When Hollywood cared about chemical spills
By News Editors // May 18, 2023

Suppose a toxic train wreck happened and no one cared. Something like that recently happened in East Palestine, Ohio, where in February a Norfolk Southern train carrying all manner of noxious chemicals derailed. Neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris deemed it necessary to pay a morale-boosting visit, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg eventually put in an obligatory appearance only on the heels of the arrival in town of Donald Trump — who remains the highest-profile figure to express, in person, a level of care and concern commensurate to the catastrophe.

(Article by Peter Tonguette republished from TheAmericanConservative.com)

Numerous conservative talking heads have surmised that the Biden administration’s disinterest stemmed from the political makeup of East Palestine. In the 2020 election, Columbiana County preferred Trump over Biden 72 percent to 27 percent. For the governing class in 2023, East Palestine is a throwaway place with disposable, possibly even deplorable, people.

This attitude represents a striking departure for the left, which, in earlier iterations, routinely cast itself as a movement in defense of ordinary people. Democratic presidents have gone from saying “I feel your pain” (Bill Clinton) to condescending to Joe the Plumber (Barack Obama).

Forty years ago, Hollywood still paid lip service to regular people and sometimes even meant it. In 1983, three proud liberals — director Mike Nichols, writer Nora Ephron, and actress Meryl Streep — turned their attention, earnestly and honestly, to a working-class woman who, much like those in East Palestine, found herself confronting the chemical horrors of our modern age.

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Streep, already an Oscar-winner for Kramer vs. Kramer and Sophie’s Choice, stars as Karen Silkwood, a smart, sassy, assertive worker at a nuclear fuel plant in Oklahoma. After a series of mishaps expose her and her coworkers to plutonium, Karen initiates a kind of one-woman inquiry into her plant’s safety policies, procedures, and evident lapses. Eventually working in concert with labor union officials, Karen is poised to bring widespread attention to her workplace hazards when a car crash takes her life — a much-speculated-about episode that is presented ominously but ambiguously at the end of the film. 

At the outset, Karen is shown to have a largely contented attitude toward her life. She looks to be a capable and efficient employee, sufficiently self-confident to chew bubblegum, hands-free, while working with plutonium in a glovebox. Her home life is informal: She lives with two coworkers, her goes-along-to-get-along boyfriend Drew (Kurt Russell) and their sarcastic friend Dolly (Cher), who is gay and who, in time, invites her own lover into the communal fold.

These are decent folks, not the salt of the earth, exactly, but honest, hard-working, fun-loving. They seem to enjoy the small, rundown clapboard house they share. Karen frantically rearranges her work schedule to find time to visit her young children from an earlier relationship, now living out of state with their father. When she returns home, she resumes gossiping in the locker room, casually bantering with Drew, and hastily “monitoring” herself (or not) for radiation exposure upon entering and exiting work. She notes with pride her choice to study science rather than home economics in school, and she contrasts her roots in Texas, whose very smell she detests, with her current life in Oklahoma — a life made possible by the plant.

Read more at: TheAmericanConservative.com

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