How the “Triumph” Story Brought Out the Worst in Everyone . . .

 . . . except, perhaps, the people who endured it. 

We had a perfect storm this week: a ship in trouble, a media that loves to overhype, and media figures who still use phrases like “perfect storm.” The story of the Triumph seems to have brought out the worst in everyone. Blue Yeti asked if I’d repost my Bleat on the matter here for your weekend consumption; happy to oblige.

There are several approaches to the Triumph cruise-line story, and nearly all of them make my teeth ache.

1. The Miserable Unendurable Tragic Odyssey That Somehow No One Died During

I’m sure it was very unpleasant in many ways. CNN had a picture of mattresses dragged into the elevator lobby by people whose rooms were too hot. They also had a picture of a million cellphones plugged into a nightmarish wad of power strips, which mitigates against the idea of utter deprivation. There’s the idea of “no water for days, no land in sight” and then there’s “I can’t get more than one bar out here.” Some news outlets have flogged and hyped this thing to death, which was needless: the story itself, just the facts, is sufficient. Adjust your word processors on the setting “Adjectives -> OFF” and let the thing speak for itself.

2. The Fat Rich Fools Are Whining Gits Who Deserve It Because They’re Fat Rich Fools Boo-Hoo 

This is the general tone of most of the comment threads, which have seen a remarkable outbreak of venomous toads. If I understand the general animus, it’s this:

* Cruise ships are stupid because they are wasteful and garish and the people who take them are dumb

* Therefore their fate is not only deserved in the karmic sense, but specifically hilarious, and mocking them based on news stories is proof of an elevated moral sense

* If one does not like cruise ships, based on experience or an impression gathered third hand from someone who read a funny book about the ships, then other people should not like them and it makes some people angry that people continue to like things they should not like.

So people who get angry when a page on the internet takes a minute to load are having fun with people who have to stand in line for three hours for a meal. Because somewhere in the world someone else is hungry. I’d wager that person is also without internet access. 

From CNN’s comment thread:

I am watching CNN right now, actually; and I just heard some guy say something like, He has never heard of a case where the conditions on a ship have been as bad as they are on this cruise. While the conditions may be, in our eyes in this modern day, disgusting, it is nothing like the conditions of travel by ship in the 1400′s with the expedition to the West Indies or the 1700′s with the capture of slaves from the African continent or even as close as the early 1900′s with the arrival of European immigrants. I was waiting for him to say “in the modern day” regarding this situation, but he never said it.

Later:

“It’s disgusting. It’s the worst thing ever,” passenger Ann Barlow said.

Really? Try being a Jew in Germany during WWII. Or, stuck in the towers on 9/11. Or, having a tsunami wash over the coast wiping everything out. Or, being a child in class when a deranged man begins shooting.

Just so you know: if you are in a closed box with no ventilation in the Caribbean and you have paid to be there, and it is your vacation, the standard against which your discomfort is to be measured is Auschwitz. 

There are also the dismissive comments that begin with “lol,” which is the international morse-code shorthand for “utter blithering idiocy follows immediately.”

3. This is Not a News Story Sniffing dismissal because it’s not about politics in DC or (insert your pet cause here.). A variant on point #2.

4. Crimped Sympathies. It’s interesting that the news stories have focused entirely on the passengers. The crew is mentioned in the same terms you’d use for disposable robots. If it’s hot in the cabins, well, brother, it’s boiling below decks. It’s one thing to be stuck on a stinking ship without toilets or air conditioning or hot food; it’s another thing to work it. The media hasn’t had access to these people, but at least they could endeavor to imagine their plight and present. 

On the best cruises these people work incredibly hard, especially the stewards. I read that the power’s out for the elevators, so the stewards have to bucket-brigade the luggage down the gangways. For Three. Thousand. Passengers. 

For the work blog I got some reviews of the Triumph from cruisecritic.com, which is a never-ending source of amusement for your host. There are people who post molecular-level reviews of everything from the stain on the third tine of their fork on the second meal of the eighth day to people who unload a stream of petty ignorance that makes you wonder how they cope with other monstrous horrors of daily life, like stop signs and freezer doors at the grocery store that do not close entirely on their own, but must be manually assisted. One review of a ship I know quite well said it was devoid of art, nothing but bare walls; I have a folder of 200 pictures that consists of nothing but ship art and sculpture. She said it was obviously designed by someone who had never been on a ship – and while I admit that a multi-billion-dollar company might assign the construction of its flagship vessel to a hydrophobic individual who never left the house and had previously designed, say, light houses, it does seem unlikely. 

