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The Pornographic Aftershock: Earthquake in Japan

The Pornographic Aftershock: Earthquake in Japan

by Binoy Kampmark

It was only last month that Japanese experts well versed in the palliative arts of rescue were sent to Christchurch in New Zealand to help in the aftermath of a disastrous earthquake. The earthquake remains Japan’s permanent shadow. The trembler at Kobe in 1995 killed 6000 people, and the Great Kanto Quake of 1923 left 140,000 people dead. Occasionally, that shadow comes to life in devastating circumstances, as it did when a savage Mother Nature repaid the favour it visited on NZ by flaying Japan, with a tsunami of such devastating force it has made an otherwise phlegmatic and composed population recoil.

To the east of Sendai, the disaster unfolded with calamitous consequences. Waves of 10 meters lashed the coastline and moved inland, with 1500 thought dead or missing. Fears of a nuclear accident at a plant north of Tokyo started gathering pace. The cameras were readied. (If not the pornography of war, then, the sordid pictorials of a natural catastrophe.) The disaster was duly recorded. In nauseating fashion, media networks began the gory recounting, the obsessive retelling of disaster details and disaster narratives.

The force has had global implications. In such an analysis, the human factor is often less relevant than the scientific one. Yes, several hundred perished, and? Let us take out the history books, the seismic records, and recount them like diligent school children. Tsunami warnings were issued to those on the West coast of the United States. Scientists were thrilled by other implications: the shortening of the Earth’s day by a fraction, an event that occurred after the 8.8 shocker in Chile, and the 9.1 Sumatra earthquake of 2004.

The earthquake, according to geophysicist Richard Gross of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena in California, found that the 24-hour day had been reduced by 1.8 microseconds (, Mar 13). Kenneth Hudnut of the U.S. Geological survey found that Japan’s mainland had, in effect, moved 8 feet.

The scientists might be forgiven for their capsule like observations, issued like callous notes from an indifferent laboratory. They are, after all, paid to live in the corridors of perception. Journalists, on the other hand, attempt to find some ‘human’ element to the disaster and duly make a hash of it.

CNN reviewers, with a deeply irritating Australian anchor (‘Rosemary’?) showed an obsession about whether the first aftershock was worse than the second. Her American colleague was happy to correct her misassumptions, suggesting that Rose hasn’t boned up on the seismic literature. Both proved stunned by ‘instant’ accounts – the destruction of boats, vehicles, the floating reminders of civilization washed away in the irrepressible current. Pithy details are thrown in: in an interview with Kyung Lah of CNN described the various shocks and which one mattered. As the coverage goes on, one realises that Ted Turner’s old network has embraced Rupert Murdoch’s unbearably deodorised and shallow countrywomen with relish – often with same colour, screeching and straining on the vowels.

The voyeurs of disaster are, in short, full of briefs after Japan’s suffering. The journalists were particularly grateful, filming their own offices to show scattering items and documents strewn across tables and chairs. Those at CNN overheated in excitement. Fox news remains dedicated to its fantasies.

The final party to the pornographic aftershocks of the Japanese earthquake will be Muamma Gaddafi. The imperilled Libyan leader was desperately searching for some vicious distraction while his own forces readied themselves for an offensive. The greater Japan’s suffering, the greater the distraction away from Gaddafi’s efforts to crush the rebels. Everyone, it seems, has their own views on how the earthquake might satisfy them, be it through paper or pocket.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email:

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