Media exaggerates oil spill disaster

Patrick Gamble

The cool Gulf breeze softly kissed my aching lungs, as I emerged from the crystalline waters.

With my scuba mask clinging to my face, I patrolled beneath the rolling surface of the Gulf of Mexico on an exposition to find the remnants of our country’s strongest addiction.

While I did not find any traces of oil in the water, I observed what seemed like an alien world: schools of whiting embarked on unknown fish-quests we humans cannot seem to grasp, a small jellyfish hung in jiggling limbo and camouflaged sting rays sensed my presence and darted into the abyss.

In the months following the now infamous April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico — abruptly ending the lives of 11 workers — the news media relished in the material created by the disaster.

Culturally, we feed on bad news. I’m as guilty as anyone else — I spent hours in front of the TV trying to stay up-to-date on the story. Though I have a personal emotional investment in the Gulf, I almost let the media frenzy keep me from visiting a place I love in a time when visitors’ support is needed the most.

Like every summer of my life, I spent the past week in Perdido Key, Fla., and Orange Beach, Ala., soaking-up ultraviolet rays and reveling in the exquisite natural beauty of fine white sands with the expansive, undulating blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Despite what the news media wants us all to believe, the world surrounding the Gulf has not ended; British Petroleum’s oil slick apocalypse has not destroyed the Gulf lifestyle.

“You know, we’ve been all over the news,” said the owner of the Outcast Bait and Tackle Shop in Pensacola, Fla., “but, the truth is, the news has done us all a real disservice. We’ve been on CNN, we’ve been interviewed by Katie Couric, everybody. But, this oil spill isn’t the end of the world down here. Don‘t pay too much attention to the news. They just need material to fill up their time slots.”

Though the evening news rattles on woefully every night about the emotional and economic stress this oil spill has caused those individuals who make their living off the tourism industry, their extensive coverage detracts tourists and, ultimately, does more harm than good.

As I sat on the beach and stared off into the horizon, I watched multitudes of ships skimming oil in the distance. ATVs and pick-up trucks weaved between sun-burned, beer drinking vacationers and cleaned up tar balls where they had been sighted. Aside from these distractions and the murmurs of disdain for BP and the media, the Gulf lifestyle carries on — business as usual.

I spent a few of my nights haunting the landmark Florabama Lounge, which rests directly on the border of the two states. In those nights, it was almost impossible to tell that this region had been stricken by “one of the worst ecological disasters in American history.”

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig was a terrible and preventable occurrence. By no means am I attempting to downplay the anguish BP’s lack of respect for the unpredictable nature of the ocean has caused, but I truly believe every American concerned with this story should visit the Gulf coast: rent a condo, go to the bar, have some beer with the locals, buy a T-shirt, go out to dinner and pump your money into the stricken economy.

I spoke with people from all across the region: Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana. Some were on vacation — clinging to the comforts of the only world they’ve ever known — others were working for BP on the cleanup in all different ways.

I met a young girl, sipping on the Florabama’s signature drink, the Bushwacker, who recently graduated nursing school in Tennessee. She echoed the sentiments of the owner of Outcast Bait and Tackle. She told me of workers she’d had to bandage, but mostly, she lamented the lost opportunity for so many Americans to “enjoy one of the most beautiful parts of our country.”

This oil spill was a tragedy, and its effect will be felt, in some ways, for many years. However, the south is resilient, and the laid-back beauty of the Gulf coast lifestyle will never die.

For those of you who have never experienced the Gulf, go. Summer is almost over, but there’s still time. And, for those of you who have previously adventured in the glorious white sands, go back.

Beneath the surface of the Gulf, I was able to experience the sensation of becoming one with the seemingly-limitless ocean.

Suspended in submerged bliss, I let the currents pull my body in opposing directions. I closed my eyes and felt the tingling tug of the oceanic, alien nature embrace my innermost being and I knew, despite the chattering talking heads on the idiot box, everything was going to be OK.