At the moment I’m preparing to assemble a narrative of the first visionary period of nuclear power, ranging from 1942 through to 1960. Watching, and subsequently championing Craig Mazin’s superlative HBO series, Chernobyl, has been both a re-immersion in a subject I know half well and an aesthetic distraction.
Yet I’m feeling a sense of disquiet. It’s one thing for a key historical event like Chernobyl to be revisited by the media and creators like Mazin. Surely that’s a good thing, for us to be reminded, and for us to broadly reassess, that event 33 years later. But the cultural success of the series, its dramatic mastery, suddenly opens up different, ahistorical interpretations. We’ve all read of the recent boost in Ukrainian tourism based around Chernobyl visits. Now here’s a Lego version of a liquidator (on The Brothers Brick website for adult Lego builders) created by someone called Red who normally creates action figures. What do I make of that? Surely it’s fine for artists to produce imagery of epochal events? Why then, as a historian, am I wondering if the historical significance of Chernobyl is being diluted?