Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Chilean Miner Rescue and the Premediation of Positive Global Affect

What made the Chilean miner rescue into an almost instantaneous global media event? What made it into history?

There is no shortage of reasons for the rapid mobilization of such intense, widespread media and public interest in the rescue of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days. Simply from a feel-good perspective, such an event commands the attention of print, televisual, or networked news media. Whether on Twitter, Buzz, or Facebook, in the socially networked blogosphere, or among national and global English-language corporate media like CNN, Fox, NBC, or BBC, how could anyone not be overjoyed to watch the lives of 33 trapped miners saved through a successful high-tech engineering rescue mission?

Around the world, the rescue of the miners infused into our media everyday a socially networked affectivity of collective, indeed global interest, hope, and joy. The narrative emerging both from and into this media event combined elements of heroism, hope, technology, and national pride. The mediated, collective joy that marks the Chilean miner rescue feels like a compensation for the mediated suffering of recent disaster-events, going back to Katrina, but encompassing Haiti, the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and most tellingly here the Chilean earthquakes of 2007 and 2010—made more welcome, and more powerful, among a media public suffering from the worst global economic recession since the 1930s.

But media events—especially feel-good ones like this one—do not emerge magically or without effort. They require tending and care. The rescue of the Chilean miners became a global media event by mobilizing an extensive, heterogeneous social network of human and non-human technical resources. These resources were deployed not only to articulate the feel-good narrative, but also (I would argue) more importantly to distribute positive affectivity through and immanently within global media forms and practices. The Chilean miner rescue afforded an opportunity for collective global mediation of an almost unqualified joy.

Among individual, social, and corporate media networks, the rescue provided an affective reaffirmation of the necessity of technology for the subordination of the planet. Media professionals, amateur hacktivists, or engaged netizens—throughout the socially networked world everyone took an interest in, became hopeful for, and then felt good about the successful rescue. In light of other recent natural, ecological, and economic disasters, the positive technological resolution of an industrial accident by a national government provided a sense of reassurance concerning the human mastery of nature through the use of drilling technology—particularly in the Western Hemisphere.

Although mining and drilling for oil at great depths represent analogous structures of extractive capitalism, it is important to note that many of the extractive technologies used to allow humans to travel from the surface of the planet to its depths for the capitalization of nature are of a piece with the media technologies used in the rescue, as well as those that enable networked communication across the globe. On the second night of the rescue CNN made particular note that the fiber optic and tele-video technologies used in the rescue were the very same technologies used regularly by CNN.

As John Stewart lampooned on the rescue’s second day, CNN had earlier conflated the television studio with the Chilean mine by among other things producing a replica of the rescue capsule, which provided the opportunity for its reporters and other staff to play the role of trapped miners to demonstrate how the miners would be bodily impacted during the rescue. But as The Daily Show also reported, the complicity between mining and media technologies went both ways. On every side the heroic and technological rescue was performed with the global media in mind. Even before the rescue had begun the miners had already been developing a verbal contract for sharing revenues generated from selling their stories to the media just as the Chilean government took full advantage of print, televisual, and global news media to distribute its own affectivity of caring and competence.

The Chilean miner rescue emerged as an exemplary premediation event in the globally networked and socially mediated second decade of the 21st century. Like all premediation events, the rescue functioned to mobilize collective affectivity. The rescue event was a complex and heterogeneous assemblage, made up of rocks and air, water and food, laborers and capitalists, clothing and equipment, technology and society. All of these diverse elements of the assemblage and more were held together under the intensifying mediated force of the rescue event.

Most crucially the Chilean miner rescue occurs over an extended period of time, which allows for the mobilization and proliferation of anticipation—marked in this case not as the negative affective anticipation of fear or danger, but the positive affectivity of hope and joy. Indeed the temporality of the miner’s rescue was anticipatory through and through, beginning with the earliest determination of the number and health of the survivors, to the days of anticipating the completion of the drilling, followed by the successful lowering of the rescue capsule down into the mine, to the scheduled rescue of the first miner, to the repetition of this structure of anticipation and joy. Each stage of the event anticipated the next, keeping the anticipatory premediation moving forward, intensifying into a global media event as the moment of the rescue approached.

The Chilean miner rescue has already established itself as a global historical event. This is of course on account of the heroic actions of the Chilean government, US and international technological experts, and the miners and rescuers themselves. But equally importantly it has established itself as a historic event not only through its heroic rescue narrative but also for the way in which it mobilized global affectivity through the workings of premediation. In the second decade of the 21st century historical events are not separable from global media events.


Remittance Girl said...

Excellent post, nicely written.

Mitchell said...

I did not watch any of this in the USA, but did catch it on a trip to europe last week. The main thing they were covering in the story was the fact the company the miners were working for is going bankrupt and their families had not received paychecks the entire time they have been in the mine. that their families were going nuts and they were going to be "surprised" when they came out. Seemed to have left that part of the US coverage from what I can tell. lets hope they can cut some good deals for their "story".

RPope said...

Mitchell: not only that, CNN anchors were actually bleating that they did NOT feel sorry for the miners, since they would soon be rich & famous, what with their future book deals and talk show appearances.

Now it may be that the CNN anchors, given the social circles in which they travel, may want nothing more than a book deal, but would they really be willing to spend two months underground to get it? Of course not, but it just goes to show that in the breathless coverage of a real live event, the Real of the event tends to be elided. (And Grusin would say that the way in which it is increasingly elided, today, is through the anticipation of the future--in this case, future media events/coverage.)