The Reflexive Politicization of Human Tragedies
Show a little compassion. Not every story needs to be part of a the culture war.
I wanted to write briefly about the terrible tragedy last week with the Titanic-bound OceanGate submersible. I’m guessing all of you are aware of the story, because of the huge amount of media attention it generated. The craft went missing a little over a week ago in the North Atlantic Ocean, and the fate of the five people onboard was unknown for several days. There was lots of speculation over their predicament, from the location and condition of the sub, to how much breathable air remained in its hull.
We learned the unfortunate news on Thursday that all five individuals had died from the vessel imploding, probably just two hours into their journey, as they were descending toward the wreckage.
It’s not a mystery why the story received as much news coverage as it did over those few days. Similar to the Tham Luang cave incident from 2018, in which 12 children in Thailand were trapped in a flooded cavern, it was an easy-to-visualize, claustrophobic, time-ticking nightmare of a scenario. Add in the public’s renewed interest in the Titanic following James Cameron’s blockbuster 1997 film, and you had all the makings of a real-life international drama.
But here in America, in our increasingly politicized culture, a story of such magnitude can’t simply stand on its own. The inclination is always to harness it with some culture-war narrative that confirms our biases and advances some agenda.
This story, unfortunately, was no exception.
For some people, the real issue — while the sub was still missing — was economic disparity. The passengers on the submersible had paid a quarter of a million dollars each to see the Titanic up close. Thus came the question, over and over again, of why the public should be so concerned with the fate of a few filthy-rich individuals taking an unnecessary risk for a recreational experience reserved for elites?
Many of those expressing that sentiment contrasted the media coverage of the sub story with that of another water tragedy in the Mediterranean — where hundreds of poor Greek migrants on a sinking ship had just lost their lives; it hadn’t received nearly the attention the sub story was getting.
Some news outlets even felt it was important to point out, in headlines no less, that one of the people on the submersible donated to Republican politicians.
The online spite aimed at these five people “of privilege” — over the notion that they were more “cared about” than those far less fortunate in life — was truly a sight to behold.
For other critics, the issue wasn’t economic class, but rather wokeness.
It was reported while the sub was still missing that OceanGate’s CEO (who was one of the individuals on the sub) once explained that he preferred not to hire operators who are “50-year-old white guys,” like the “ex-military submariners” his competitors hired. His point was that he wanted a younger, more enthusiastic team, but the comment was entertained by many in the partisan media as an indication that affirmative action hiring may have been to blame for whatever technical issue was presumably plaguing the submersible.
The subtext, of course, was that the CEO’s adherence to political correctness may have given him his just deserts.
Listen, I have no problem at all with public discussions on topics like economic disparity, media priorities, political contributions, and political correctness; I’ve written about all of these things in various contexts. But there’s something incredibly disheartening (and quite frankly gross) to me about using the plight of individuals trapped in a life-and-death situation to not only advance some culture-war theme, but turn the individuals into pariahs.
How about a little compassion in the moment? Or even just a little consideration?
If one truly feels that they need to saddle some political narrative onto a human tragedy, at least wait until the tragedy is over… and any survivors are out of harm’s way… and there’s a clear picture of what actually happened.
I guarantee there will be plenty of time afterwards to make any point that needs to be made.
Obligatory Dog Shot
I feel like there could be a good story here.
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The late George Carlin is thought by many to have been one of the world’s greatest stand-up comedians. His “Indecent Exposure” album from 1978 is a compilation of some of the provocative comic’s best jokes of the 1970s. It’s an entertaining listen.
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