This weekend, my wife and I went to a terrific production of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" at the St. Louis Rep. At the end, after the curtain calls, veteran Rep performer Joneal Joplin stepped up and announced to the crowd that, since the play is set in the Mississippi delta, and playwright Tennessee Williams spent several years in New Orleans, the theater was using this an opportunity to raise some money for hurricane relief. Each member of the cast then went to the lobby with a basket, into which we could deposit cash or checks which they would relay to the Red Cross.
Monday afternoon, I called The Rep to see how their fundraising was going. They said they've raised about $28,000 during the run of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," which works out to about $1,200 per performance. That's nice, and it's for a good cause, but it's not a lot of money when you consider that The Rep seats eight or nine hundred people, and they fill the theater on a regular basis. It comes out to a buck and a half per audience member per show -- or, more likely, they're getting about a third of the crowd to donate $5 and the rest give nothing.
My wife and I didn't make a contribution, although we did stop and compliment the actors who did such a good job as Maggie and Big Daddy. On our way out, I noticed that most of the crowd wasn't dropping anything in the baskets, either.
That doesn't mean that we were a bunch of unfeeling jerks lacking in compassion for those whose lives had been uprooted by Mother Nature. This is also by no means a slam at The Rep, or the Red Cross, or any other charitable effort or organization. They're doing good and heartfelt work, and the American public has already responded privately by contributing over a billion dollars for the relief effort.
It's just that this was almost four weeks after Katrina hit, so anyone who was going to contribute to the cause probably has already done so. I can't imagine someone who hadn't given any money after all the broadcast appeals and benefit concerts and neighborhood lemonade stands, but finally decided to do so at this point.
My feeling is that many people, including us, have reached a saturation point with hurricane coverage. It has dominated the news completely for almost a month, and we've seen the images and heard the political arguing and felt sorry for the victims and evacuees and understand the long-term need and the years of rebuilding that are still to come, but we can't do it anymore.
We either need something new to focus on (preferably not involving Mother Nature), or have to get back to our own non-battered-and-soaked lives, or maybe just sit down and watch a football game or the new fall TV shows.
Call it American Attention Deficit Disorder if you will, but anything that burns itself into our consciousness with that kind of white-hot intensity runs the risk of fizzling out, and my sense is that's where we are right now -- we need some relief from the relief efforts.