STARKVILLE – Not since comedian and later telethon impresario Jerry Lewis uttered his lowbrow slur of our state in 1968 has television stirred such a reaction in Mississippi as did the good folks at the Weather Channel in describing the possible landfall destination of Hurricane Isaac as the “land mass between New Orleans and Mobile.”
Not Mississippi, mind you, but “the land mass between New Orleans and Mobile.” It was as if Mississippi isn’t worthy even to be named and that land mass inhabitants, not Mississippians, were in the crosshairs of the storm.
Forget that the storm arrived seven years to the day since Hurricane Katrina slammed Mississippi and left the devastation of the largest natural disaster in history behind for Mississippians to confront. Forget that Mississippi has been the landfall destination of other killer hurricanes like Camille before Katrina. Forget that the western end of the Mississippi Gulf Coast is still ragged from Katrina.
Back in 1968, Jerry Lewis told a “joke” on The Tonight Show as a guest host for Johnny Carson. Lewis recounted in the “joke” how he’d realized a lifelong dream by “using the bathroom while flying over Mississippi.” The next night, Lewis made an on-air apology – but his career took a hit in the South generally and in Mississippi in particular as movie theaters here refused to screen his films.
Clearly, repeated incidents of racial violence in Mississippi in the mid-1960s contributed to Lewis deciding that kind of “joke” was permissible for a national television audience. Some moderate Mississippians even suggested in that day that the wounds from the Jerry Lewis slur were in great measure self-inflicted.
But there was nothing at all self-inflicted about this current flap. The Weather Channel anchor’s on-air flub of identifying “the land mass between New Orleans and Mobile” as a sufficient name for what the rest of us call Mississippi was for many on the Gulf Coast a reminder of a common complaint expressed during and after Katrina in 2005 – that the national media concentrated their coverage on New Orleans rather than on Mississippians similarly situated.
Mississippians took pride in the resilience of our people during and after Katrina. Mississippians also took pride in what they believed was a superior response to the crisis from state and local governments here as opposed to that experienced in Louisiana.
Social media exploded as Mississippians vented over the “land mass” slight on The Weather Channel as Isaac approached. The state’s media picked up on the sentiment and Mississippians actually used the perceived slight as a rallying point from which to make preparations to ride out Isaac and to get ready to help family, friends, and strangers impacted by the storms.
To be frank, The Weather Channel for me is a cross between a cheap cure for insomnia and background noise when working on my taxes. People who follow the weather to the point of obsession make me a bit nervous.
But this “land mass” is home and I love it. Perhaps our energies would be best used not in beating The Weather Channel over the head, but in pooling our resources through the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, our churches and synagogues, and as individuals to help those who are now victims of Isaac.
Go to http://www.msema.org and click on the “To Donate Money or Items” button. That will give a list of civic, religious and first responder organizations that can use your donations to help your fellow Mississippians weather this storm and the aftermath. Good luck out there on our “land mass.”
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org