the spill and the sea
On September 19, 2010, the oil well in the Macondo Prospect region
of the Gulf of Mexico—which had ruptured five months earlier, on
April 20, spilling an estimated two hundred million barrels of oil into
the Gulf—was finally declared to be sealed. This closure led to a wave
of relief that the threat had somehow been contained, and that fur-
ther pollution of the Gulf would no longer occur (at least not at such
an uncontrollable pace). The next day, the spill’s National Incident
Commander, Thad Allen, acknowledged in an interview that “we’re
actually negotiating how clean is clean,” going on to explain that this
phrase was “a euphemism we use at the end of an oil spill to say, is
there anything else we can do? And, sometimes, there will still be oil
there, but then the agreement is that there can be no more technical
means applied to it, and we’re all going to agree that this one is done
as far as what we can do.”1
Allen concluded the interview with a lively mixture of metaphors:
both immediate “cleanup” and long- term “recovery” should be the
goal; the residents of the coast have had “a lot of stuff laid at their
door” and they “have a way of life that has been threatened down
there.” It was unclear whether “recovery” meant the health of the Gulf
or the economic well- being of the human residents of the Gulf, but
clearly some kind of affliction was implied. Of course, metaphors of
health and treatment have a peculiar history in national economic dis-
courses; consider the phrase shock therapy (commonly associated with
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