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Thinking pop culture

Triumph, tragedy and the Carnival cruise catastrophe

Aside from being convinced that I’d seen the whole Carnival Triumph story play out before - pretty much the same thing happened in 2010 with the Carnival Splendor - my interest was piqued by Twitter chatter about the stranding.

Social media has made all kinds of interesting impacts on our experience of news, from speed and accuracy through to citizen journalism and stories broken on Twitter.

One element I particularly like is the counter narrative proffered. No matter how cynical I might feel about a story, Twitter is the place I can go to have my wickedness validated.

While it was déjà vu that distracted me during the Carnival catastrophe, admittedly I understood the inclination to eye roll. At least initially. A theatrical eye roll was precisely my reaction to last year’s Docklands yacht fire, for example.

While eye-rolling on my part got sidelined because I was busy realising that the sandwich fillings belaboured during the Carnival coverage was the exact same thing dwelled upon when the Splendor runaground, Twitter reassured me that there were lots of others eye-rolling for me:

I might have smirked at the first few but I quickly checked myself before I wrecked myself: this is the exact social media behaviour I abhor.

Click on any tabloid story on a newspaper website and inevitably there’ll be a “who?” jibe amongst the comments: an effort, seemingly, to downplay a story’s newsworthiness.

Comments from the Sydney Morning Herald article on Chrissie Swan’s smoking confession (February 6, 2013).

I’ve never understood this. How can people be bothered to click on a story that they know they’ll find egregious and then bother again to comment? By clicking, by commenting - even if only ironically, even if only to kvetch - the “worthiness” of the story is validated.

At least once a week someone on my social media radar will jump on the “let’s clean up public discourse” crusade and post that lofty Eleanor Roosevelt quote as a catch-all critique of pap reporting:

I agree that it’s worthwhile questioning which stories get reported on vs those that don’t; about spotlighting quiet biases. But isn’t there room for the gamut? Do we not read stories about celebrities, about dogs driving cars, about sex scandals because there is a time and place for entertainment, for the quirky?

The counter narrative of the Carnival Triumph story lies in the simple premise of deserving vs undeserving victims. Apparently people who can afford to take cruises don’t deserve our sympathies. A popular class contempt frame.

Perhaps an understandable position, sure, but doesn’t this thinking lead to every single little thing that preoccupies us in the West being dismissed as a #firstworldproblem? So what, because we speak English, because we aren’t in dire poverty, our concerns are rendered trivial? Aren’t worth writing about?

Truth be told I didn’t really feel any great sympathy for the folk on the Triumph because a) I didn’t know any of them and b) they all got out alive. But I do appreciate that being stuck on a ship - being stuck anywhere - is unpleasant.

For those who’ve been stranded in airports, on tarmacs, in train stations, sure, the problem doesn’t compare to starvation, but at that very moment it’s real for us and it’s all-consuming and we shouldn’t feel bad for getting upset.

Afterall, who knows how long it took some of those folks to save up for that cruise.

Who knows how difficult it was for some of them to get time off work.

Who knows how many holidaymakers only packed enough medication for the days they were supposed to be sailing.

Sure, they may be #firstworldproblems, but I’m not sure that renders them irrelevant. Equally, I’m unconvinced that those dissing news coverage of the Triumph story would actually tune into those about third-world poverty anyway. Equally, I know full well that I’d be completely hostile to a league table of Stories of Greatest Worth.

Mocking #firstworldproblems and downplaying coverage of them doesn’t makes a person more socially conscious or more abreast of what’s Really Important. I’m pretty sure it just makes us jerks.

“Take You on a Cruise” (2004) - Interpol.

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