Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina 100: 004 Law And Order: Special Victims of Grammatical Intent Unit.

Making the rounds today are these two photos, with accompanying captions.

The picture on the left, captioned by the Associated Press, reads: "A young man walks chest deep through flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, August 30, 2005."

The figures in the picture on the right, captioned by AFP, get special consideration. After all, one of them is demonstrably white. "Two residents wade through chest deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans, Louisiana.


Now, Wonkette wonders aloud that maybe the AP should apologize. Personally, we think this lets AFP off the hook--their caption might be the more insidious.

Take a look at the construction of the sentence. The two people in the photo are said to be photographed "after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store." Now, I have a lot of experience finding stuff in things, on things, under and on things. Even among and things. I imagine that before I die, I'll cherish the opportunity to find stuff between, above, below, perhaps even scattered around things. But it's rare to say you found something from another thing. Usually, we'd put "from" there if, say, the thing we found originated somewhere removed from the immediate proximity, like one might find rocks from the moon on your coffee table or monkey shit from the Central Park Zoo in your diaphragm. If I were actually inside the Central Park Zoo, and I said, "Look! I found some monkey shit from the Central Park Zoo!" I'd be saying five extra words than necessary.

"Finding bread from a local grocery store" is technically grammatically correct, but it's a deeply fucked usage, and, in general, journalists strive to eschew the deeply fucked usages. Now, while it's possible that an anthropomorphic grocery store text messaged these two hurricane victims and was all: "What up? Hey, I left you some bread and soda up here on the corner! Just look under the water."--in which case "from" wouldn't be so weird--it seems more likely that the word "finding" was originally "looting" or "stealing" or "taking", and some eagle-eyed editor, spotting the unbearable lightness of one of the subject's melanin content, changed the verb.

It's a matter for debate, I guess. It's tough to know what to do about looters. I think it's reprehensible to be stripping stores of jewelry and appliances. There's just no code of behavior that can possibly support that. But if we're talking about food, water, and toilet paper, I think these folks who've been flood-bound should get a pass--look at it this way: while a business owner might be able to salvage a television or a handsaw, those grocery store goods are right now approaching a point where they have ceased to saleable by any stretch of the imagination. You'd be insane to buy some Hamburger Helper that's been sitting on a moldy Garden District A&P's shelves a week from now. So, if some if these desperate, hungry people can make use of some of this food before it's a complete loss, I say: let them.

Maybe the authorities can go in there with the mind to let needful citizens commandeer these necessities safely, so they can deal with the scofflaws stuffing iPods into their gymbags. Looters of that variety are only compounding the problem.

I know that some have even said that looters, by dint of their sheer amorality and the fact that they add to the difficulties of honest people, should simply be shot--no questions asked. Now, I'd bet many of you quail at this notion, but I'll be honest with you--I'm coming around to the wisdom of it. In fact, I'd be all for gunning some looters down myself.

But only if I could start with this one:


Anonymous said...

Perhaps the "from" distinction is why the two people on the right were not identified as looters. Presumably prepackaged food floating down a flooded street came from a grocery store.

I guess it depends on the captioning process. Does the photographer write down notes putting each photo in context, or is there some AP Office of Captioning, that places the captions? If the former, it's entirely possible that both captions are accurate, and it's happenstance that the picture of someone looting was a black dude, and the picture of the person scavaging was a white guy. If the latter, well, that is a problem from the AP Office of Captioning.

nm said...

maybe it's because i'm a grammar nerd, but this post was way too entertaining. plus the whole race issue spices it up. good stuff.

cuff said...

Loot a generation's life savings, lose your job (keep the money).

Loot a loaf of bread from a grocery store (which face it, they can't really sell it after the flood and all), get shot by the police.