Based on Roland Barthes’ analysis of the flood in Paris, 1955, this essay aims to examine the ravage of tsunami in Japan, 2011 with a similar semiotic approach.
The big flood brought by a massive tsunami of March 11, 2011, caused numerous deaths and serisous damage in the northeast coast of Japan. Despite the trials and agonies inflicted by Nature, the flood takes on two implications--- festivity and solidarity.
To begin with, the so-called festivity means the abrupt change of the daily routine. In a festival, ordinary things are suspended and replaced with something unusal. So is the phenomenon of flood. In a flood, everyday objects, like houses, cars, trees, even landscape itself are all displaced. All is torn away from their roots---houses carried away, cars reduced to their roofs, household items drifting everywhere. Such a threatening sight dazzles our gaze but distances the real horror experienced by the victims or survivors of the disaster. Either the newspaper photographs or TV broadcast are a collective means of consumption of the flood. When we watch the flood scenes, our sensation remains calm, occasionally with pity and fear elicited by sensational scenes, like separated family reunited or ferocious flood engulfing everything in its path. All this is a break from the ordinary life, and what we see is already a finished act. That’s why we can just feel its terror vicariously. For those who are not the afflicted residents, the flood becomes a sensational show without the real horror of a catastrophe. For some, the flood has even created a more accessible world, a world manipulable with the pleasure a child takes when playing with his toys. The swampy wasteland littered with rubble is the replica of children’s sand castle---the houses no more than cubes, the cars stuck in mud, the utensils lying untidily. An ordinary landscape becomes unusual with the submerge of everything in a landscape. Unconsciously, each spectator of the flood experiences it as a festival in the sense that it disrupts the order of daily life (power blackout, shortage of clean water), turns the inside out (household items swept out onto the ground), tears the lofty apart (the high-rise buildings knocked down), and most importantly, it elicits the hidden emotions when witnessing a show, be they fear, pity or even relish (for a rival country).
The second implication of the flood is the sense of solidarity. The press has easily made the flood a unifer of mankind. The rescue team, made up of experts from different countries, are devoted to saving lives on the devastated land. Charity organizations donate money or daily supplies; volunteers help rebuild the disaster area. The flood arouses people’s philanthropic sentiment, making them conscious of their ability to give. In other words, the flood gives birth to our sense of euphoria. Although the flood destroys the costly strong rampart built over years by the Japanese government, they still have a way to defend themselves against the enemy river by fleeing to higher places. Although the houses are gone, victims can still find shelter together, getting assistance from people all over the world. The image of survivors’ cooperation, courage and perseverance evokes the myth of Ark. Although there is no such a prophet as Noah to foresee the disaster and build the Ark in advance, there is still an Ark built after the disaster.In the modern Ark are flocked together the crowds in panic. Though equppied with meager supplies, the Ark assures us of one thing: the world is still manageable despite the ruthless power of Nature!