Catastrophe in Reel Life versus Real Life: Perpetuating Disaster Myth through Hollywood Films

November 2000 (VOL. 18, NO. 3)

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Hollywood productions continuously feature disasters and the human struggle against them. Recent entries from the disaster movie genre include films on tornadoes, volcanoes, and asteroids. This article is an exploration of how mass media, specifically the entertainment industry, conveys messages about disasters. For this paper, we examine eleven disaster films looking for five key disaster “myths” as identified by Jones (1993) that perpetuate common misconceptions about hazards. Specifically, we research whether the entertainment industry passes along these myths; we also provide an update for earlier work conducted by Quarantelli (1985) and conclude that the message regarding hazards provided through these films is often mixed and inconsistent. Hollywood’s fascination with the disaster genre, the validity of the science portrayed, and the language used to characterize the disaster are among the topics we explore between “reel” life and “real” life.