Damien on… The “Challenger” Disaster
One day back in 1986, I was watching afternoon TV – when suddenly the picture broke up and a voice announced they were going over to the newsroom for a newsflash. At the time, this was unusual – so quick-thinking, I slammed a blank video-cassette into the machine and hit “record”.
What I ended up with, was one of the most POWERFUL pieces of video in my collection.
A news cameraman had been despatched to film what SHOULD have been a routine puff piece – reaction shots of the Interested Parties in the bleachers, at the latest Shuttle launch. But what he ended up filming was EXTRAORDINARY.
As the Shuttle exploded, 74 seconds in, those who were familiar with launches knew their relatives or loved ones were DEAD – however, the many people who were attending their FIRST launch initially assumed the explosion was merely separation of the vehicle’s stages.
Thus, as some faces became wreathed with PAIN – others were still in awe at the majesty of it all.
But as word of what had ACTUALLY happened began to spread through the crowd like a slow cancer – those faces too became angst-ridden.
Meanwhile, the cameraman carried on doing his JOB – scanning the crowd for reaction shots. He knew plenty of other cameras would be covering the space vehicle itself.
But here’s the thing – when his work aired on the evening news bulletins, it had been edited down to just a few seconds of STERILE CLIPS.
However – I was one of the FEW people who had his FULL, UNCUT, RAW footage – and in 2009, I uploaded it to YouTube.
I set the comments to “must be approved”, to weed the inevitable anti-American/trollish/inappropriate ones out – and have so far had over 500 acceptable comments from those who were as moved by the footage as I have always been, every time I view it (which is RARELY, as it STILL has enormous power).
The piece has so far had nearly half a million hits. And it obviously affects other people in the same way it affects me. The reason being that it represents a look into something that is rare, in this World.
Its DARK side – UNCUT. And it is THAT which moves one.
The news business has always concentrated on human tragedy, rather than just NUMBERS. This is because people can IDENTIFY with it. Stalin famously said that one death was a tragedy – a million was a statistic.
And this is demonstrated by the facts. On “9/11” three thousand people died – whereas HERE, a few years later, the Boxing Day Tsunami killed around three HUNDRED thousand. But which event got the most coverage?
While the Third World has TERRIBLE statistics (if the infant mortality rate in a Western country was HALF what it is in Africa, it would be treated as the number one priority in that country) – a donkey stuck down a well in Nuneaton becomes headline news.
At the end of the day, the prominence of the “story” is governed by the media which covers it. Unfair – but a fact of life.
Cosmically speaking, in our modern World – ALL preventable and unnatural death is a tragedy.
The little kid killed by bad water in India, the uncared-for kitten squashed by a car, the millions abused by tyrannical regimes, the thousands of gullible young men and women sent off to fight old men’s wars for them.
And a small group of brave individuals trying to push the envelope of exploration, in a vehicle comprised of thousands of components – each built by the lowest bidder.
Our reaction to these events depends largely on how the story reaches us. On rare occasions, it may be through personal experience (I once emerged unscathed from a train wreck – see elsewhere, in these chronicles) but more often it is through the medium of a cynical press or TV news outlet.
But while informing us of events – these media are also in the business of SANITIZING what we actually see.
During the Sixties’ Vietnam War, freed from the control of the DOD censors (Vietnam was a “police action” – not a war) the news services showed the TRUTH about war, to the World.
However, the World did not LIKE seeing burned babies, while eating their dinner. And so, since that time, the media have PULLED BACK from portraying the cruel realities of life in their full inglory.
And as a result, they fail to do their damn JOB.
The crowd shots at the Challenger disaster were shown as RAW FOOTAGE by CNN – in the days when that service still had TEETH – although even THEY CUT it from later bulletins, once they realised what it WAS.
And that was a PEEK into the REAL WORLD. A place where mankind is capable of GLORY – and immense STUPIDITY. Stupidity which often results in TRAGEDY.
For those who can TAKE it – here IS that peek…