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Eat the Rich
Dancing on a water grave
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When Alec Baldwin accidentally shot his cinematographer, the reactions were not universally kind and sympathetic. Many were quite the opposite. I wrote something at the time expressing my distaste for this sort of schadenfreude. It seems relevant again now, as it appears depressingly likely that something really terrible has happened to some really rich people, and a lot of people sound really happy about it.
Admittedly, there is a harrowing kind of poetic irony in the probable deaths of rich tourists on their way to survey the ruins of the Titanic. Though, as one former passenger in the Titan submersible has insisted, nobody would have viewed the tour as “a pleasure cruise.” Everyone who climbs into the frighteningly narrow submarine must sign several waivers acknowledging that they might die. The passengers’ attitude wouldn’t have been unlike the attitude of the men and women who died in the Challenger disaster: banking their lives on something they calculated was likely safe, but potentially lethal.
But while the victims of the Challenger disaster were immortalized as heroes, no similar epitaphs are in the writing for the CEO of Oceangate and his fellow passengers. Outrage has rightly swirled around the safety concerns raised and dismissed before the mission launched. A clip is circulating of the CEO saying the company didn’t want to hire “50-year-old white guys” for the engineering team, because it wouldn’t be “inspirational” enough. It is, admittedly, difficult to see this mission as anything other than an outrageously expensive, careless waste from the start. I confess I find the whole idea of this kind of “submarine tourism” pretty distasteful. I speak as a good capitalist, and not generally one to get terribly invested in rich people’s money and where they spend it. But let’s call this racket what it is: a cash grab expressly designed to capitalize on the reckless curiosity of people with lots of cash to be grabbed.
All this to say that despite some of the trad-posting I’ve seen about honoring the spirit of adventurous exploration and what-not, I really won’t be able to disagree that the passengers of Titan died for nothing, if that is their fate. For that matter, I’ve never been able to shake the sense that the poor souls on the Challenger died for nothing.
All that being said, it’s appalling to see the shameless glee with which some seem to be welcoming these potential deaths. (Or, possibly, already past deaths—hopefully by instant implosion rather than slow suffocation.) Someone was quoting Orwell’s line that you’ll really understand socialists once you realize they don’t care about the poor, they just hate the rich. Well, a lot of socialists are coming out of the woodwork on Twitter at the moment. Someone noted that there’s a kind of perennial fascination with seeing feckless rich people in disaster situations like this, going all the way back to the original Titanic disaster itself. It’s the sort of lavish trainwreck you can’t look away from. But most of us, if we’re halfway decent, aren’t literally cheering on the crash.
Some are additionally holding forth that it’s unjust for the eyes of the world to be glued to the Titan disaster while migrants drown in capsized boats. As one charming young woman put it, she’s too busy “using her f*cks to give” on refugees lost at sea. I myself chafe at the idea that any disastrous tragedy has a particular claim on my anxious attention. People have finite reserves of strong emotion, and different tragedies will affect different people differently. Emotionally blackmailing anyone who fails to generate the approved response in approved quantities is guaranteed to backfire. We go through this cycle every time some victims happen to be a racial or sexual minority. Do you care about this black man or those gay people who were just shot? Do you really? Well, prove it then. Prove it right now. Because if you don’t retweet the tweet or post the take or change the profile picture right now, then we all know what that makes you, don’t we?
So, I suppose you could say my “finite reserves of strong emotion” are that woman’s finite number of “f*cks to give.” But context is all, and the context for this young lady’s comment is not inattention, but a stream of reactions which are actively giving joyful attention to the prospect of rich people dying. Including not just older adults, but a father and his 19-year-old son. Another charming person asks, “Where do you think those big oil executives and think tank funders come from? They send their children to Yale skull and bones club or some fraternity riddled with scandals so they can turn out just like them.”
Well, if you put it like that, good riddance, I guess.
Someone noted that if Aladdin’s genie were to show up and offer these lovely folks three wishes, “wealth” would almost certainly be a popular choice. This may be true, but we may learn more by asking what they would say if they were granted just one wish. Another magic lamp legend may be more enlightening here, an old Russian fable about two peasants. We’ll call them Ivan and Boris. Ivan has a goat, Boris doesn’t. One day, Boris finds a magic lamp and summons a genie. He can have one wish only, for anything in the world. And for his one wish, he says, “I want Ivan’s goat to die.”
Some, it seems, would like nothing better than for Ivan’s goat to die. Or Ivan, as case may be.