Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike, Premediation, and Extreme TV

In an earlier post I noted that hurricanes provide exemplary opportunities for premediation by especially televisual news media.  The lengthy period leading up to landfall provides for numerous opportunities to premediate future catastrophic events--evacuation, flooding, wind damage, looting, death, property damage, etc.  In the case of Hurricane Ike, this includes some interesting narratives about the impact on oil prices and potential oil shortages resulting from the disruption of oil refining in the Gulf and in the Gulf Coast states.  In fact CNN reports how cars are lining up at gas stations as far away as South Carolina, not in response to shortages that have already occured but in anticipation of shortages that are being premediated on TV.

CNN's 24/7 coverage of the impending landfall of Hurricane Ike provides another interesting example of the form this premediation takes.  On Friday, September 12, its ongoing coverage is being called "Extreme Weather"--presented as CNN's version of one of the newest televisual genres, "Extreme TV."  Epitomized by recent shows like Ice Road Truckers or The Deadliest Catch, extreme TV will be coming soon to the major networks as well.  What is interesting about CNN's coverage is that it not only remediates the concept of extreme TV, but its reporters on-site can be seen to remediate the formats of these shows as well, providing media coverage of extreme situations that are unavailable to the average viewer.  For example, CNN has set up its operation on-site at a Holiday Inn Express that has been evacuated; the CNN reporter bravely tells viewers that the management turned over the keys to the CNN crew.  Where the public and the property owners have evacuated, CNN presents its extreme weather coverage.  

CNN's "Extreme Weather" is only the latest example of a long line of news events that have been treated as if they were episodes of an ongling television series or mini-series.   As with other such examples, this is but the latest evidence of the ways in which news media continue to shift their focus from reporting on the present or recent past to premediating the future.  Even when they do report on what is happening live, as in the run-up to Hurricane Ike's landfall, they do so within a premediated format, in this case that of extreme TV.  Indeed the arrival of Hurricane season has become almost as regular and predictable as the arrival of football season.  And the premediated formats through which it is presented to the public on the Weather Channel and the various cable news networks have now become nearly as conventionalized and regulated as those that can be found on networks like ESPN and other major sports networks.  

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