New book by Timothy Recuber: Consuming Catastrophe

Congratulations to Timothy Recuber on the publication of his new book, Consuming Catastrophe: Mass Culture in America’s Decade of Disaster. The book has just come out with Temple University Press.


With Consuming Catastrophe, Timothy Recuber has given us a precise and nuanced understanding of how the cultural consumption of mass-mediated catastrophes dramatizes fear and anticipation of the next crisis while promoting symbolic integration and a yearning for a better world.”—David L. Altheide, Emeritus Regents’ Professor, Arizona State University


Horrified, saddened, and angered: That was the American people’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Virginia Tech shootings, and the 2008 financial crisis. In Consuming Catastrophe, Timothy Recuber presents a unique and provocative look at how these four very different disasters took a similar path through public consciousness. He explores the myriad ways we engage with and negotiate our feelings about disasters and tragedies—from omnipresent media broadcasts to relief fund efforts and promises to “Never Forget.”

Recuber explains how a specific and “real” kind of emotional connection to the victims becomes a crucial element in the creation, use, and consumption of mass mediation of disasters. He links this to the concept of “empathetic hedonism,” or the desire to understand or feel the suffering of others.

The ineffability of disasters makes them a spectacular and emotional force in contemporary American culture. Consuming Catastrophe provides a lively analysis of the themes and meanings of tragedy and the emotions it engenders in the representation, mediation and consumption of disasters.


“Consuming Catastrophe is a fascinating contemporary-historical analysis of a cluster of major recent disasters, complete with exploitation, media roles, and ‘authentic ’ emotions. Recuber provides imaginative methods and probing conclusions about the vulnerabilities of American individualism.”—Peter N. Stearns, University Professor of History, George Mason University

Recuber draws from a wide variety of theoretical perspectives spanning the fields of media sociology, cultural studies, and psychoanalysis to illuminate the way catastrophes, both natural and social, are mediated in the new media environment. The result is the most complete discussion of catastrophe media available. In Consuming Catastrophe, we learn the limits of mediated empathy, fear, and redemption in our society’s attempts to come to grips with the ‘reality ’ of catastrophe. But it is the nature of a realistic take on catastrophe that is itself at issue in post-mediated society. Creative, learned, and singular in its perspective on interpreting catastrophe and its coverage, Consuming Catastrophe is a fresh take on an increasingly important issue.”—Andrea L. Press, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Media Studies and Sociology, University of Virginia


Timothy Recuber is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Communication Department at Hamilton College.

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