Reality TV that’s actually real

I watched a show worth watching the other night. On FX, called 30 Days. This episode saw the show’s creator, a West Virginia native, travel home to live and work as an apprentice coal miner for 30 days. It was a reality show that actually seemed real — no one was voted off, no one dissed anyone else or slept around, no one was competing for anything, except maybe the chance to stay alive to go home and do it all again the next day.

It’s kind of amazing — even with all our technology, coal mining is still a filthy, backbreaking, dangerous job. And so, so necessary. Coal generates half of our electricity — half! At the same time, mining it can be devastating to the environment. The show covered both deep mining, what everyone thinks about, and also “surface mining” (aka strip mining), where West Virginia’s amazing mountains are literally stripped bare and whittled away. (Amazing to me, West Virgina ranks second in terms of coal production. Guess what state’s first? Wyoming! Never would have guessed that.)

The show actually presented a balanced view, showing both sides of the enviornmental issue (mine operators and environmentalists) as well as interviewing miners themselves. Most came from generations of coal miners. All were in it for the money ($60,000 a year, about the only industry in WV with that kind of paycheck). Most said they really loved their jobs (can you imagine?). Yet, all said they didn’t want their kids to end up in the mines, and said their fathers had said the same thing. All the wives worried every day about their husbands’, fathers’, brothers’ safety and health. Ultimately, the miner the producer stayed with, a supervisor at the mine, was found to have the early stages of black lung (after steadfastly boasting that his last test, 7 or 8 years ago after 25 years in the mines, was perfectly clean). His older brother was already disabled from the disease.  (This is the same guy who writes his wife a note EVERY DAY before he leaves for the mine at 2:00 a.m. to tell her how much he loves her. In case he doesn’t make it back, that’s the last thing she’ll hear from him.) Would he quit working now? (no) Would he wear a respirator now? (no) It was all just business as usual. And a dirty business it is, but an honorable one. These are the people who make it possible for me to power up my PC every day and earn MY living. It makes you think.

It’s always interesting to see how the other half lives, but especially when the half isn’t some “celebrity” famous only for being rich or good-looking or having a pimped-out crib. Real people doing real jobs that impact every one of us. Refreshing. Sobering. Worthwhile. And on TV no less. Imagine that.

Thank God every morning when you get up, that you have
something to do that day which must be done, whether
you like it or not. Being forced to work and forced to do
your best will breed in you temperance and self-control,
diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content,
and a hundred virtues which the idle never know. 
                                           ~ Charles Kingsley

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2 Comments

  1. Anonymous said,

    Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    my friend’s husband is a coal miner they live in raliegh county west virginia we do really need our coal miners and coal is a great natural resorce that we have here in the u.s it isn’t over eas in the middle east and we don’t have to get involed in a war to keep it i think if we took our time and stop relieing on foriegn oil we could figer a way to use coal for gas but these stupid climate change people wont here of it i think if we don’t get something worked out gas is going to be 7.00 dollars a gallon then what will the climate change people say

  2. WritingbyEar said,

    Thursday, July 10, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    Yes, I often think that with all the brainpower and technology we have in this country, we can solve this energy crisis either by making coal cleaner or improving electric cars or improving mileage with regular gas — something!


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