Don Blankenship: A coal-black villain worthy of Oliver Stone

Though Oliver Stone is reviled and sometimes revered for his political opinions, those who love the movies of the last three decades know him (or should) as the screenwriter mostly likely to understand — and bring to life — villains. 

In Platoon, it was the alcoholic sergeant Wall Street, Sgt. Barnes, played by Tom Berenger, a vile-tempered alcoholic, a tough guy, likely to keep a recruit alive — or so it seemed. Only over time did his true depravity emerge. 

In Wall Street, it was Gordon Gekko, of course, whose immortal lines and sheer bravado helped Michael Douglas win an Oscar. The character is so indelible he's coming back for a second turn in the limelight.

Alfred Hitchcock liked to say that "the stronger the villain, the stronger the picture" — a lesson Stone clearly has taken to heart. But it's not just that Stone's villains are evil;  it's that their villainy makes sense to them, so much so they want to prove their worth through it. You believe that they believe it — every word of it. That's why is Nixon is so memorable. He's sincerely evil.  

In that light, the nation should hope that Stone takes a look at Don Blankenship, the unapologetically greedy CEO of Massey Energy, the coal firm on whose watch twenty-nine miners died last week. 

David Roberts of Grist lays out the facts against Massey and Blankenship, and they just don't quit. Here's just one set, relating to the Upper Big Branch mine where the men lost their lives. 

1,342 Safety Violations: Since 2005,
The Site Of The Massey Coal Mine Explosion That Killed 25 Mine Workers
Was Cited For 1,342 Safety Violations.
"The Upper Big Branch
coal mine, the site of Monday's explosion, has been cited 1,342 times
for safety violations since the beginning of 2005." About a third of the
violations – 458 were cited just last year – "including 50 that federal
regulators said were 'unwarrantable failures to comply.'" [Washington
, 4/7/10;
Charleston Journal Gazette, 4/8/10]

But those are just facts, along with the fact that this is the worst mining disaster in this country in forty years. What makes Blankenship so suitable for Stone as a villain is his unabashed certainty. He's right and he knows it, beyond a shadow of a doubt. 

Here he is speaking on the subject of mining safety and other topics last fall, via Jonathan Chait:

As someone who has overseen the mining of more coal than anyone else in
the history of central Appalachia, I know that the safety and health of
coal miners is my most important job. I don’t need Washington
politicians to tell me that, and neither do you. But I also know — I
also know Washington and state politicians have no idea how to improve
miner safety. The very idea that they care more about coal miner safety
than we do is as silly as global warming.

It's over the top, isn't it? Too bad — too melodramatic — to be true. 

But that's the nature of monsters, their unbelievability. We cannot quite believe that someone could be that ugly, that unashamedly evil, until we see it — or hear it in their dialogue — for ourselves.  

Oliver Stone, our nation turns its mournful eyes to you…show us this monster, from his point of view. Bring him to life. Expose his prideful certainly. Reveal him in all his peacock glory, his hideous logic laid bare. Show us what we have to fear.  

And then ruin him — dramatically. For all time. If you can. Please. Make him the Citizen Kane of the coal industry. It's the least we can, as a country, is destroy his image, after what he has done. 

[Here's Blankenship, displaying his usual attitude towards the press]


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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