My last cruise wasn’t the best I’d ever taken, and the crew had something of an edge. They’d had a hard Atlantic crossing, no down time, two norovirus wipe-down episodes, and didn’t get shore leave at Half Moon Cay because of bad weather. They still smiled. Except the bartenders. They’re all jerks. 

Anyway. Point is: this was a perfect moment to demonstrate how the media overhypes what does not need hyping; how it casually and unconsciously reveals its own class biases by sympathizing with the 12-year old daughter who’s off with the ex-husband (OMG I can relate thinks the bureau chief who didn’t entirely trust her ex either) and treating the Indonesian / Filipino hotel staff as a footnote, at best; how the internet reveals the astonishing quantity of pinch-souled mediocrities who daily refute the million-monkey theory: there’s not a single CNN comment thread that would generate the poetry of Shakespeare, no matter how long it ran. 

The first three I expect, and the last one’s no surprise. But it’s just remarkable to be reminded how many people take pleasure in mocking some folk who paid money for a vacation and had it go south for no fault of their own.

  1. Nicegrizzly

    One sentence: feces in plastic bags. So, yes, I do feel bad for the passengers, and even worse for the crew (who had to go around collecting those bags).

  2. Fricosis Guy

    On cue, the first law suit

    I will say, some of the passengers interviewed on Fox appreciated the efforts of the crew. Of course, the appreciative folks weren’t the typical cruise demo, seasoned citizens. But I didn’t hear too many complaints from them either. 

    They’ll probably take it out on some bewildered McDonald’s counter girl over a “senior” coffee that took two seconds too long to make.

  3. Devereaux

    Lileks, all you say is true. And said with quite a bit of humour. I am awaiting your next bit on lawyers and lawsuits. But that will most likely be far longer and MUCH less funny. Hard to be smiley when thinking on lawyers.

  4. My thoughts were, why couldn’t they get food and help to them sooner or even start taking them off of the ship? Why did they just have to sit out there? There may be a reason but I haven’t heard it.

  5. Nick Stuart

    I wondered why there wasn’t a more effective contingency plan for a catastrophic loss of power? For example, work through the questions of:

    • If the power and water go out,
      • How are we going to feed people?

      • How are the people going to perform the bodily functions that result from being fed?
    • How are we going to organize the ship so we don’t have a “Lord of the Flies” scenario?

    Nobody was killed, apparently no serious injuries. That would probably not have been the case had they attempted to transfer passengers via lifeboat to rescue ships (plus people would have had to leave their stuff behind which would have been a nightmare to sort out). The lawsuits will be bad enough without maimed or dead passengers.

  6. Aaron Miller
    Fricosis Guy: 

    I will say, some of the passengers interviewed on Fox appreciated the efforts of the crew. Of course, the appreciative folks weren’t the typical cruise demo, seasoned citizens. But I didn’t hear too many complaints from them either. ….

    My favorite moment of coverage was when Fox’s resident liberal ninny Shepherd Smith asked a man, in a question dripping with sarcasm, “They are going to give you a full refund, credit toward a free cruise, and 500 bucks. Aren’t you excited?” and the man responded with genuine appreciation of Carnival’s amends.

  7. Mothership_Greg

    Say, I don’t know much about this story, but from what I’ve heard, George W Bush used his weather machine to smash this ship to silence some whistle blowers who were going to tell the untold story that ALL POLICE ARE THE DEVIL.  Can someone refute this for me please?

  8. Aaron Miller
    Nick Stuart: I wondered why there wasn’t a more effective contingency plan for a catastrophic loss of power? For example, work through the questions of:

    • If the power and water go out,
      • How are we going to feed people?

      • How are the people going to perform the bodily functions that result from being fed? ….

    Isn’t that why they had so many bio-bags available?

    I don’t know about their preparations of food and clean water. I don’t expect clear and complete reports about the conditions for another few days, at least. Reporters are still in drama mode.

