October 21, 1998 Special Presentation

by Gary R. Webb, Ph.D.

Disaster Research Center
University of Delaware

Popular Culture of Disaster


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Slides: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

About Gary Webb
Popular Culture of Disaster
University of Delaware Disaster Research Center

Disasters in the Movies:

CNN, Audiences Swept Away by Disaster Films
WHYY, Q. Disaster movies are in vogue ...
Mr. Showbiz, Disaster Movies
Volcano, The Coast is Toast


EIIP Classroom Online Presentation
Wednesday - October 21, 1998 - 12:00 Noon EST

"Popular Culture of Disasters"

Gary Webb, Ph.D.
Disaster Research Center
University of Delaware

The EIIP Virtual Classroom topic on October 21 was the Popular Culture of Disasters with Gary Webb, Ph.D. Gary is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware. His introduction to the topic covered some of the reasons why the popular culture of disaster exists; however, he suggested that explaining why the culture exists depends to a great extent on how we define it. Dr. Webb used a number of slides to illustrate his presentation, including cartoons that blend images of disasters with other popular themes and a listing of classic and recent disaster movies. A number of activities are underway to generate interest and solicit input on the topic. The EIIP Virtual Forum live discussion is one of those activities. Another is a Popular Culture of Disaster electronic mailing list --- current subscribers to the list were invited to the Virtual Forum discussion. A sociologist in Germany has offered to create a popular culture of disaster web site to help with this effort also. Additionally, opportunities for research sessions are sought at upcoming professional meetings like next summer's Hazards Research and Applications Workshop.


Disaster Research Center
University of Delaware

Gary is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at the Disaster Research Center, University of Delaware. He recently completed a Ph.D., specializing in disaster research and collective behavior. His dissertation looked at individual and organizational response to natural disasters, technological emergencies, and civil disturbances. Currently, he is focusing his research interests on the popular culture of disaster.

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At a recent World Congress of Sociology, several disaster researchers, in informal conversation, noted that there seemed to be no literature at all on disaster jokes and humor, even though all experienced field workers seem to have run across instances of such behavior. It may be that humor serves as a coping mechanism for great stress; it might be argued that popular culture is a major way through which people derive their images of disasters, so perhaps this is an area that deserves closer investigation.

The parameters of the topic are yet to be defined, but the area of inquiry is generally expected to include disaster jokes and humor, board games and puzzles, myths, folk legends and beliefs, calendars, songs and poems, predictions and reactions to predictions, novels, plays and films including spoofs, commemorative newspaper issues or memorial services, art, photos or video tapes, memorabilia, cartoons and comic strips, or even WWW chat rooms.

A number of potentially interesting questions come to mind:

  • How have popular perceptions about disasters changed through history?
  • How do popular perceptions vary between cultures? How are they similar?
  • What impact has actual experience with disasters had on popular culture?
  • What is the popular view of disaster today, and how will rapidly expanding and accelerating forms of electronic communication impact perceptions?

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