Joke's On Us


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I admit it's easy to lean on to the crutch of snark. But when asked by the New York Times to give some perspective to the last decade — well, 2005, to be specific — and share credits alongside several other writers of note, it's best to leave the Katrina jokes at home.

Jonathan Safran Foer earned his Golden Boy badge last decade after two critically and commercially successful, if gimmicky, original works (Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but he closed out 2009 with a puzzlingly self-important (and admittedly contradictory) bit of nonfiction (Eating Animals). As one of 10 contributers for the Times' "The Decade We Had," Foer spins a post-modern review of 2005, giving equal weight to trivialities and tragedies — it's a testament to the information age in which we live, where major headlines run alongside celebrity gossip and YouTube-able memes in mere seconds. Hurricane Katrina is the punchline in one paragraph:

Exactly two weeks after the July 7 bombings, terrorists again targeted London’s public transportation system. All four bombs failed to detonate. The following week, and within two days of each other, a plane crashed in Greece, killing 121, and in Venezuela, killing 160. The week after that, Fiji’s High Court ruled that the island’s sodomy law was unconstitutional, and a mandatory evacuation was ordered in New Orleans. Two months after that, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping officially announced the new and more accurate height of Mount Everest: 8,844.43 meters above sea level — 4.5 meters taller than Everest was thought to be in 1856. That original measurement was not shared with the public. The British surveyors added 61 centimeters to avoid the impression that an exact height of 29,000 feet (8,839.2) was nothing more than a rounded estimate.

I get it — as terrorism and government failure rock the globe, we're sill linking bullshit science news on our Facebook friends' walls. I'm just not so sure America deserves anything less than a retrospective pummeling of our "mandatory evacuation" down here. Brad Richard of New Orleans agrees — the paper published his letter to the editor, writing "Katrina was the most important domestic story of 2005, and the story of its aftermath is far from over. Not to acknowledge this, and to make a long joke instead, strikes me as poor judgment on Mr. Foer’s part."


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