May 04, 2012

The "Chernobyl Diaries" Movie: Cultural Amnesia?

On May 25th, Warner Brothers will release a science fiction/supernatural horror film set in Pripyat, the abandoned "ghost town" adjacent to the ruins of Chernobyl's reactor complex. The crumbling town, seen for years on sites like "Kidd of Speed," seems a perfect backdrop for fright flicks. Let me say at the outset that I'm a huge movie fan: cheesy, gory horror flicks are some of my favorites. That said, as someone who was profoundly affected as a college freshman by live unfolding news accounts of Chernobyl (in fact, those memories are one of the main reasons I started this blog back in 2004) I have to admit I find the film's concept a bit troubling and distasteful.

I suspect the primary target audience, if not the filmmakers themselves, probably view the Chernobyl tragedy as just another creepy historical footnote, something awful that happened a long time ago in a country far away. With popular video games like "Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl," and the film's central premise of "extreme tourism" into the Exclusion Zone, Chernobyl's legacy has mushroomed (if you'll forgive the expression) into a booming cottage industry of curiosities for the "zombie apocalypse" crowd.

Since the nuclear strikes on Japan in World War II, popular culture from 50's Pulp and Godzilla to the Hulk and Spiderman have conflated nuclear mishaps with Bug Eyed Monsters. But I wonder: would movie executives and audiences respond favorably to a zombie apocalypse tale set in a different contemporary locale - say, the Japanese Tsunami of 2011 and the Fukushima Disaster? The Union Carbide Disaster in Bhopal, India? Hurricane Katrina? The terrorist attacks of 9/11?

The passage of time always seems to be an insulator against troubling memories; the human race couldn't survive otherwise. What's sad is that if nothing else, "Chernobyl Diaries" highlights how a mere two-and-a-half decades can generate cultural amnesia of the immense sacrifice and suffering that occurred in Europe and that continues to this day. Thinking charitably, maybe any kind of attention to the Chernobyl tragedy could generate a resurgence of interest in the continuing human need there; after all, they say there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Perhaps the least the makers of "Chernobyl Diaries" could do is donate a portion of their profits to one of the many charitable organizations that provide ongoing support to Chernobyl's victims, many born decades later. Those who were there and survived live with scarred minds, hearts, and/or bodies: every living being born in the afflicted region since April 26, 1986 will carry Chernobyl's memory into the far distant future.

[UPDATE: At least one other film, "Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis" was purportedly set in the Chernobyl area; but marketing was fairly low-key and the studios seemed to end up downplaying the Chernobyl connection.]

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