March 24, 2011

The “Fukushima 50”

These are pictures of the 50 workers who have tended Fukushima since the catastrophe. The Daily Mail says five have died and that the remaining know that they will die from  radiation exposure in the future. They’ve since been joined by 150 more workers.

Deputy Publisher Karen Hull writes:

I do not know how the Japanese perceive their leaders at this point and it may be difficult in any case to appear to be effectively in control while facing this level of catastrophe.  I can imagine the need to find these men to be heroes and create a cult around them.  Not sure what would have happened had this happened in the West.  There may be a more lethal version of Chilean Miners coming to town.

I find the photos interesting in their anonymity — consistent, I assume, with the way Japanese orient to the group as much as Americans obsesses over the individual, and look high and low, even more intensely since 9/11, for “the hero.”

I’m sure there is pride and deep respect for these men (and these photos) in Japan as these workers take one (likely, the ultimate one) for the team. It seems to me, though, that the prototypical American in Peoria, or certainly the Nightly News producer in New York, process these photos quite differently than their Asian counterparts. On this side of the Pacific, I can imagine the viewer reading less about solidarity than about courage, accompanied by an impulse to somehow connect with (and even bask in the glow, excuse the pun) of the man behind the mask.

(photos: AP. Daily Mail caption 1: Aiming high: Workers in protective suits work on a transmission tower to restore electricity to Units 5 and 6. caption 2: Teamwork: Outside the men connect transmission lines to restore electric power supply to Unit 3 and Unit 4. caption 3: Conundrum: Two of the Fukushima Fifty pour over plans as they try to work out how to fix the stricken plant.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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