Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Churlish reflections on a heartwarming story

Amid the heartwarming scenes that have accompanied the rescue of the Chilean miners over the past couple of days, I couldn't help but be reminded of Baudrillard's stubborn refusal to countenance the reality of the 1991 gulf war, as the TV broadcast nightly images of American missiles raining down on the Iraqi desert. It first struck me when, in a "context" piece on Radio 4, we were reminded that between 10 and 20,000 miners lose their lives every year in mining accidents. Put in the context of this loss of life, the joyous escape of the Chilean miners starts to look like a decoy, a distraction from the far more significant everyday reality which does not lend itself to the event-based format of news presentation. However, I'm not sure that it is the thousands of annual deaths that we are being distracted from.

The spectacular nature of the rescues and the tidy narrative structure lends itself irresistibly to the requirements of rolling news providers who have, consequently, fashioned from what are probably rather scrappy and confused raw materials in the Chilean desert, a global media event. Thus packaged by the media, the event takes on an irresistible reality. But the reality that is triumphantly being affirmed is less that of the very personal dramas of the people involved and rather a universalist notion of human sentiment, as refracted through the global media. How could it not be real, look at the joy on the faces of the loved ones as each miner emerges safely from the capsule. So we consume the joy that other people elsewhere are experiencing and associate it vaguely with an idea of common humanity, but one that is stretched so thin across the surface of the globe that it could only ever be symbolic.

I live in Barcelona and both the Chilean desert and the events that are unfolding there are very distant. Not, however, in the specially selected and packaged world of global news events. The media has erected, and struggles to keep aloft, a fictitious globalised world stitched together from scraps and fragments that can be re-packaged to conform to the narrative requirements of that world.

The media traffics in symbols of a globalised world which is not in fact any different from the symbols that represent it. In this tenuous version of reality, the story in the Chilean desert has proved to be a gold mine.

1 comment:

  1. Quite a lot of the media coverage of the Chilean miners was about the media coverage of the Chilean miners (the BBC sent a ponderously pricey 26 people over, to the glee of its detractors, and cynical commentators clucked and tweeted over the probability of camera-greedy Mario Sepulveda's elevation to the status of miner celeb. The "narrative requirements of that world" seem about as globally all-encompassing as the inside of someone's belly button!