The grim exploitation of the Titan sub tragedy
Those saying the media only care about it because it involved rich white guys are cynical ghouls.
The fate of the five people aboard Titan, the 21-foot submersible that went missing on Sunday during a dive to the wreck of the Titanic, has dominated the attention of the world’s media over the past week. News outlets have run live feeds, filled with the latest from the search-and-rescue mission. Broadcasters have sought out expert speculation from a vast array of naval and submersive experts. And the biographies of the wealthy individuals on board have been laid out before us, giving flesh and bones to the story’s missing protagonists. There can be few now who are not familiar with billionaire adventurer Hamish Harding, French naval veteran PH Nargeolet, Titan owner Stockton Rush, the super-rich Shahzada Dawood or his teenage son, Suleman.
But as the story of the Titan has been heading towards what has turned out to be a horrific conclusion – the sub reportedly suffered a ‘catastrophic implosion’, likely just under two hours into the dive, killing all on board – a decidedly grim discourse has also become increasingly prominent. In news outlets and on social media, assorted pseudo-radicals and leftish commentators have used the Titan story to attack the mainstream media’s coverage, and ultimately the public for consuming it.
They have done so by uniformly drawing a comparison between the intensive media coverage and rescue effort dedicated to the missing sub and the perceived lack of coverage and rescue effort dedicated to another maritime disaster last week – namely, the capsizing of a migrant-carrying fishing boat in the Mediterranean last Friday, which has left hundreds of the mainly Pakistani and Afghan passengers unaccounted for. In the words of one broadcaster, ‘the fate of the five people on [the Titan] has already received far more attention than [the hundreds] who drowned in one tragedy off the coast of Greece last week. Surely that should make us pause for thought.’
Over the past few days, this tendentious comparison between two very different stories has been used over and over again to make the same point – that the media and by association the public are more concerned about five wealthy Westerners than we are about the hundreds of migrants who perish so often while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. In the blunt words of the New Republic: ‘The media care more about the Titanic sub than drowned migrants.’
The faux-radicals have gone further. ‘The Titanic submarine is a modern morality tale of what happens when you have too much money, and the grotesque inequality of sympathy, attention and aid for those without it’, tweeted the asinine Ash Sarkar. Referencing how much the Titan’s passengers had paid for a ticket, she even attempted a joke. ‘If the super-rich can spend £250,000 on vanity jaunts 2.4 miles beneath the ocean then they’re not being taxed enough.’ Another joined in the posturing: ‘We need to reflect on why we worship celebrity and power, and why five rich people’s lives are deemed more significant than 600 poor black and brown people’s.’
This shallow, moralising discourse falsely assumes that the story of the missing sub has gained more attention than the story of the capsized boat because of who was on board, and that we care far more for ‘five rich people’ than we do for hundreds of ‘black and brown people’. This is as insulting as it is silly. The Titan story didn’t capture the public imagination because of the wealth and skin colour of the passengers (for one thing, Dawood and his son were British-Pakistani). It captured the public imagination because it was a mystery, the rescue operation was a race against time, and there was a chance (or so it seemed) of a happy ending. Add in the tragic mythos that surrounds the Titanic itself, and it’s easy to see why this story dominated the news agenda for days.
It was a compelling story in the same way that the eventual rescue of the Chilean miners, trapped for 69 days inside the San Jose Mine, was in 2010. And in the same way that the search for 12 young Thai footballers lost in a cave was in 2018. Both these stories dominated the news for weeks, were followed by billions around the globe, and have since been turned into Hollywood movies. No one thought at the time that the Chilean miners story was a distraction from the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan. Or that the extraction of the young footballers from that Thai cave took attention away from the devastating monsoons in India. Neither of these huge, global stories focussed on rich white guys, either.
This is not to downplay the sinking of the boat in the Mediterranean last week. It was a human tragedy, and a further indictment of the European Union’s immeasurably cruel border policies. Serious questions need to be asked of the seemingly negligible attempts made by both the Greek coastguard and the EU border agency, Frontex, to save those on board. But that maritime disaster is best addressed on its own terms. Those comparing it to the story of the missing submersible are, if anything, diminishing the significance of the ongoing migrant crisis in the Med. They’re reducing it to a platform from which to attack the media and the public in the West – to accuse them of favouring rich, predominantly white people at the expense of poorer, predominantly non-white people. They’re exploiting one tragedy to diminish another.
This posturing may make some self-identifying left-wingers feel superior to those who have avidly followed the story of Titan, but it will do nothing to help those they claim to care about.
Tim Black is a spiked columnist.
Picture by: YouTube / OceanGate.
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