The submersible Titan’s loss was no Greek tragedy. We had no hero with a tragic flaw; there was no grand discovery or revelation; we had, however, plenty of reversal of fortune (peripeteia). What we saw in the last week was a tragedy of spectacle, which humans always enjoy and which the media willingly provide.
At the same time, we and the media are guilty of giving short shrift to the thousands of desperate migrants now being lost at sea. A boat off Greece capsizes and hundreds die in the water. Viewers happily cut back to the more uncertain fortunes of the Titan. Its ending, predicted by some, was the anticlimax of a week-long deathwatch that drew millions of viewers. Few, I’m sure, wanted to think that the human drama was already over. Fewer still wanted to contemplate those hundreds dead in the Greek waters.
The four lost Titan passengers each paid $250,000 to die a quick, unsolicited death. An enormous air-sea search costing millions—as we will no doubt learn—was really a wasted effort since the sub imploded near the Titanic just an hour and 45 minutes after launch. Where was the effort to rescue the Greek immigrants?
Stockton Rush, the idiot savant who led OceanGate and piloted the dive, pitched the unimportance of safety and preferred innovation over proper testing and certification. The company will now be facing perhaps years of lawsuits. Rush already had a couple before his last and fatal dive.
I was immediately struck by the happy hubris of this guy in interviews. Well, how could sane people believe in someone who used off-the-shelf video controllers and RadioShack parts in vessels like this? An uncertified carbon fiber hull? Is the urge for perilous adventures so strong as to confound rational thinking? Two of the five passengers on board were experienced, smart, capable Titanic divers. They still bought in to this ride.
James Cameron, the seasoned ocean explorer (and “Titanic” filmmaker) was one of the few who spoke out about the disaster. He has made more than thirty successful dives to the Titanic. “OceanGate,” he said, “didn’t go through certification. It wasn’t peer-reviewed by other engineering entities, by any of these what they call classing bureaus that do certification for vessels and submersibles and things like that. That was a critical failure.”
I watched his interview on CNN. Toward the end he remarked on the supreme irony that both the Titanic and the Titan disaster were caused by hubris, that arrogant pursuit of power that goes against nature, the gods and human reason. So far, he’s the only commenter I’ve heard to use that word with regard to what happened in 1912 and what happened last week.
Titanic fascinates us because it seems like such a colossal failure of some kind of system back then, and 1,500 people paid the price for it. . . . The warnings were not heeded. They were warned about the ice, they had radio, Marconigrams, the Titanic captain was handed multiple warnings of ice ahead [yet] he steamed full ahead into a known ice field on a pitch dark night with no moon. If that isn’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.
It took just over a hundred years to prove once again that when the fates align, humans are their mindless victims.