture becomes secondary in importance to security. Yet it is culture that is being consumed and cannot be overlooked.  The FCAJ trip demonstrated that unfortunate incidents, the pain of others, and/or catastrophes in many cases do not break the logic of consumption. Instead, when combined with nationalism, may add to its potential. In a hyper-reality risks are not real; they are configured by the media.  Modern humans seek spectacle and the unique, but also seek a deepening of their cultural roots. We see this exemplified in the following from the FCAJ missive: “We look forward to your confirming that you will be on this spectacular Cultural Trip.”

‘Spectacle’ has two possible semantic definitions. The first is connected to differences—that is, the trip is characterized not only by being in an area of supposed radioactive danger, but also by the unique Japanese traditions. Secondly, the abnormal situation in which the trip was undertaken is for many exceptional and this reinforces the need to maintain limits between a superordinate ego and the radicalization of the other.  In this context, the voyage can only be carried out if the members have all paid their fees, which indicates a subordination of the cultural with respect to the financial economic aspects. “We emphasize that this trip is organized by FCAJ, that it is NOT a tourism business. We count on the experience of more than 30 trips made by the Federation’s president.  Moreover, one of the members of the Foundation’s Executive Council currently lives in Japan, and can guide us directly on subjects such as those mentioned at our meeting. (Potters, important painters of sumi-e, kabuki theater, calligraphy, martial arts, government themes etc)”.

Note that the professional advice given by the travel agent in the organization of tours has been relegated to being less important or not important at all.  The organizers suggest that the trip to Japan will be carried out in a secure environment without an external organization. The FCAJ claims it has conducted some thirty trips to Japan, and has the assistance of one of its members who is a native of that country and who currently lives there. Through ostensibly shared knowledge and enhanced communication, the FCAJ has eliminated the necessity of a travel agent, and demonstrated assumed risk—as if it were an insurance company—without the need for professional advice.
The FCAJ literature implied that a tourism agency might detract from the seriousness of the cultural visit, and for this reason who better than the FCAJ to organize the voyage?  As in this case and in other cases, the lack of professional advice in tourism, the decline of the travel agent, is present as a characteristic of the process of reliability on modernity and the individuation of risks as understood by Beck and Giddens.  As professional advice declines, individual risks become greater. The experiences along with other fundamental aspects of professional advice are explained by the historic role that advisors have provided in the lives of people, from the ecclesiastic confessors to the therapists, and travel agents.  All of them have fulfilled a similar function: adding knowledge to the sense of possibility for civilization.

Reviewing the institutional letter, analyzed and sent by the FCAJ permits us to understand the following elements” 1) Modern travel and tourism is rooted in a financial-economic matrix which subordinates the social but does not eliminate it entirely; 2) Travel needs a symbolic construction, a narrative sufficiently attractive and powerful to assure the travelers’ interest.  This criterion has varied throughout the centuries, however in our age it is characterized by being anchored in the cultural, in tradition, and in folklore; 3) Indigeneity not only represents group cohesion,since it mentions the privilege of “being Japanese,” but also prearranges a product ready for collective consumption. The culture absorbs the anguish of the unknown by means of building risk; 4) For the exposed, the danger or the potential danger that the Japanese earthquake represented and the ensuing difficulties in that country to deal with its problems in its radioactive plants play an ambiguous role. On one hand, they attract a Japanese public disturbed by the tragedy, while on the other hand, they alienate certain spaces that are now out of bounds.  The tour is possible thanks to this combination of attraction and contained danger

It is not hard to see in moments of emergencies and/or natural disasters, that diverse mechanisms come forth that help groups to understand what is happening to avoid group disintegration. As explained by Baudrillard, nationalism and the proclivity for consumer culture are the social mechanisms whose function lies in sense of world events. Tragedy supposes a radical extermination, but at the same time individual and group strength to overcome the same. In this context national pride is demonstrated soon after an event like an earthquake or tsunami. What we find in play is the necessity of making sense of something that appears to make no sense. The missive’s message was simply stating: yes a great part of Japan has been destroyed with a high cost in human life and materials, but the survivors realize that despite all the community is still standing. 

IX. Conclusion
After review, we consider that Baudrillard’s texts would be of importance for the risk-related research in next decades. They allude to a fertile ground to study the connection between cultural entertainment, media and nationalism. Further, Baudrillard reminds us that the strengthening of the group for reconstruction and the role of nationalism are important at the time of confronting reality.  In that instant are when the national and the traditional converge, the market is the capable entity of organizing individual passions and turning them or sublimating them in established institutions (Baudrillard, 1995a; 1995b). The letter issued by FCAJ shows any travel, even the cultural, is part of an economical matrix, which delineates the boundaries between safe and unsafe geography. Experts and specialists, in this case the tour operators, suggest to travelers the best options for achieving a unique experience, but this does not mean such an experience is real. The national-being represents an attraction for travels as a type of brotherhood, which is not altered even by spatial distance. Being Japanese is a reason for pride, because after the quake, Japan is still working to recover the obliterated industries, schools and households. The claim alludes to a sentiment of ethnocentrism. Following the explanation of C. Lasch, this process of victimization is narcissistic, closed to the dialogue with others. As a result of this temporal blindness, in which the real causes of the Fukushima tragedy are not discussed, They will provide a fertile source for the next disaster.

The concept of hyper-reality coined by J Baudrillard is of paramount importance to expand the current understanding of how any disaster sets the pace to the next. This construct is conductive for the elite to introduce radical changes that otherwise would be rejected by public opinion. After a catastrophe, capitalism offers higher and newly recycled buildings, taller skyscrapers, further modern infrastructures, faster mobile technologies, and so on. The important aspect that lies below the surface in these processes is the need to create future order out of chaos. The market recreates new fictions by which the possibility of new disasters may be borne. In this context, a disaster can be transformed into a symbolic mediator and product of consumption giving rise to what tourism specialists call “dark tourism.”  Modern society not only sells tranquility and security to its consumers, but also through crisis management gives birth to new products. Tourism, culture and the travel industry are part of the never ending cycle of creation that perhaps first started with the Big Bang. Thus, we are in the presence of the end of disasters as events structured that provide social meaning. Today, catastrophes are socially and journalistically enshrined in the world of consumerism. After all, what nobody discusses is, as Voltaire said, earthquakes do not kill people, buildings do … disasters are human inventions, produced by human intervention into environment.

Geoffrey Skoll is Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at Buffalo State College. He has a Ph.D. in socio-cultural anthropology and a MSW in clinical social work. His previous publications include Contemporary Criminology and Criminal Justice Theory: Evaluating Justice Systems in Capitalist Societies (2009) and Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk: An Ethnography of a Drug Abuse Treatment Facility (1992),and The Dialectics of Social Thoughts (2014). His current interests focus on social theory, terrorism, and social control.

Peter Tarlow is executive Director of A&M Texas Hillel and Tourism & More inc. He is the author of "Event Risk Management and Safety," which was reviewed by Security Management (magazine) in 2003 and 2005. In 2007 he was a speaker at The Intelligence Summit. His Ph.D. is in sociology and aside from his work at Texas A&M, he "teaches 'tourism safety' to police chiefs around the world. He frequently appears in media as an expert on tourism.

Maximiliano E. Korstanje is Associate professor at University of Palermo, Argentina. Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Safety and Security in Tourism. With more than 550 published papers in peer review journals, Korstanje is concerned with the study of risk, capitalism and mobility. He co-edits 10 journals, and takes part of editorial board  25 other specialized journals. Because his contribution to the sociology of tourism, Korstanje has been nominated to three honorary doctorates.



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