[OPINION] What OceanGate can teach us about dissatisfaction

Alfonso Divinagracia

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[OPINION] What OceanGate can teach us about dissatisfaction

Marian Hukom/Rappler

'With such an exploitative system in place at their expense, why wouldn’t everyone else feel open contempt at the submarine’s passengers?'

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news, a submarine touring the Titanic’s wreckage disappeared last June 22. Said submarine contained five passengers, most of whom were wealthy and all of whom had paid at least $250,000 to tour said wreckage. The authorities of multiple countries went to investigate after the disappearance, and the incident received universal media coverage.

Netizens’ reactions were mixed. Some expressed sympathy for the passengers who lost their lives. Others took a darker bent, and decided to make jokes about the scenario. The latter camp increased in both population and intensity when it was revealed that the owner of the submarine, one Stockton Rush, had disregarded multiple precautionary measures from multiple experts and bragged publicly about his disregard for the rules. He was among the five who were onboard.

Even after this revelation, of course, there were people who expressed sympathy for the presumably horrific deaths of the passengers aboard. But those people are not who I’m concerned with. What I’m concerned with is the other response; the response of those who displayed vitriol towards the people onboard. How does one wrap one’s head around such an apparently callous response?

It was easy to write off the response as just another example of the dark humor prevalent in certain Internet subcultures, so at first I did write it off as one of said examples. After all, there are still fringe corners of the Internet where tragedies such as 9/11 and the Holocaust are joked about, right? But as I continued to read about the incident, I realized that the volume of responses I saw on social media was too vast and too universal to be restricted to said dark corners. 

What’s more, the level of vitriol was unlike what I’d seen among reactions to similar contemporary tragedies. The COVID-19 pandemic did arouse a large amount of memes and joking discussions, but almost none of the jokes I’d seen were at the expense of those who’d fallen victim to the virus. Here, all the scorn seemed to be heaped on the passengers themselves. 

It was only while reading a thread on Ask Reddit that things began to make sense. In that thread – one about whether or not the jokes were in good taste – a user named trollcat2012 posited that these dark “jokes” weren’t jokes at all. They were expressions of genuine hatred and contempt, all focused on a crucial fact: that all five passengers belonged to the elite.

Here, things started to fall into place for me. “Elite” is a term that almost everyone has encountered in political discourse since 2015. In essence, the argument goes that the societal system we currently possess worldwide disproportionately favors a minority of people. Said minority props itself up at the expense of everybody else through vociferous exploitation. In essence, the system is rigged.

And the argument above isn’t some wild speculation or hypothetical scenario. It has its basis in data findings that have been repeatedly replicated and repeatedly reported on. According to Oxfam, for instance, income earners belonging to the top 1% bracket in the world possess twice as much wealth as everyone else. 

This rigging of the system has created a global wave of resentment and dissatisfaction. Said dissatisfaction, as analysts have noted countless times, has been the primary driving force behind events such as Brexit, the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, and the electoral success of our own Rodrigo Duterte. In short: people know that the system is rigged, and they’re angry about it.

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It’s easy to see where the submarine incident fits into this larger picture, especially after the recent revelations of how the owner handled safety concerns. $250,000 would be a life-changing amount for most of the global population. That all five passengers had that much money to spend on an exorbitant trip to the Titanic says a lot about how disconnected they are from the realities most people have to live with. 

To compound that, the fact that Mr. Rush had disregarded and even sued multiple experts who warned him of this very outcome says even more about this disconnect. We’re dealing with a man who didn’t just have the resources to spend exorbitant amounts of money on an unnecessary trip; he had the arrogance to consciously disregard the counsel of multiple authorities on the matter. 

As the final cherry on top, a refugee boat containing over 500 people sank off the coast of Greece around the same timeframe and received barely any media attention, a fact pointed out constantly by the people making jokes about the submarine incident. The fact that said boat’s passengers were composed of a voiceless, stigmatized group was not lost on anyone commenting on this phenomenon. 

As trollcat2012 also pointed out, we’re at a boiling point in society – a point where the wealthy are so wealthy that they can spend money most of us can only dream about on an exorbitant and completely unnecessary trip. With such an exploitative system in place at their expense, why wouldn’t everyone else feel open contempt at the submarine’s passengers? –

Alfonso Divinagracia is a 25-year-old AB Psychology graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. He currently works as a freelance journalist, and drinks bad coffee in his spare time.

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Thanks to Alfonso Divinagracia for this enlightening article. That “boiling point” in our society as pointed out by trollcat2012 will always remain at that point or perhaps may even cool down in the future. This is as long as our Dis-Informative Culture (which is funded, managed, maintained and controlled by the Elite) continues its almost omnipotent grip over the People’s minds.

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