I'm completely hooked on the HBO miniseries Chernobyl
. It gives a profoundly complex and subtle presentation of institutional processes that contribute to engineering failures and public disasters. The initial foreshadowing of "radiation in the air" is distractingly un-subtle. I think most non-engineers will miss the sophisticated presentation of system failures that stem from personnel hierarchy, a defensive organizational culture, and systems of "accountability" that literally force people to prioritize covering their own asses over anything else. Throughout the episodes so far, there is a total fixation on blame
while only a few protagonists show any interest in cause
I'm now listening to the podcast that accompanies the show. The show's creator, Craig Mazin, makes an interesting remark: most viewers will take away that this disaster could only occur in the Soviet Union; but only the Soviet Union could have solved it. While it's naive to use the word "only," the show does an exceptional job of portraying the heroic willingness of Soviet citizens to sacrifice themselves by the thousands, knowing that they are walking into a horrible death. It also does an exceptional job of displaying the Soviet government's willingness to sacrifice them.
In the podcast, Mazin also mentions "the danger of narrative" as one of the themes of the show. This element comes across strongly in administrative meetings, from the town all the way up to Gorbachev. The discussion in these meetings is almost incapable of facing plain facts, constantly resetting to Soviet talking points, revolutionary platitudes, declarations that "the Soviet people have risen to the challenge," celebrations of bravery, applause, etc. This administrative style may be overplayed in the show, but it drives home the fear and frustration that defined Soviet politics.
In all, in incredible show that has inspired me to study more about this massive tragedy.