Underground C⁠i⁠rcuses

By: The James Madison Institute / October 20, 2010

The James Madison Institute


October 20, 2010

By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Chile’s mine rescue speaks well for a society that values life and holds it dear. Officials spared no expense in the effort to reunite the miners with their loved ones and see to their care. Given communication improvements, viewers worldwide could watch and breathe a sigh of relief as the miners were hoisted to safety.What a contrast to those cultures where life is cheap and deadly violence is the norm! Yet there is evidently something almost universally fascinating about the plight of persons trapped underground, something that kindles widespread interest.Such fascination is nothing new. In the winter of 1925, for instance, a Kentucky man named Floyd Collins became trapped in a narrow passageway in a cave he was exploring, quickly becoming one of the 20th Century’s first inadvertent celebrities. The ensuing media circus featured scores of newspaper reporters and photographers crowding around the cave’s entrance.In the pre-satellite era, dispatches were sent out via Western Union, photo negatives were flown out to newspaper darkrooms via that newfangled contraption, the airplane, and radio bulletins aired hourly on the nation’s pioneering station, Pittsburgh’s KDKA, which could be heard at night everywhere east of the Rockies.Ironically, some of the film was flown out by aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. That’s ironic because the 18-day-long Floyd Collins saga, which ended when his would-be rescuers found that he’d died before they could reach him, created what was said to be the third largest media frenzy in the period between World War I and World War II.The other two? Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic and, later, the 1932 kidnapping of Lindbergh’s infant son and the ensuing trial of the accused kidnapper, Bruno Richard Hauptmann,  in 1935.Much is made today of the media’s seeming fixation on stories about vacuous celebrities, lurid crimes, and natural disasters, often to the detriment of serious coverage of public affairs. Television is a frequent target of this kind of criticism.Yet, as the saying goes, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Moreover, maybe there’s a universal human tendency to be curious about situations that could be the stuff of our nightmares.At any rate, the news and entertainment media’s interests are generally influenced by audience interest as reflected in TV ratings, newspaper readership, and the movie box office. So perhaps the media’s focus nowadays unfortunately reflects the kind of content that much of the public now wants and – thus – sadly deserves.