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.


“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, 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.