Sometimes I swear we're only one or two steps away from resurrecting Nero's Circus
On Thursday, June 22nd, hours before we learned the adventurers in the Oceangate Titan Sub calamity were absolutely, positively, Titan-ically dead, I scrolled Twitter looking for up-to-the-minute news. Like many, I followed the story closely and like some, I hoped for a safe outcome for all.
Not everyone on Twitter was compassionate. Because, billionaires.
You don’t even want to know what the emotionally deficient were producing over on Tik Tok.
Apparently, a tragedy like this is super-hilarious when you don’t know or like the victims.
Yeah, there’s a lot wrong with the passengers in this story. Willful blindness to safety issues. A VP fired for pointing out what a deathtrap this thing was. ‘Experimental’ submarine: Something you NEVER descend into. A submarine guided by a cheap VIDEO GAME CONTROLLER. A Plexiglass shield. No GPS.
Maybe some spit and duct tape. And oh yeah, bolted inside. While sitting on the floor. For a four-hour round trip.
Then there’s the stupidity of risk-takers who signed a waiver mentioning death three times. Who paid $250,000 each to tourist the Titanic, see it up close and personal, and cross that off their bucket list. The sheer brainlessness in getting into a thing like that with its known safety issues. Did they know? If not, why?
And if they did, WTF???
Men take what appear to the rest of us to be reckless risks. On the other hand, as I’ve seen expressed elsewhere, it’s why men do and discover great things in crazy places and women don’t.
It was men who located the Titanic in 1985, not ambitious women.
When women do crazy things - like climb Mount Everest - we do it years after men have gone before us.
I don’t think these passengers were stupid for wanting to see the Titanic from a submarine, I think they were stupid for doing it in that submarine.
And although I can unequivocally say I’d never do anything that stupid, I too am not immune from the desire, every once in a great while, to do something reckless.
About fifteen years ago I climbed to a sacred kiva at the top of a New Mexican cliff with ladders and narrow paths. The ladders looked strong and I really wanted to see the kiva, but it was dangerous. What if I slipped? What if I fell? I might get killed, or permanently injure myself, and I was a Canadian in the United States with travel insurance.
Several years later, I did something a helluva lot dumber, with some peer pressure from a male friend: I climbed the Scarborough Cliffs in the east end of Toronto with him and a third (female) friend. Words have yet to be invented to describe how stupid that was. People have died doing that. People have had to be rescued from this foolish endeavor. Today, not back then, the City sends you the bill for many thousands of dollars.
I can’t blame him. I did it to push myself to do something I’d never done before. I survived the kiva climb, right???
There’s pushing yourself, and then there’s being a complete dumbass.
So I get it, but I wouldn’t have climbed into the Titan if they’d paid me $250,000.
The teenager supposedly didn’t want to go, but his aunt said he did. So who knows. Dumbassery may or may not run in his family.
But that doesn’t mean their deaths were funny. Stories like this are packaged with the movie drama of will-they-or-won’t-they-reach-them-in-time, and the larfs you get when people you look down on as stupid gits git what you think they deserve.
Sometimes I swear we’re one step away from burning (fill in your least favorite outgroup) as human torches in Nero’s Circus.
The Twitter circus
I’ve been thinking of this ever since the rise of torture porn, and I don’t mean the garbage you see on actual porn sites. I refer to movie franchises like Saw, Hostel, and The Human Centipede. What kind of a person pays good money to watch other people fake being tortured, for fuck’s sake?
Fake torture or live torture in ancient Rome, there’s not much difference, and there are only a few short moral steps from the former to the latter.
Maybe we can blame it on OJ. His infamous car chase arguably launched the succeeding era of ‘reality TV’ although anyone old enough to be alive during the B.C. era (Before Cable) remembers all-channels live coverage of breaking news events. John F. Kennedy’s motorcade wasn’t mega-covered outside of Dallas, it was just an ordinary presidential motorcade, interesting only for the locals, until something tragically extraordinary happened. America remained glued to its TV sets in the days after, and as a result, millions watched Kennedy’s accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, get assassinated live.
So maybe it’s Jack Ruby’s fault.
Or maybe it’s the Hindenburg’s, another event only interesting to the locals, but which went globally viral when the flight went horribly tits-up.
