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Talk about must-see TV – or must-see Web streaming: Images of the Chilean miners, rising one-by-one from the ground, like smiling phoenixes in sunglasses.
The live drama, complete with tears, hugs and hurrahs resounding far beyond the rescue site, drew viewers from around the world, riveted by the joyful spectacle and celebration of the ever-resilient human spirit.
Now that’s Reality TV worth cheering.
The ongoing rescue of the 33 men trapped nearly two months marks a rare collective mass media experience not built around a natural disaster, warfare or terror. Much like during Chesley Sullenberger's landing of a US Airways jet on the Hudson River last year, we’re sharing emotional moments of triumph.
Unlike much of manufactured junk we’re subjected to on so-called Reality TV, the rescue images pack an irresistible, spontaneous purity: a little boy hugging his newly freed dad; a miner wrapped in a Chilean flag leading cheers as if he were in the stands at a soccer game; tearful reunions in a chilly sunlight some surely thought they would never experience again.
The scenes – and the worldwide conversation they’ve spurred – played out on TV and online, around the clock. We're getting to do more than just watch: The rescue proved a top trending topic on Twitter, with the tweets flying at dozens per second at some points.
"Watching moving images from the rescued miners really does show what love hope teamwork and perceverance (sic) can do," one tweeter noted.
We won't pretend all will be smooth going from here on for many of the miners. Some could face, as the medical experts told us in endless TV commentary, lingering physical and psychological issues.
For all the bonding that kept the miners going during their ordeal 2,000 feet below ground, divisions could arise as each tells his story. We’ll certainly be hearing individual accounts, with inevitable book, movie and TV interview deals apparently already in the works.
Bloomberg News reports that before the rescue the miners struck a pact on what they will and won’t discuss. Some family members, according to Bloomberg, are negotiating paid TV interviews. The miners, while still below ground, got lessons on how to deal with the press.
“They are a unified group,” Arnoldo Plaza Vega, a cousin of one of the miners, told Bloomberg. “They were together for two months below and they’ll be together afterward. They will stick together.”
It's too early to tell, though, whether the cohesion forged underground will hold.
It’s also too soon to know whether – and perhaps too much to hope – there will be happily-ever-after endings for all.
But we'll remember the rescue as one of the most uplifting displays of unity and realized hopes to hit TV in some time. As the miners’ lives resume above ground, in and out of the spotlight, we’ll keep rooting for these real-life survivors.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.