By: David Seddon
July 11th, 2023
Sunday, June 18th, 7 p.m., Greenwich Mean Time; this was the time when the Titan Submersible ship was supposed to resurface after its voyage down to the remains of the Titanic. It never re-appeared.
The Titan was a submersible which was intended to take guests on regular trips down to the bottom of the ocean to personally see the wreckage of the Titanic. Tickets cost $250,000 per voyager, which would reserve the trips for the incredibly wealthy. On this particular trip there were only five people on the craft, most notably the CEO of the company that made this ship.
A five day manhunt for the submersible was triggered, which would ultimately end with confirmation of the worst case scenario. Just as authorities were preparing to give up — due to the fact that the submarine would definitely be out of oxygen, and thus everyone aboard could be assumed to be dead — they would find pieces of debris around the Titanic site consistent with this missing vehicle. Later that day, it would be announced that the ship likely imploded due to the massive pressure at the bottom of the sea.
As more people learned about this story, the more they became aware of how poorly designed the Titan was. There were a number of practices the company undertook which seemed to destine the craft for destruction. Its hull was made of carbon fiber, which had many issues when it came to deep sea exploration, and which wasn’t being monitored. There were other failures too, one notable one being that the CEO of the company seemed to prioritize simplicity over complexity.
It can be hard not to see a sort of dark irony in this situation. The Titanic, the ship the Titan wanted to see, was also a ship for the wealthy which ultimately sank and failed due in part to the materials of the hull. However, what followed the Titanic’s tragedy was a shock as people tried to understand the tragedy. What followed news of the Titan’s destruction was an onslaught of memes.
There were lots of memes about the price of the tickets: such as this one which focused on the cost of the ticket. There were also memes about the perceived shoddy workmanship, this one highlighting how steering used a gaming controller. And there were plenty of memes expressing the idea that the victims weren’t worthy of concern: like this one.
This kind of reaction has, perhaps understandably, shocked many, and to some degree repulsed plenty of other people looking in on this situation. A few news outlets have already covered the lack of compassion and excess of callousness in this kind of response.
Peter Suciu, writing for Forbes, when talking about this response said, “Humor has always been subjective, especially following a tragedy, but in the social media era, such ill-timed jokes aren’t just in bad taste, they can be truly hurtful.” He later blamed this reaction on social media sites which prioritize getting interaction over moderation and encouraging moral behavior.
This isn’t a position new to The Current either. In a previous article discussing the dangers of how memes can make us more callous, Mai Vang succinctly said, “more people are starting to think that making jokes at the expense of others is okay, but it is not.”
However, this position may feel overly simplistic and naive to the people posting these memes. One of the top comments on a reddit post about this very issue covers this point. User Red_Lotus_23 wrote, “Look, I’m not happy it happened nor am I celebrating it. But I genuinely have a hard time sympathizing with billionaires who paid exorbitant amounts of money to ignore all common sense to physically see the Titanic.” This comment received at least 213 upvotes at time of writing, and other top comments express very similar opinions.
The underlying issue here seems to be that a great number of young people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the state of the modern world, specifically with modern capitalism. Wealth inequality seems to be rising, there are currently almost thirty times more vacant homes than homeless people and we might be headed towards climate catastrophe. Capitalism seems unable or unwilling to solve these issues, and so it’s easy to pass off this blame and stress onto those who have done well within this system.
In the aforementioned Reddit post, another user posted, “Yeah it’s like it’s hard to [care] about the people at the wheel who don’t [care] about us.”
These reactions could demonstrate that there are many people who aren’t willing to extend their empathy to the “one percent” until they feel that the issues they care about are actually being addressed. And while mocking the dead can easily be understood as a morally reprehensible act, it can also seem like the only meaningful chance many have at getting back at the people who are actively making their lives worse.
It’s worth noting that right around the time the Titan went missing, a boat carrying hundreds of refugees capsized, potentially killing hundreds of people. This story got a lot less attention than the missing submersible, both in the media and from rescue crews, and the Greek government came under heavy scrutiny following the tragedy. The disparity between these reactions, perhaps, highlights the very issue the meme posters seem to have.
In the end, however funny some memes might be, it’s hard to say that mocking the dead is ever the right thing to do, even if they made serious mistakes that led them to their fate. However, there are also much more serious problems we’re facing as a society right now, and perhaps those should be focused on first.
David Seddon is a senior undergraduate student with a major in professional and public writing and a minor in Chinese. A big fan of fantasy and sci-fi, David can often be found playing games, reading books or working on his own self-published books in his free time.