A Review on the Fantastic HBO Miniseries Chernobyl: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was never better illustrated

As I watched the fantastic HBO miniseries on Chernobyl I couldn’t help but think of someone I admire quite a lot, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the great pinnacle work on human psychology called ‘Flow.’ I finally was able to watch the five part series after many people kept recommending it to me and I have to say at every level of that experience, from the writer by Craig Mazin to the direction of Johan Renck—and everyone in between from the great acting to the executives who put the deal together ‘Chernobyl’ was a bold undertaking on an epic scale. These are not the filmmakers of the 80s and 90s where The Hollywood Reporter measured success by the size of their pay checks, and overall box office, but this trend we have now of streaming projects on the scale of Chernobyl are bringing forth creative filmmakers who are functioning from Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘Flow’ on several projects that are giving the world so many new entertainment options, from projects like Stranger Things to The Mandalorian. But this Chernobyl effort was on a scale of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, which is one of my all time favorite films. But there won’t be big Academy Awards for this labor of love, or big Hollywood contracts. I don’t know what the makers of Chernobyl made as far as a paycheck, but its obvious they made this series out of pure love of the content, and the hard truths that come from it.

I don’t think Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi meant to reveal why communism doesn’t work in his own studies, but he did and that footprint of human effort was stamped all over Chernobyl. The film series brilliantly walked the line between the heroics of every day “working” people as Karl Marx fantasized to represent and cast a very bright light into every aspect and social level of Soviet society. The apartments were small and dingy, even the offices of the chief coordinators were skanky and shrill. No wonder everyone was so willing to lie about the status of things because nobody wanted to jeopardize a promotion into something improved. Conditions were so terrible for everyday people in Russia during this period of Chernobyl, which for those who don’t know was the site of the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world and continues to be a blight on Ukrainian politics. Even to this day, Ukraine is in the news and is at the center of an impeachment attempt by modern Democrats in America. For everyday people around the world who don’t know history or geography, the kind of corruption that these old Soviet regions bred is unfathomable.

Comparing lifestyles from the same period such as in the film Wall Street it becomes quite clear that the Soviet Union was so terrified of their people learning about the great gifts that the West might inspire into their society that they put all their efforts into publicity of the state for the purposes of the state robbing people of their natural free will so what the entire country ended up with was a massive economy filled with the Parkinson’s Law. Not the disease but the trend in human beings to fill schedule targets with procrastination when loose parameters to fulfillment are allowed and lazy ambitions fill the void. Where Chernobyl told the stories of many brave people it was only when the tragedy of the moment was able to tap into people’s natural Flow as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi often discussed. When left to their own devices into service to the “state” people took their sweet time, did only what they had to in order not to be shot by the KGB, and the result was a society of peeling paint, small apartments, boxy cars that all looked a like and very little retail options to speak of. Because the entire society was only doing what it had to because their Flow and love of life itself was so micromanaged.

The Chernobyl story could be told in any communist or socialist country and it is ironic that the American left is so enchanted with these efforts and want that for our own society. It is an unfathomably stupid idea unless people just don’t understand the concepts behind the work of very serious modern phycologists such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Modern China is suffering through exactly the same trials and tribulations as the Soviet Union was during this period of Chernobyl. It is the perception of power that they have and only that. That is the reason the state must control information flow so vigorously. The same in modern day Iran. Any society where people live in sloppy conditions and there are economic struggles we will find the elements of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s observations, once you take away the flow of ambition from people and force them to serve institutionalism, you get from them a natural Parkinson’s Law. I use that term to abbreviate Csikszentmihalyi’s teachings, which of course does the trick. This was precisely why the test at the Chernobyl plant was done in spite of the need to shut down for 12 hours to meet the output quotas for the end of the month needs. That Soviet society needed to push quotas on people in such a way says everything about their society, people weren’t naturally inclined to produce, or even motivated to “over produce” as we might see in Western cultures, but they had to be coaxed a gunpoint to do so and there is all the problem with Chernobyl or any communist society.

What was remarkable about the HBO miniseries on Chernobyl is it was done by very creative people functioning from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow ideas reporting on why communism was a massive failure because it robbed Russian society of their Flow. Whether or not this was intentional we may never know. It could just be a happy accident as events provided these filmmakers with the opportunity of a lifetime. But one thing is for sure, they seized on it and created one of the most magnificent narratives about a global tragedy that anybody has ever seen. And the work left in their wake is worth serious scientific study. Terms like Parkinson’s Law have not been around until fairly recently, certainly not as long as the peasant ambitions of Karl Marx over a hundred and fifty years ago. There are still a lot of discoveries that we need to make as a society as to what works and what doesn’t. For now we know that Western ideas do better economically, where these notions of collectivism tend to create Parkinson’s Law when Flow is robbed from individual people. We see it in manufacturing all the time no matter where in the world we are conducting it. Tight, micromanaged establishments tend to get a lot of Parkinson’s Law whereas free flowing creative efforts like at Pixar or Apple generate massive intellectual output. The results are unmistakable.

Chernobyl is the kind of program that every human being should watch once. That something like that is available to HBO subscribers or those with Amazon Prime accounts to me is a modern miracle. Such a great history lesson is available from the comfort of our living rooms any time of day in any length of time that you may wish to view it. We live in a modern world that has always craved Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow. He didn’t invent the desire, he simply observed it and noted conditions when Flow was restricted in people. But seldom is there ever a film series that shows not only what caused a tragedy on an epic scale because of Flow problems created by a government that is more relevant today than even when the event occurred. That’s what we have with Chernobyl. A massive undertaking created by wonderful Flow by the filmmakers about a society that had terrible Flow and ultimately why it’s important without being preachy. Chernobyl is ultimately about the gifts that come from a free society, the ability to look at ourselves and improve to get the desired results, something we all take for granted way too often. And we do so because of Parkinson’s Law, because we always fill the work to fill the comforts of a schedule, we see no horizon on, and think we have all the time in the world to fix it. But we don’t.

Rich Hoffman

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