Monday, January 16, 2012

Not really. At least, not if they have a clue


The first interviews of survivors — and the first impressions of people around the world — of the Costa Concordia cruise liner that ran aground and tipped over in Italy are yielding predictable comparisons to another tragedy.

Let's see. Did it stab its royal benefactor because it misinterpreted some shop talk among the local witches? Is it plotting to kill its stepfather on the advice of its ectoplasmic dad? Or are we getting tragedies and accidents confused again? Because on the scale of technological accidents, a death count of five (at this reading) is pretty low-bore. I don't mean to minimize the deaths, but I do wish someone -- the AP is an ideal candidate -- would minimize the stupid comparisons.

... It seems the world views the Concordia through a prism of fact, myth and fantasy that surrounds the Titanic, largely because of the popular 1997 movie.

It may be that "first impressions of people around the world" are bound up in the AP's burst of pop-culture fantasy. (If there's some evidence to support those two claims about "the world," now would be a good time to bring it forth.) Should that be the case, it might be nice if the first instinct of journalists was to debunk such comparisons, rather than ...

... “It looked like it was sheer panic on the Concordia,” said Tom Keill, a Pennsylvania tourist who took in the “Titanic the Experience” tour yesterday morning in Orlando.

Keill said his two young sons are “really into” Titanic history, which is why the family visited the exhibit while on vacation. The exhibit includes artifacts and replicas of the famed ship.

“When I saw the Concordia on the news this morning, this is what I thought about,” Keill said.

Ah, to see the world in a grain of sand. Failing such auguries of innocence, could we at least stay away from seeing the world in one tourist family from Pennsylvania? Anyway, take a deep breath, because we're about to descend into another layer of stupidity:

... Both had issues with their christening, and believers in superstition might attribute the ships’ tragedies to it.

Before a ship’s maiden voyage, it’s common for a dignitary to “christen” the vessel by breaking a bottle of champagne on the hull for good luck.

The Titanic was never christened. The Concordia was christened during a ceremony when the ship came online, but the champagne bottle never broke. After each tragedy, people wondered whether the lack of a proper christening was a bad omen.

For one thing, it would be nice to think that someone at the AP had looked up the verb "christen" and gained a rough idea of its meaning. But for a larger thing -- if there is a point to journalism, doesn't it at some point require that "believers in superstition" shut up while the empirical world is being discussed?

Granted, the AP wrote a stupid story, but it didn't order its story at gunpoint onto anyone's front page. The fault shown above lies with the newspaper in question, which could have run a genuine news story about this disaster but instead (a) chose a chunk of ineptly composed cultural nonsense and (b) placed same on the front page.

How nice a world it would be if the AP cut down on the amount of mythological nonsense it chose to clog the wires with. Perhaps we'll get there sooner if more AP member papers decide to spike those stories, rather than granting them frontpage play.

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Blogger Theophylact said...

I'm not in favor of using "accident" for situations that are preventable when normal precautions are taken. Neither the Titanic disaster nor this lesser shipwreck were accidents; they were the result of hubris or incompetence.

1:53 PM, January 17, 2012  

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