  9. Foxman
    Bryan Van Blaricom: This story caused my wife and I to both wonder: does the Triumph have only one engine? It seems like an odd optimization for a floating resort that can be hundreds of miles from land.

    My very limited knowledge of ships is they have propulsion engines to move the ship and generator engines to provide electricity.  Perhaps the  fire had made it unsafe to use any engine.

  10. Jim Chase

    The Triumph is a wonderful case study in first-world sensibilities.  Some respond admirably, others respond predictably.

  11. Duane Oyen

    It is Carnival, and they are the line that cuts corners to make the basic event cheap.  I can easily see how being stuck out there would be a horrible experience.  I would expect a different line to send boats out to off-load the passengers, and also not to get stuck in the first place.

    But I have a horrible, classless, bourgeois confession to make, one that will have me banned forever from Anna Wintour’s Inner Circle: I love cruises, and my experiences on cruise ships have all been wonderful.  Great service from nice Nepalese kids who got away from their straitened birth circumstances and see the world. 

    We had more fun on an Italian coast cruise (started in Barcelona, through Malta, ending in Nice), than any other trip, the next best being an overnight luxury train stateroom between Nanjing and Beijing.  I love seeing the sights without having to change hotels every day, being able to go eat any time with no assigned tables.  So call me unsophisticated.

    But the ugly mocking is too much like standard lefty arrogance.  These are the glitterati who presently run this country and hate the gauche TEA Party.

  12. Tommy De Seno
    C

    “Carnival has said it would give each passenger $500, a free flight home, a full refund for their trip and for most expenses on board, as well as a credit for another cruise.”

    My wife and I talked about this.  We’d take it.

    There was at least some fun on that cruise, despite that it went very badly later and the overflowing toilets onto the rugs and walls was probably too much to take.

    But what Carnival offered would have been good enough for us to make it up to us.

    To each his own, I suppose.

    Only cruise I’ve been on was with Royal.  Had a good time, as did the kids.

  13. Aaron Miller

    Speaking of cruises, how much does the National Review cruise usually run? Does it cruise to a different location every time?

    That might be my best option for meeting with the Ricochet crew. It probably compares favorably to a cross-country flight and a week of hotel, food, gasoline expenses. And we would have more time to visit, since our jobs would be a thousand miles away.

  14. Barfly

    … pinch-souled mediocrities who daily refute the million-monkey theory: there’s not a single CNN comment thread that would generate the poetry of Shakespeare, no matter how long it ran.

    Inspired. I’m adding that to my snark bank, thank you James. 

    However, I note that as monkeys are pretty much random typists they must be considered Shakespeare-neutral. Those who write for and comment at CNN exhibit hostility to eternal truth and practice an active avoidance of elegance; the million-monkey theory remains viable.

  15. Kim K.

    Read this yesterday on The Bleat and thought it was spot on.  Read it to my husband this morning here and he got a chuckle, too.  Lileks rarely disappoints.

  16. Patrick in Albuquerque

    Quite a sanctimonious piece in itself.

  17. Ryan M

    I get all my news from Ricochet, sadly. 

    … so you’re telling me there is a cruise ship in trouble?

    (that was the first I’d heard of it, but I really enjoyed this post!)

  18. Nick Stuart
    Aaron Miller

    Nick Stuart: I wondered why there wasn’t a more effective contingency plan for a catastrophic loss of power? For example, work through the questions of:

    • If the power and water go out,
      • How are we going to feed people?

      • How are the people going to perform the bodily functions that result from being fed? ….

    Isn’t that why they had so many bio-bags available?

    Maybe so. The image the news reports conjured up in my mind (admittedly, I really havent’ paid that much attention) was of passengers using whatever plastic bags came to hand. From the gift shops maybe.

  19. Aaron Miller
    Speaking of cruises, how much does the National Review cruise usually run? ….

    That might be my best option for meeting with the Ricochet crew. ….

    Nevermind. Too expensive and formal for my tastes. 

    Perhaps Ricochetti could arrange our own Carnival cruise, with flyover types in mind.

  20. James Lileks
    C

    Jeez, Ryan! Get out on the internet more. Yes, there was a cruise ship in trouble! It was hit by a meteor. Incredible video up on Youtube somewhere. 

    (PS Thanks!)

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