Thursday 22 June 2023

Billionaire Hubris

Everyone drawing attention to the disproportionate coverage a handful of billionaires in an imploding submersible have received versus the near silence over frequent ship wrecks of refugees fleeing war, tyranny, and economic collapse are right about the class character of the media. Of course our captains of industry and their callous, uncaring relatives were always going to matter more. They're the special people, while there will always be another boat in trouble in the Med.

But does that account for the coverage in itself? No. While the most conservative defender of broadcast and print will concede the principle of if it bleeds, it leads, that doesn't explain matters either. Day to day, editors and producers determine what grisly goings ons are worthwhile leading with and what stays on the cutting room floor. Crimes committed against Palestinians are usually a no. As are Yemenis, Kurds, and refugees in general - unless they're Ukrainian or from Hong Kong. The congruence between the pall of silence surrounding their travails and the foreign policy interests of the UK state are, I'm sure, entirely coincidental. But this has something else. Our submariners will forever be associated with the tragic glamour of the Titanic, about which media interest never abates. That immediately conferred the story prurient interest. And then we have the Hollywoodised rubber necking that is de rigueur in the age of 24 hours news, instant feeds and immediate reaction. The four days of ghoulish speculation is of a species taxonomically adjacent to Chilean miners trapped underground, a junior Thai boys' team caught in a cave flood, and the Beslan school siege. There are vicarious thrills to be had when real life turns a bit Clive Cussler, and little mind is paid to propriety or the feelings of loved ones. Striking while the iron was hot, Channel 5 screened its own documentary about the Titan this evening - the first of no doubt many for years to come. When attention is currency, novelty is king.

There is also another item of interest, and that concerns the OceanGate company that operated the submersible and comments made by its late CEO, Stockton Rush. Just as the Titanic disaster came about by cutting safety and arrogance, as has been widely reported Rush was cut from the same cloth as the White Star Line. He complained about regulations on commercial submersibles, referring to them as "obscenely safe". He talked about there being a point where safety is "pure waste". He said "I think I can do this as safely by breaking the rules". Quite. OceanGate faced had settled a court case brought by a former employee over safety at the firm in 2018. Furthermore, in a cost cutting measure it seems the porthole window was not designed to withstand the pressure at the Titanic's depth, and social media has been scathing about the shoddy knock-off XBox controller the sub was operated with.

And that raises a disquieting point for our billionaires. With all the money at their disposal, not even they can buy safety and reliability. While insulated from most of the horrors capitalism throws up, the consequences of neglect and corner cutting - the hubris of their very own class - will find a way to get them too.


Anonymous said...

This is something I've noticed about our South African ruling class. They seem to blindly follow their ideological principles without understanding that they are doing so, even though doing so often wrecks their prospects of making money which is supposed to be their reason for living. In this case, the man in charge of building an unsafe submarine happily went down in it and was crushed to pulp because he refused to believe that it was unsafe -- because he refused to believe that the laws of physics as filtered through engineering could possibly apply to him.

And these are the people we've put in charge.

exliontamer said...

As someone who reviews games I thought you'd have spotted that it's a Logitech controller based on the PS2(?) and not an an Xbox knock-off 😉

Anonymous said...

Now would be an excellent time for everyone in the Western hemisphere to be reminded that "regulations are written in blood".

I'm sure that billionaire blood must give the most ink of all...

... even though in this case, I doubt that the rest of the billionaires will really be too ruffled (sadly), because every single person on that vessel was the knowing author of their own demise. They all signed a waiver. Their "people" could certainly have found out about the safety concerns if they had even looked, just as the Vegas businessman who declined to get on board apparently did. 2 in 5 of them were daredevil explorers who have spent decades playing chicken with nature, 2 in 5 were tragic naifs who didn't seem to be in touch with their real situation, and then there was Stockton Rush, who is set to get quite the unusual (and belaboured) obituary.

Phil said...

In mitigation, I was entirely absent from the video game scene during the period of the PS2's dominance.

Anonymous said...

Another Billionaire "thinking outside the box," only to have the box fail, collapse in on him, and press him like a flower in a book. One billionaire dead is a good start.