Ruin Porn Ruins Chernobyl
November 20, 2014 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Photographers prowl the streets of Pripyat . ...at each new location we visited, photographers were picking up dolls and books and clothes, draping them across steel-strung beds or sitting them upright on mantelpieces. However in trying to show the truth, these visitors are slowly destroying it. posted by Omnomnom (26 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't see why the writer has disdain for people wearing bunny suits; that's a logical thing to do in a dirty, decaying area where the dust is radioactive.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I really like the point quoted in the FPP, that attempts, even successful attempts, to artistically capture truth can result in a distortion of that truth. I wish that an editor had got the writer to put in much more discussion of that in place of the rather silly and inaccurate analogy to the observer effect.
posted by howfar at 1:48 PM on November 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


It really pissed me off in the days following the 3.11 triple disaster in Japan when enterprising, entrepreneurial freelance photogs would break into abandoned homes in the exclusion zone to take Chernobyl-esque photos. The owners of the homes were very likely alive and well, and were themselves prohibited from returning home, yet some grubby photog was tramping all over the inside of their home without even taking his shoes off.

Bah.
posted by Nevin at 1:50 PM on November 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


I don't see why the writer has disdain for people wearing bunny suits; that's a logical thing to do in a dirty, decaying area where the dust is radioactive.

I'd tell you what I'm picturing, but I think you can guess.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:53 PM on November 20, 2014


I'm just imagining what would happen if tourists treated the 9/11 site that way.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:56 PM on November 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


Tourists can't treat the 9/11 site that way because there's a souvenir shop built on it where you can buy your Official 9/11 NEVAR FORGET Memorabilia Porn, so you're swapping the Ruin Porn for a different kind of Porn, but at least the latter one makes a nice tidy profit.
posted by Zack_Replica at 2:20 PM on November 20, 2014 [25 favorites]


I am right now reading Voices from Chernobyl, an oral history assembled by Svetlana Alexievich. I think it is the first non-fiction book I have read that I would classify as being firmly in the "horror" genre, or perhaps "weird non-fiction". It's quite incredible.

Re: the linked article - Leave it to humans to move again through a place they have already destroyed, and desecrate it further in order to fit their ideas of what the end of the world needs to be like. It's never enough just to see.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:38 PM on November 20, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm sorry but what is the problem here? How is this site being "desecrated"? What is the issue?

" Imagine then, how much the place must have changed since 1986. This gas mask repositioned for a better shot one day; the dolls sat up straight along a wooden shelf the next; this and more, every day, for decades."

So the objects are not in their original places. People might've moved them. The wind might've moved them. Animals might've moved them. The place is decomposing. The article's main point seems to be that by observing something we might also be changing it and that's a good point and it's not a bad or good thing necessarily.
posted by I-baLL at 3:22 PM on November 20, 2014 [7 favorites]




You can't practically preserve a city as a mausoleum. Weather and vegetation are also eroding the site. Tourists rearranging dolls and collecting souvenirs are just one of many entropic forces corroding that abandoned place.

If the disaster had been a short-term tragedy, say a poison gas leak, people would have moved back in within a year. In another hundred years people will probably start using the city again. No one would have problems with these scenarios, or complain that an aftermath hadn't been preserved.

This lament over the loss of a pristine, moments-after-evacuation Pripyat is not really denouncing "ruin porn". In reality it's the author bitching the porn wasn't realistic enough when they got around to having a look.
posted by clarknova at 3:30 PM on November 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


Well, if we're going to place blame, we might start here.
posted by HuronBob at 3:53 PM on November 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's some things you can't avoid when you become a tourist attraction. Maybe opening doors/windows/entrances that would have otherwise not allowed small debris through. There's the footprints, handprints, and trails. Perhaps with fresher air, the flora composition might have changed, although that's less likely in this case. I don't have much of an issue with the above happening.

