Day by Day

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Calm in a blacked-out New York City

By all rights, yesterday's record-setting blackout that left some 50 million without electricity should have been a Maple Street moment, at least in terms of rioting and shooting, if not necessarily politically motivated hysteria. (Everyone seemed to believe early reports discounting terrorism as a cause of the energy drain.) Instead, it simply became the big story of the coming weekend, crowding out coverage of the capture a senior al Qaeda operative who was apparently recruiting new suicide pilots, news that an Alabama judge may go to jail for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse, and a growing recognition that the Fox News Channel now legally owns the expression "fair and balanced."

Indeed, the most interesting blackout-related story is the one that never happened. The sort of pandemonium, hysteria, looting, crime, and chaos that typically greets even minor football victories as well as catastrophic utility failures simply didn't materialize. This was true even in New York City, where such antisocial behavior was once seen as part of the city's very essence. Indeed, the iconic '70s Manhattan-based sitcom The Odd Couple even featured a Boy Scout punching one of the characters, among other signs of defining Big Apple vitriol. The 1981 cult classic Escape from New York was titled that way for a reason—one that no longer makes sense.

Reason: What's the lack of blackout-induced crime tell us about America?

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