Sometimes, it doesn’t end the way it does in the movies. Sometimes the rescue mission fails, and everyone dies.
Sometimes the rescue mission never had a chance.
We can laugh about it if we’re particularly heinous or just congratulate ourselves on being neither rich enough nor arrogant enough to climb into a demonstrably unsafe sardine can navigated by a Super Mario controller.
Still, diving deep to see the Titanic is a pretty cool adventure, assuming you’re in a seaworthy vessel and the manufacturer’s CEO isn’t a fucking idiot.
And when they fail, we get to laugh at them, because other people’s pain and tragedy is, like, fucking hilarious. Or something.
Twitter isn’t famous for its compassion, and many took the opportunity to create memes and compare the disaster to allegedly prescient pop culture precedents like an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer pilots a submarine that gets stuck in a coral cave and watches his oxygen signal flash ‘Gone’.
Or noting that if there had been a pretty 24-year-old on board, Jack Dawson would have saved everyone.
Many on Twitter noted how the media reported after the fatal implosion that ‘knocking sounds’ were heard coming from way down below. Experts haven’t yet determined where they came from but it’s not likely the Titan, since the implosion and death were instantaneous.
I was reminded of the old Twilight Zone episode in which a Navy destroyer crew hears strange knocking sounds coming from a submarine nearby that sank in World War II.
But I didn’t mention it. It seemed to trivialize the gravity of what had happened. Rich people or not, lacking in judgement or proper safety management analysis or not, I can’t take pleasure in their deaths.
I can’t imagine even taking pleasure in their deaths had it been Matt Gaetz, Josh Hawley, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Alex Jones and Donald Trump.
I might have guiltily thought, Well at least they’re expendable, then castigated myself for it.
We may not love them, but someone who knows each one and shares some of their DNA does.
We all do dumb shit sometimes. Had my friends and I fallen off the Scarborough Cliffs, others might have laughed at how dumb we were, how we ‘deserved it’.
There’s an argument to be made for that, but it doesn’t make it right.
Not everyone does something dumb out of a reckless sense of invulnerability. Sometimes they do it to please their dad.
How different are we from the savages of yore?
The first two results are for movies featuring fake torture. The last two may be a mixed bag of make-believe torture and the real deal. Porn sites don’t much care whether the people in it are actors or real victims. Whatever keeps ‘em clicking, and the real deal, I’ll bet, gets a lot more clicks.
Human suffering has always provided entertainment, but in ‘Pre-Code’ Hollywood certain standards had to be met for a movie to be released. The bad guy had to get punished (because in the earliest films he often wasn’t); no romantic or sexual relations between blacks and whites; no white slavery; no making fun of the clergy. How one handled other difficult depictions, such as rape, cruelty to children and animals and drug use were carefully defined.
In ancient Rome, there were no such restrictions. It’s unclear whether Nero was ever the ratbastard of which some have written. He was no angel, for sure. The stories of his fabled cruelty stem primarily from three historians: Tacitus, Cassius Dio and Suetonius, who may have been the QAnon of their day. They and Nero existed during a time when the rhetorical tradition of vituperatio flourished. This pretty much encapsulated the ‘anything goes regarding what you want to say about your opponent’ including fake news, conspiracy theories and the vilest accusations imaginable. (Sound familiar?) Others have noted how similarly Nero’s alleged cruelties are to mythological stories. So the QAnon Toga Triumvirate might have been bullshitting about Nero’s human torches and other alleged atrocities, and I’ll note we’ve found no ancient corpses to back up any of it.
Nevertheless, torture and execution as entertainment were popular back then and for many centuries after, with the fifteenth century being the most brutal, with torture raised to an art form according to Steven Pinker.
We civilized ourselves after that, but I’m not so sure civilization is forever.
At least Lee Harvey Oswald’s family wasn’t subjected to hideous memes on social media.
We’ve all taken part in today’s ancient circuses, with only some of us hoping the Evil Billionaires would be rescued. In the movies we don’t have to root for them—they’re not real. Also, movie billionaires are always demonstrably evil, whereas I’m not sure any on board the Titan can be believed to be evil for any reason other than being billionaires.
One wonders. Who personifies the real evil in the world?
And how different are we, really, from the ancients?
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