I would not be surprised or dismayed if the screenplay of a film about the rescue of the Chilean miners is already written. It has been, and will continue to be, a dramatic story to tell and follow. Some of the miners may gain celebrity status. Judging by the amount of commentary about people following the rescue through live broadcasts on radio, television, Twitter, Facebook, Skype, or whatever could keep them abreast by the minute, a film will be a blockbuster. But, the rescued miners are not the only story in the long run.
I wrote yesterday (Who shines the light on news?) about how the international media had made this human tragedy in one country into a world-wide outpouring of sympathy. I wonder whether the CEO of the mining company that owned the mine hopes that all of this sympathy will go on so that they can slip away unnoticed. I have read that ‘officials at the copper and gold mine whose collapse trapped the 33 men for more than two months still have to answer why it was allowed to operate at all’. In other words, some corporate and governmental incompetence put people’s lives at risk and their much-publicised rescue may focus attention on this and other mining disasters. Industrial disasters, more generally, may get some unwelcome attention? Natural disasters, too? We cannot be sure, and it will not be about the merit of the grief. Ratings matter. Will much change in situations where economic activity is balanced against personal circumstances? The losers are usually quite clear. Yet, nothing much changes.
Remember the coal miners trapped in West Virginia this past April (see ABC News report)? Sure you do. Do you remember the recent Gulf oil well disaster? Sure you do. Do you remember oil well disasters in Nigeria (see Guardian report)? Sure you don’t! Do you recall the diamond mine tragedies in Sierra Leone? Well, you might recall a few scenes from ‘Blood Diamond’ and Matt Damon and another guy looking on to a set of sorry workers wading in mud, and remembering something about mercury and cyanide poisoning. Oh, and yeah, the diamonds were used to help finance arms purchases for a civil war and the results, which include thousands of maimed people and amputees, are really horrible to see. But, that’s Africa and… What about the earthquake in Haiti? Remember that? Yes, but after decades of government and politicians robbing citizens and aid agencies throwing money at poverty problems with no real efforts to deal with core issues like corruption, the earthquake just focused attention on a country that was a disaster waiting to happen…
For me, there are many sad truths about the recent events in Chile.