Chernobyl as Pandemic Practice

The Appeals of Scary Media During Scary Times


  • Mulle Birch Olsen Aarhus University



recreational fear, pandemic, radiation, Chernobyl


This article seeks to explain the appeal of the HBO miniseries Chernobyl during the COVID-19 pandemic by using simulation theory and morbid curiosity. Chernobyl’s main appeal is that it offers viewers a better source of negative emotions compared to the nebulous anxiety caused by the pandemic. Chernobyl achieves this by simulating a threat with certain similarities to a virus but which is made less unknown and, in turn, less anxiety-inducing. The threat is made less unknown mainly through the use of visual and auditory threat cues. Furthermore, morbid imagery and information appeal to morbidly curious viewers by providing salient knowledge about the effects of an invisible, airborne threat on the human body. The inclusion of authentic phone calls and a newscast further adds to the morbid appeal of the miniseries. Lastly, the fact that Chernobyl aired just before the pandemic in an increasingly post-truth world only made it more relevant.


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How to Cite

Olsen, M. (2024). Chernobyl as Pandemic Practice: The Appeals of Scary Media During Scary Times. Leviathan: Interdisciplinary Journal in English, (10), 38–60.