Spilling the Story
by Joelle S. Underwood and Janelle A. Schwartz — Loyola University New Orleans
July 21, 2010 – 00:02
In Tim O’Brien’s 1990 novel, The Things They Carried, we are told that "story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth." We are told, in the context of the Vietnam War, that "by telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others." In short, there are consequences to be reconciled and lessons to be learned. But what these lessons are—these stories—are up for debate. On June 15, 2010, President Obama spoke from the Oval Office "about the battle we’re waging against an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens." Like O’Brien’s account of the Vietnam War, Obama’s remarks on the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico tell a true war story—replete with battles, assaults, tragedy, recovery, and restoration. As Obama’s rhetoric would have it, oil is the enemy that we, the American people, must subdue. This is a story-truth of his address. But could we not equally submit that our human need of oil is the enemy? That it is not the oil mounting a siege per se, but human error and greed? That we are, proverbially, our own worst enemy? In the same June 15 address Obama stated "that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the [oil] industry," we must learn from the Deepwater Horizon explosion that "drilling for oil these days entails greater risk." This is another story-truth. One more oriented perhaps to the human challenge of self-mastery. Thus, just as we pin down certain truths, we make up others. "Stories," says O’Brien, "are for joining the past to the future." Stories "make things present." That’s the story-truth.
Here’s the happening-truth: On the accompanying slides, we present data related to the BP Gulf oil spill, oil consumption in the United States, and the habitat, wildlife, and people of the Gulf of Mexico. (Slides are best viewed in full screen mode.) The facts, figures, and images represent our objective experience of the spill as Louisiana residents. Although the event under discussion is still unfolding, data is accurate as of July 20, 2010. Because we are tracking a live disaster, without the benefit of hindsight, and because scientists, media and the layperson lack access to both definitive data and the physical sites of affected areas, this information must be continually updated and refined.
So what is the "truth" of the Gulf Oil Spill?
Second Harvest Food Bank of New Orleans and Acadiana provides assistance to families of Louisiana affected by the oil spill.