April 17, 2021

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A ship-sized metaphor

2 min read

This is the editor’s letter in the The Week magazine.

“Put it back!” That was the consensus reaction on social media this week after valiant earthmovers, an armada of straining tugboats, a swarm of muck-sucking dredging ships, and a super-high tide created by the fortuitous alignment of the moon, sun, and Earth led to the freeing of the mammoth Ever Given from the bank of the Suez Canal. The ship’s entrapment was the metaphor for our time — a meme generator, a late-night comedian’s dream, 200,000 tons of schadenfreude. We’ve all had days that left us muttering, “How could I be so stupid?” So there was something comforting, even delightful, in the spectacle of a cargo ship the size of an obese Empire State Building, laden with 18,000 containers, getting wind-blown diagonally into the canal’s sandy bank, blocking more than 400 ships behind it for six days. Human error, one suspects, may have been a factor, too.

The photo that most resonated with many of us showed a dwarfed excavator scooping out small buckets of sand from under the embedded behemoth’s bow. Who hasn’t felt like that excavator this year, doing the best we could while a pandemic of overwhelming scope trapped us all in place? Other metaphors abounded: Comedian Jimmy Kimmel likened the stuck Ever Given to an artery blockage that had given capitalism a heart attack. On Instagram, a conspiracy theorist opined that the entire spectacle was a “false flag psyop” designed to prepare the sheeple for “the upcoming collapse of the global system.” Politifact felt the need to post a story asserting that “this is not a staged event.” But now the Ever Given has been freed, all is well, and the metaphor holds: Vaccinations are pulling us out of our horrible predicament. Buoyancy is returning. After a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year, the stars seem to be aligned in our favor at last. Let’s follow the tugs, and toot our horns in celebration. Freedom is thataway.

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