HBO's Chernobyl miniseries is a stark, affecting portrayal of the 1986 tragedy. The popular show has reignited interest in the story... maybe a little too much. It seems that people are flocking to the actual Zone of Exclusion, not just to learn more about the catastrophe, but also to, well, take sexy pictures of themselves and post them on Instagram.
Are you surprised? Because I'm not. Influencers often exploit the trends of the day, no matter what they are, to get more likes.
But there's more to this story that might not be evident at first glance. Twitter user Bruno Zupan was one of the first to bring attention to these "influencer" photos, posting several screenshots in a tweet that went completely viral.
You know how when a celebrity dies, people post pictures of themselves with that celebrity or share memories of their own personal connection to that celebrity? People have mixed feelings about that, and I totally get it. There's always the question: Are these people doing it for the likes?
On one hand, it's good that more people are curious enough to seek out the real history behind the TV series. It was an awful tragedy that happened not too long ago, and yet it's not addressed much in school. But on the other hand...well...
Let's just take a closer look at some of these pictures.
This one's not too terrible, as far as they go. It's OK to feel moved by an experience and share that experience on your social media pages. And it's not like she is posing for a glamour shot. But then there are the rest of the photos in Bruno's tweet.
I don't know if this dude is trying to show the radiation levels or what, but he's definitely centering some of the more sensational aspects of Chernobyl for shock value instead of respectfully taking in what he's seeing.
Oh boy. Maybe don't pose like a model while leaning on a burned out bus. It's not a great look. What is she trying to accomplish here? Radioactive chic?
I think the last one is what really blew people's minds. How could anyone think that's appropriate?! In what world do you live in? It is simply not appropriate to take nearly nude photos of yourself at Chernobyl, clearly in an attempt to be like, "Look how hot I am at the site of this horrific disaster. Give me all the likes."
Bruno's tweet and these pictures went completely viral, with celebrities with huge audiences retweeting and commenting on the issue. People like Jake Tapper, Chrissy Teigen (who deleted her tweet), and even the creator of the Chernobyl series, Craig Mazin were, understandably, a little taken aback by this seeming new trend in Instagram culture.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper was rendered speechless over the whole thing, which makes sense. He is someone who has great respect for history, and this doesn't quite seem like the right way to honor it.
It got to the point where even the creator of the show stepped in to urge people to visit Chernobyl, but to do so respectfully.
However, this is where things get a little complicated. People seemed to take Bruno's screenshots in good faith. He implied with his caption that these were all Instagram influencers and that this was a disturbing new trend. And he might be right.
But, as Taylor Lorenz, a writer for The Atlantic pointed out in her own tweet quoting Bruno's, he might have stretched the truth a bit.
It turns out, most of the accounts Bruno took these screenshots of aren't "influencers" at all. They either don't have large audiences, talked about the tragedy explicitly in the captions that he cut out, or they posted the photo of themselves along with others from the Zone of Exclusion that didn't include them.
Lorenz took this as a bad faith attack, a manufactured issue that Bruno likely created just for the likes. Who's worse in this situation?
People already have a negative perception of influencers, and Bruno's tweet easily fit into that narrative and fed that frenzy, despite the fact that only one of the accounts was that of an actual influencer.
Look, I'm not about to defend influencer culture. I think part of the reason people responded the way they did to Bruno's tweet is that it seems entirely plausible. But I also don't think the tweet was entirely genuine. Plus, it seems like Chernobyl has sort of become a strange, "Disney-fied" tourist destination, at least according to the article Lorenz cites.
I mean, the place is selling glow-in-the-dark, "radioactive" fridge magnets! In the article, Balkan Historian Damon Richter suggests that a good portion of the Chernobyl site "is in a 'carefully managed state of decline' whereby the imagery perpetuates 'a popular myth which paints Pripyat as some kind of profound time capsule.'"
The place is pretty much constructed to allow for photo opportunities. So is taking a picture of yourself leaning up against a bus inappropriate? Or is it exactly what the Chernobyl tourist center is hoping you do?
Sorry, Taylor. Hope there's a couch nearby to catch your fall, because this story is definitely getting the attention it hoped to get.
It seems like this whole debacle is a chance for us to reflect on how we honor history and think about why we turn tragedies into amusement parks. Is it OK to do if it gets people to come and learn about what happened? Or is it disrespectful to the highest degree? Why do we crave and need these "photo opp" experiences in order to visit the site of a disaster like Chernobyl?
Is that even much different from making a television show about it? Meant to gain fans and make money? Questions to consider.