What Pop Culture Can Teach Us About Dealing With Disasters


If you live on the East Coast, you may be in for some weather-related drama this weekend. Hurricane Irene is scheduled to whip through New York late tonight, so your faithful Flavorwire staffers are huddled up with our canned goods and bottled water, and of course, several piles of movies and books to keep us occupied. Since we specialize in culture and not weather-preparedness, we can’t give you any hurricane-proofing tips, but we can share a few lessons we’ve learned from the many natural disasters that have been immortalized in film, literature and mythology. Click through to see what the calamities of fiction can teach us, and get ready for the storm.

1. Don’t get caught drunk in a disaster. Also, if you want to rescue Gene Hackman from drowning beneath a flimsy piece of sheet metal, better join the Women’s Swimming Association now.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

2. Practice makes perfect.

“I want to welcome all of you on behalf of Advanced Disaster Management, a private consulting firm that conceives and operates simulated evacuations. We are interfacing with twenty-two state bodies in carrying out this advanced disaster drill. The first, I trust, of many. The more we rehearse disaster, the safer we’ll be from the real thing. Life seems to work that way, doesn’t it? You take your umbrella to the office seventeen straight days, not a drop of rain. The first day you leave it at home, record-breaking downpour. Never fails, does it? This is the mechanism we hope to employ, among others.”

White Noise, Don DeLillo (1985)

3. Don’t believe everything you hear on the radio.

The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells (1898), as read by Orson Welles on Mercury Theatre in 1938

4. The national pales in comparison to the personal.

“The morning paper was full of earthquake reports. He read it from beginning to end on the plane. The number of dead was rising. Many areas were still without water or electricity, and countless people had lost their homes. Each article reported some new tragedy, but to Komura the details seemed oddly lacking in depth. All sounds reached him as far-off, monotonous echos. The only thing he could give any serious thought to was his wife as she retreated ever farther into the distance.”

“UFO in Kurshiro,” Haruki Murakami (2003)

5. It helps if you can fly.

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

6. Never assume it’s a metaphor.

Twister (1996)

7. Good fences make good neighbors.

“Then one day Inner Horner got smaller. It happened without warning; there was a loud scraping rock-on-rock sound and suddenly three-quarters of Elmer, the Inner Hornerite then in residence, was not in Inner Horner at all. That is, every part of Elmer but the octagonal shovel-live receptacle with which he scooped dirt when nervous was suddenly now located in Outer Horner.

Just then Leon, the Outer Horner Border Guard, came by on his round, noted the presence of three-quarters of Elmer in Outer Horner, and rang the loud buzzer that meant Invasion in Progress.

The Outer Horner Militia (Freeda, Melvin, and Larry) came rushing over and stood glaring fiercely across the green piece of string that constituted the boundary of the Short-Term Residency Zone.”

The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, George Saunders (2005)

8. Know when to give up on the fish, you guys.

The Perfect Storm (2000)

9. Build your own getaway vehicle.

The Book of Genesis

10. Rent the garden apartment.

The Towering Inferno (1974)

11. Cover your nose when you sneeze.

Prisoners of the Sun, Hergé (1975)

12. Just stop pissing off Poseidon. (When will you learn?)

From Greek mythology, wherein Poseidon, when angered, struck the sea floor with his trident, causing earthquakes and other disasters.

13. Don’t sail close to the island where the mage you ousted from power lives. Just not a good plan.


If by your art, my dearest father, you have Put the wild waters in this roar, allay them. The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch, But that the sea, mounting to the welkin’s cheek, Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered With those that I saw suffer: a brave vessel, Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her, Dash’d all to pieces. O, the cry did knock Against my very heart. Poor souls, they perish’d. Had I been any god of power, I would Have sunk the sea within the earth or ere It should the good ship so have swallow’d and The fraughting souls within her.

The Tempest, William Shakespeare (1610)

14. Cut back on your carbon footprint, already.

Waterworld (1995)

15. Sometimes you actually have to let go.

Titanic (1997)