Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Television events, as I recognize them, are rare these days. My first was the 1969 moon landing -- not Neil Armstrong’s “one small step” but the waiting (“Mom, are they there yet?”). Last night’s Chilean mine rescue was the latest.

I was cooking dinner when the radio announced that the first miner would be “freed” at 9PM (PDT). The stove clock said 7:30PM. I went to the living room and turned on CNN.

What was I looking at? What was I looking for? A hand-held camera trained on a monitor revealed the trapped miners and a lone rescuer. The staccato movements indicated a web-feed. Every time the image seized I thought of the paintings of Steven Hubert and Brad Phillips. The Chilean flag was fixed to the wall, the company logo absent.

The rescue capsule looked like our old hot water heater, the one that blew up on Boxing Day. The first miner was loaded in. The audio commentary was in English, a simultaneous translation of what was being relayed below. With the miner secured, the voice announced that the ascent would begin – and would those remaining “please keep clear of the camera.”

As the capsule began to move, CNN cut back and forth between it and the winch above. The cutting technique was right out of Jodorowsky, something Dennis Hopper paid homage to in his film Easy Rider (1969). The winch, brightly lit against a jet-black sky, looked like a train set decoration. I thought of the moon landing. I wondered if this was fake too.

The first miner emerged at 8:15PM (PDT). As I watched I could hear someone on the radio talk about the order in which the miners would be freed -- the most psychologically fit, first; the most physically capable, last. The reasoning here was that if something went wrong, it would go wrong early. We were not told why the most physically capable would be last, nor a peep about those in the middle.

Later, while at my local, the bartender switched two of the pub’s thirty-five monitors from Irish hurling to the rescue. Naturally the conversation shifted. Kevin likened the rescue to the reverse of British Petroleum’s oil spill, while Reid suggested that the presence of the Chilean flag and the absence of the company logo was a deliberate act of branding. As the camera zoomed-in on the glossy red device at the opening of the rescue hole (what was likely a brake), Kevin, in that easy way of his, said, “You know, if this is Mother Earth, and the miners are her children, then that thing at the opening, that has to be her clit.”

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