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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A dose of hot Chile. When the first Chilean miner emerged from the capsule that had carried him over 600 metres from the place underground where he had been trapped with his coworkers for 96 days, he was wearing a red-white-and-blue-painted helmet. The Chilean flag depicted on the headgear was matched by graphic art adorning the capsule itself. Flags fluttered nearby. After embracing his family, Florencio met the country's president, who later took to the podium to address the nation - and the world. It's called grandstanding.

@profsarahj tweeted: "This is the ultimate TV story. TV strikes back against new media." And then, a few minutes later, @julie_posetti tweeted from her media class, which had gathered to watch the spectacle on a shared TV: "Another comments 'It's like listening to a horse race...like it's a sports story'. Astute observation. The atmospheric sound is drowned out."

Astute indeed. About the time I heard the roar of the spectators who ringed the mine shaft, dug for the purpose of removing the trapped miners from their stony prison, Australia's premier horse race, the Melbourne Cup, which is run on the first Tuesday of November every year, suddenly came to mind. As people on Twitter riffed over the topic - one suggested a pair of disliked radio personalities should be sent down the shaft to replace the miners, another quipped that we were watching the world's most elaborate drug importation in action - you got a sense of community. It's not a bad feeling, and it's underscored by the jocular tweets coming out of the ether like clapping hands flying across a computer screen.

But the rescue was actually all about technology, not politics. President Pinera's orotund proclamations about worker safety and the respect workers in Chile deserve had a brittle, post-facto feel about them. He will fade into oblivion as far as the internet is concerned, and he won't have far to go. More compelling were the tears of Florencio's young son as he gave up his father's embrace, the miner proceeding to lie down on a gurney for his scheduled medical examination. More compelling, perhaps. But not so engaging that the topic will continue to trend on Twitter tomorrow. In the end the gear will be packed away, the miners bathed and soothed, and the show will go on as it has done forever. 

But at least we had the chance to see the rescue. It's a lesson China could learn to its ultimate benefit: media control may serve short-term interests, but letting people see the reality on the ground can finally deliver the much-desired fellow-feeling the world keeps to itself when its needs are ignored.

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