At 1:23 a.m. one fateful Saturday morning, the 49,000 residents of Pripyat, Ukraine, were jolted awake by a sudden boom in the distance. Possibly perplexed, the citizens parted their curtains to the sight of a billowing fire at the Chernobyl Power Plant. While probably shocked, none of the residents likely fathomed that within a day, their once-thriving city would be reduced to a ghost town, the desolate streets echoing the laughter and happiness of the past.
The 1986 Chernobyl disaster was a momentous event that felt like a worldwide wake-up call. Everyone mourned the death of such a lively city, but for a while, none were privy to the subsequent cover-up by the Soviet government. HBO’s acclaimed new miniseries, “Chernobyl,” dares to tackle the corruption and lies that lead to the deaths of thousands, exposing its viewers to the lengths a government will go to deceive its citizens. The miniseries dramatizes a 33-year-old event, yet in the current world of “fake news,” governmental cover-ups and alleged collusion, there’s a lot that modern viewers can glean from “Chernobyl.”
“Chernobyl” is a 2019 miniseries revolving around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, where a safety test at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant resulted in a steam explosion that led to an open-air reactor fire. Written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, the series was immediately lauded for its grim, authentic depiction of a disaster that rocked the world.
What makes “Chernobyl” so unique from other historical dramas is its ability to place its viewers in the shoes of the people who experienced the event firsthand. Despite knowing the context, viewers feel the ignorance and confusion that might come from such an event because of how the series wisely chooses to show every individual occurrence through the perspective of someone who witnessed it.
The sad reality of the Chernobyl disaster was how easily preventable it was. HBO’s “Chernobyl” showcases how the Soviet Union made a detrimental error during the construction of the power plant by cutting costs pertaining to safety in an attempt to keep ahead in the cold war. They went about this by procuring control rods that were made of boron tipped with graphite, which goes against all the safety protocols of the West, as it accelerates the rate of fission to an unstoppable degree. And yet, the government neglected this simply because graphite was cheaper.
This is analogous to President Trump’s budget, which intends to cut the total number of workplace safety inspections funded by the U.S. Labor Department by as much as 2,318 inspections. Trump’s budget also happens to cut coal mining safety inspections by $6 Million, despite an average of 93 Americans being killed on the job every week. While this might not be in the same vein as the Soviet Union neglecting nuclear safety regulations, Trump slashing safety inspection funds to amass $8.6 billion in funding for his border wall and to increase defense spending by $34 billion still feels ominously similar to the Soviet Union prioritizing the cold war over nuclear/worker safety.
“Chernobyl” meticulously shows how the Soviet Union put more effort into covering up the severity of the accident instead of actually fixing it in the days that followed. Moscow didn’t even announce the accident had occurred until nearby countries began to report unusually high levels of radiation in the atmosphere. The Soviet Media proceeded to falsely claim that cleanup was moving along swiftly and that the damage had been mended. They didn’t stop there, as they even began to blame America for spreading false propaganda.
Material of this nature is very discernable in modern America. Like the Soviet Union in times of crisis, Trump’s administration has a tendency to deny any possibility of a mistake being made, presenting skewed information to the public in an effort to prove themselves right. This was recently seen when Trump made the erroneous claim that Alabama would be hit hard by Hurricane Dorian. When he was immediately corrected by the Birmingham National Weather Service, Trump didn’t own up to his mistaken claim. Rather, he presented a Hurricane Dorian map altered with a pen in what the media is now calling Sharpiegate. In addition to this, President Trump has a habit of accusing the media of spreading false information or “fake news” when anything questionable is said, much like the Soviet Union did with the West’s initial claims. To say these two instances are completely analogous may seem a little tenuous, seeing as how both approach what some might call authoritarianism from different ends of the political spectrum. But comparing this to the actions of the soviets in “Chernobyl” demonstrates that authoritarianism is always authoritarianism, right-wing or left-wing.
All in all, people of all political backgrounds should watch “Chernobyl,” from the most extreme leftist to the staunchest Trump voter because its message above all is that life is a precious thing that shouldn’t be jeopardized by lies and error. “Chernobyl” sets out to bleakly show how every man, woman and child was affected by such a calamity and demonstrates how large of an emotional toll it brought upon all involved. “Chernobyl” is something everyone should watch in 2019 because it makes every viewer reflect on the elusive question that the series tries to answer: What is the cost of lies?
Ian Welfley is a junior media arts & design/communications double major. Contact Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org.