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.

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Members have made 30 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Nicegrizzly Inactive

    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).

    • #1
    • February 16, 2013 at 1:50 am
  2. Profile photo of Fricosis Guy Coolidge

    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.

    • #2
    • February 16, 2013 at 5:56 am
  3. Profile photo of Devereaux Inactive

    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.

    • #3
    • February 16, 2013 at 6:49 am
  4. Profile photo of Inactive
    Anonymous

    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.

    • #4
    • February 16, 2013 at 7:18 am
  5. Profile photo of Nick Stuart Thatcher

    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.

    • #5
    • February 16, 2013 at 8:03 am
  6. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member
    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.

    • #6
    • February 16, 2013 at 8:03 am
  7. Profile photo of Mothership_Greg Inactive

    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?

    • #7
    • February 16, 2013 at 8:04 am
  8. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member
    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.

    • #8
    • February 16, 2013 at 8:07 am
  9. Profile photo of Foxman Inactive
    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.

    • #9
    • February 16, 2013 at 8:31 am
  10. Profile photo of Jim Chase Member

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

    • #10
    • February 16, 2013 at 8:40 am
  11. Profile photo of Duane Oyen Member

    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.

    • #11
    • February 16, 2013 at 9:28 am
  12. Profile photo of Tommy De Seno Contributor

    “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.

    • #12
    • February 16, 2013 at 9:31 am
  13. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member

    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.

    • #13
    • February 16, 2013 at 9:42 am
  14. Profile photo of Barfly Member

    … 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.

    • #14
    • February 16, 2013 at 9:46 am
  15. Profile photo of Kim K. Member

    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.

    • #15
    • February 16, 2013 at 9:48 am
  16. Profile photo of Patrick in Albuquerque Inactive

    Quite a sanctimonious piece in itself.

    • #16
    • February 16, 2013 at 9:59 am
  17. Profile photo of RyanM Coolidge

    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!)

    • #17
    • February 16, 2013 at 9:59 am
  18. Profile photo of Nick Stuart Thatcher
    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.

    • #18
    • February 16, 2013 at 10:07 am
  19. Profile photo of Aaron Miller Member
    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.

    • #19
    • February 16, 2013 at 10:36 am
  20. Profile photo of James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks Post author

    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!)

    • #20
    • February 16, 2013 at 10:40 am
  21. Profile photo of Sabrdance Member

    I heard the story yesterday when the tow cable broke, and had to do some reading. I can’t imagine being at sea on a dead ship. A tall ship would be -by modern standards -bad enough. At least the wind would carry you. But dead in the water. I shudder.

    Then again, I dislike the sea.

    What I was curious about was -given that it appears to have taken several days to tow it ashore -why not evacuate the passengers? Surely the ship has life rafts. Allow everyone to abandon ship, be ferried to shore by the rescue fleet, and then the tows could drag the lumbering behemoth back to dry dock without forcing people to sleep in the hallways.

    • #21
    • February 16, 2013 at 10:56 am
  22. Profile photo of Byron Horatio Member

    Great stuff. I am similarly removed from news media. I haven’t owned a television in a year so ill take everyone’s word that it’s been a big story. I admit I was a little dismissive of this story when I heard about it. Passengers crying and emotionally distraught after disembarking? Come on people. I really pity the crew more than the passengers. Sounds like passengers were behaving wretchedly to each other.

    • #22
    • February 16, 2013 at 11:03 am
  23. Profile photo of Bryan Van Blaricom Member

    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.

    The only time I was affected by an engine fire was when I was serving on a mine sweeper (naval reserve summer cruise lo these many years ago) and there was a fire in the engine room. Unlike in these more modern ships the engine telegraph was used and that was my introduction to “eight bells from the engine room!” (i.e. “The engine room is on fire”). It was some unexpected excitement, but the crew put the fire out and the engine was out of commission. As a result, we returned to port at half speed on the remaining engine.

    This is the second time in two years that a Carnival Destiny class cruise ship has been left adrift at sea for days because of an engine fire. I wonder if the provision of a dual engine in the design could have helped to alleviate that?

    • #23
    • February 16, 2013 at 11:08 am
  24. Profile photo of Tommy De Seno Contributor
    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. · 1 hour ago

    And those prices don’t include drinks. 

    Lost me right there.

    • #24
    • February 16, 2013 at 11:39 am
  25. Profile photo of Hegesias Inactive

    I had family on the ship. It was my cousin’s “get away from it all” after a year or so of a rather hellish life trying to pick up the pieces after the untimely death of her husband. One of the buses taking the passengers back to Texas broke down. We were literally surprised it wasn’t her bus.

    It was one of the buses taking folks to New Orleans airport to fly their last leg home though. But, c’mon… your cruise ship went kaput; your bus broke down; you sure you really want to get on a plane now?

    • #25
    • February 16, 2013 at 11:53 am
  26. Profile photo of ctlaw Thatcher

    20-20 last night proved that the MSM is truly awful.

    The story began with a comment asserting that the passengers were forced into buses without the opportunity to shower and change.

    Shower where and change into what?

    Perhaps ABC was hoping to report on how the passengers were hosed down on the pier and forced to wear Gitmo-orange jumpsuits.

    • #26
    • February 17, 2013 at 1:35 am
  27. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Inactive
    Nanda Panjandrum

    Bravo, Mr. Lileks…thanks for the perspective!

    • #27
    • February 17, 2013 at 3:43 am
  28. Profile photo of Paul L. Inactive

    “…the comment threads, which have seen a remarkable outbreak of venomous toads”

    In my opinion that describes every comment thread on any topic anywhere on the Internet. (Except at Ricochet, of course.)

    • #28
    • February 17, 2013 at 7:03 am
  29. Profile photo of flownover Inactive

    Black Knight responds :

    “I’ve ‘ad worse.”

    costa-concordia.jpg

    • #29
    • February 17, 2013 at 12:13 pm
  30. Profile photo of Jerry Carroll Inactive

    I admit I was waiting for CNN to connect the story to the pope and child abuse by priests in some more novel way than “in other news. . .” A reporter Martin Savadge (or some such spelling) invited a passenger in a baseball cap to compare the shipboard experience to Katrina. “No comparison,” he was told. One involved death and disaster and millions of people and the other only various inconveniences. the passenger said. Martin was disappointed. You could tell.

    • #30
    • February 18, 2013 at 1:23 am