A giant container ship, you are no doubt aware, has been stuck in the Suez Canal for most of this past week, blocking passage between the Mediterranean and Red Seas. It’s costing the global economy something like $400 million dollars every hour. In order to deliver the containers aboard their own ships, captains of non-stuck ships are charting courses around the Cape of Good Hope, which the Suez Canal was built to avoid; there will almost certainly be pirates. As of this writing, the ship is still stuck.
A giant container ship — one of the largest ever constructed — plugging up one of the great infrastructure projects of the 19th Century is, among other things, a not-so-subtle reminder of the chaotic interconnectedness of the world, the fragility of so much of the plumbing of our current state of capitalism, and chance to relearn some geography (for the first full day of hearing about the ship, I had placed it in the Panama Canal in my mind). It is also hilarious.
While the stuck ship isn’t exactly without cost, it feels like a story that we can at least enjoy without much guilt. I found myself agreeing whole-heartedly with Sarah Gailey — I like that the ship is stuck:
Furthermore, most of us share the opinion that it’s disagreeable, logistically, for the boat to be stuck. The boat being stuck is inconvenient. It’s a big disruption! Nobody can say it isn’t a big disruption. None of my distant relatives will get into arguments on The Face Website about whether or not the stuck boat is making a nuisance for lots of people. I like that.
Another thing I like is that we know exactly what the problem is that is making the boat be stuck. It’s a big boat, and it’s stuck. Sure, shipping and manufacturing and boats and canals have lots of connections to varied and sundry historical and sociological issues – but this immediate problem, in front of us, is a stuck boat, and we can look at that problem for precisely what it is. It’s not stuck for mysterious reasons related to a long history of humans cruelly exploiting other humans. It’s not stuck because a politician wanted money from an organization that profits from human suffering. It’s not stuck because someone pretending to be in favor of free speech is trying to promote hateful ideologies. It’s stuck because it’s big, bigger than the place where it is, and that’s why it’s stuck.
There are, of course, memes — intentional and otherwise. They are great.
This feels like the kind of story we deserve right now, in what are hopefully the waning days of a year-long pandemic, ongoing climate catastrophe, and global tilt towards authoritarianism. The ship didn’t spill millions of gallons of crude oil into the ocean, it didn’t even lose its cargo. It’s just stuck, and that’s annoying and inconvenient, but also kind of great.