I just view the willful, preventable destruction with slightly less annoyance than I do when people litter, graffiti, and break off or move existing objects in national parks. At least it's not actively hurting an existing ecosystem in this case. Also, any less restrained human activities may annoy historians and related scientists, but it's also of interest to anthropologists and other social scientists.
posted by halifix at 4:01 PM on November 20, 2014




I get the impression some of you pick the flowers and break branches while out on a walk. Go diving, and take some coral. Go spelunking, steal a stalactite. Hunt the last rhino, it's there for the taking. Hit up Pripyat and help speed the decay. It's just going to ruin anyway. Speed it along.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:16 PM on November 20, 2014


While at disaster sites and national parks, I personally like to paint big acrylic masterpieces.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:19 PM on November 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


Are we supposed to be worried future generations will think Chernobyl was less horrible because tourists move the dolls around? It's a disaster site, not a work of art - the point of preservation (if indeed anybody is interested in preserving it, which is debatable) is to educate, not to provide an authentic STALKER experience.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:52 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's a disaster site where people lived and died horrible deaths. People whose relatives are still alive. Whose possessions are being staged and tossed about to create more thrilling pictures. Where, so I hear, amateur movies are being shot featuring underground mutants. Where people cosplay in hazard suits.
This site should memorialize the terrible events, not provide a stage for thrill seekers.

New Yorkers get mad at tourists who come to the 9/11 site treating it as a tourist attraction (at least, according to the "How may we hate you" tumblr). This seems so much worse.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:07 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


In another hundred years people will probably start using the city again.

Will they, though? I was under the impression that Pripyat was essentially founded as a place to live for the nuclear power plant workers and their support industries/activities. (Wikipedia seems to support this.) If there's no active power plant there, is there anything about the location of Pripyat that makes it a likely location for human settlement? I don't see one.

(Not expressing an opinion one way or the other about the effect of tourism on the ghost town; I was just interested in this side point.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:31 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I heard that the power plant didn't close, DevilsAdvocate - they just sealed off the bad reactor building and kept running the others
posted by thelonius at 4:40 AM on November 21, 2014


i've seen some documentaries on Chernobyl and Pripyat was solely built in order to accommodate the workers for the plant.

in one of the docus, they took some people back who had lived there and they were walking around and got to see their old apartment and the city for the first time since they had had to leave.

i can't imagine how it must feel to know that people have been rooting around in your stuff to make better pictures of the disaster.

you didn't really get to take things with you. you had to leave everything. most weren't even told why they were being told to get on a bus and leave.

i think this is different than a site that has been abandoned due to the decline of a city where people left who were under their own agency to some degree.

i think it would be just as wrong to walk around Pompeii chipping off a fresco you liked or arranging some artifacts so you could get a good picture.

or that famous civil war photographer who it was discovered later had been arranging the corpses.
posted by sio42 at 5:07 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Will they, though?

Someone will need to change hard drives in the Weyland/Googlecorpfinity Citizen Monitoring data center.
posted by pashdown at 6:08 AM on November 21, 2014


In 1927, Werner Heisenberg, a German theoretical physicist, proposed the “Uncertainty Principle.” To paraphrase the concept, Heisenberg suggested that it is impossible to observe something without changing it. The theory was developed largely through (and as a reflection on) the process of measuring the position and momentum of particles. Nevertheless, this premise also has a valuable lesson when assessing the objectivity of macrocosmic observations.
Except that isn't at all what the Uncertainty Principle says, as the exact Wikipedia article you link to points out in its third paragraph.
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:10 AM on November 21, 2014 [4 favorites]


I heard that the power plant didn't close, DevilsAdvocate - they just sealed off the bad reactor building and kept running the others

They did for a while, but the other three reactors at the site were shut down in 1991, 1996, and 2000.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:46 AM on November 21, 2014


Compare your views towards tourists changing things in Pripyat vs ... someone leaving their mark on, say, the ruins of pompei.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 8:54 AM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


I blame the Hidenburg.
posted by Halogenhat at 9:40 AM on November 21, 2014


"Compare your views towards tourists changing things in Pripyat vs ... someone leaving their mark on, say, the ruins of pompei."

By "leaving their mark" do you mean graffiti or people just walking around, looking at things, etc? Because if it's the latter then you should know that Pompeii gets millions of tourists a year. Also, there's archaeological work still to be done in Pompeii to discover unknowns. On the other hand, we know about Chernobyl already. It happened less than 30 years ago.
posted by I-baLL at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2014


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