For nearly two months now, 33 Chilean miners have been living a half-mile underground, waiting for rescue.
Experts say these miners will see the sun again—eventually. Until then, the miners are cobbling together a new reality down under—and that reality, I think, says something pretty interesting about entertainment: What it’s good for, and what it’s not.
According to the Associated Press, the miners are passing much of their time by watching movies on a tiny television lowered down to the miners, sometimes as much as 13 hours a day. Psychiatrist Alberto Iturra Benavides decides what entertainment and informational fare is suitable for these hardened workers: Brad Pitt’s film Troy and Jim Carrey’s The Mask are A-OK. But he doesn’t send any intense dramas down the hole to the miners. “That would be mental cruelty,” he says. They’re allowed to watch news programming, too. Or, at least, the parts Iturra deems fit for their consumption.
And while some miners have asked that personal music players or handheld video games be sent down, Iturra has said no. Such modes of entertainment would isolate the miners from one another. “What they need to be is together,” he said.
Iturra understands, at least on some level, the power of entertainment. He’s using it to help some folks in a very tight spot pass the time, keep their morale up, perhaps even encourage a sense of community. The stuff that might isolate or distress the miners? He has no use for that right now.
Sometimes we hear from folks who tell us that entertainment doesn’t impact them—that movies are “just” movies, that music is “just” music, etc. “Just ’cause I watch Saw doesn’t mean I’m going to go on a killing spree,” they’ll say, by way of hyperbole. And, of course, they have a point. Consuming “bad” entertainment doesn’t necessarily make someone a “bad” person.
But it doesn’t affect us? Of course it does. That’s the whole reason we love our movies and music and video games as much as we sometimes do. If it didn’t affect—if it didn’t move us in some way—there would be no point to it. In this case, we might argue that the affect is good: It’s giving 33 miners a small thread to the world outside and allowing them a sense of normalcy, perhaps even sanity. And yet, clearly there are other forms of entertainment that, even in this extreme context, would be harmful.
Entertainment is powerful. If you’re here, you likely already believe that. But it’s a lesson we should never forget.