Over the course of the past week, several stories have appeared in the U.S. media that seemed to celebrate, without an iota of sarcasm or self-criticism, the bright and happy futures of 33 coal miners who have been trapped underground in the San Jose mine, in utterly unbearable conditions, for six weeks — and who are likely to remain trapped for at least several more months.
On September 15, a story by Eva Vergara and Vivian Sequera (“Chile’s Trapped Miners Have a Thousand Job Offers”) circulated through a U.S. media market that took a break from airing stories about the almost 10% unemployment rate and the moribund U.S. economy to let readers know that those lucky miners in Chile had, for all intents and purposes, a future just about as rosy as Kevin Sbraga (who, the same week, took home the crown of Top Chef D.C.).
“The San Jose miners have been offered 1,188 jobs as of Tuesday,” the article proclaimed. And, unlike the jobs that under- and unemployed readers of the article might be in line for, “[t]here will be no deadline for the trapped miners to take advantage of this ‘relocation program’,” Jose Tomas Letelier, vice president at the Canadian gold mining company Kinross was quoted as saying. And a good thing, too, because I don’t think that the fax machine is set up yet to send off their resumes from inside the 500 square foot cavern where the 33 future job-seekers have been spending their darkened days.
On the same mid-September day, Jorge Medina’s story (“Trapped Chilean Miners’ Next Challenge: Celebrity”) appeared via Reuters. “Los 33” (The 33), it seems, have yet another test ahead: handling the fame of the media circus whose groundwork is daily prepared for us by the likes of USA Today, Survivor, and Lost.
As I said when I appeared on Al Jazeera to talk about the Chilean miners a few weeks ago, we must not uncritically assume that the next few months of ongoing rescue will be executed to perfection — though we hope and pray that it will. The focus must remain on keeping these 33 men safe and strong in the coming weeks as well as working tirelessly for their rescue.
The situation at the San Jose mine is not another episode of reality TV. It is reality. And in the culture of the contemporary moment, we must work harder than ever to make, and to remember, that distinction.
Mark Nowak, a 2010 Guggenheim fellow, is the author of Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009) and Shut Up Shut Down (Coffee House Press, 2004). He frequently speaks about global working class policies and issues, most recently on Al Jazeera, BBC World News America, and Pacifica Radio’s Against the Grain. A native of Buffalo, New York, Nowak currently works as Director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. For information on bookings, contact Speak Out Now: The Institute for Democratic Education and Culture.