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OPINION
Columns
Opinion articles written in the style of their author. These texts are to be based on verified facts and must be respectful towards people, even though their actions may be criticized. All opinion articles written by individuals from outside the staff of EL PAÍS shall feature, along with the author’s name (regardless of their greater or lesser renown), a footer stating their office, academic title, political affiliation (if any) and main occupation, or the occupation related to the topic being assessed

A large shipwreck can’t compete with a mini-submarine

It is significant to see where our collective attention resides, how reality interests us based on its dramatic qualities, as though it were entertainment or fiction

Submarino sumergible
Life preservers thrown in protest into the Mediterranean by members of the Greek Communist Party on June 20. Kostis Ntantamis (Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)
Íñigo Domínguez

Let me warn you, this has turned into a rather demagogic article. I will quickly cut to the chase. On the one hand, we have five millionaires in a mini-submarine who paid $250,000 a head (I will refrain from making completely inappropriate comparisons with the price of housing and such), to see a famous ship that sunk a century ago, but lo and behold, something goes wrong, and they go missing after days of intense searching and global media attention. On the other hand, a ship with 700 people sinks in the Mediterranean without anyone lifting a finger to help, although the Greek authorities knew where it was, took photos of it from helicopters, and despite the fact that it was clear things were going to end badly. Later, those who survived were locked up in a kind of concentration camp. Nobody is questioning the sorrow and pity that we all feel for all those poor human beings, those in the submersible and those on the ship. The question is why we don’t really give a damn about those on the ship.

If this were a competition for most dramatic qualities, then certainly the facts surrounding the shipwreck in the Mediterranean are much more devastating. Without even mentioning the women and children who were crowded in the hold and met a certain death, the life of each one of those passengers is such that one could surely make a TV series spanning several seasons. But it’s as though our attention and priorities had gone crazy in recent years. The story of the submersible has been of relative interest to me, I must say, although this should not be viewed as me being unconcerned about its fate. However, I must say I was surprised, or perhaps not surprised at all, by the display of information and the endless coverage with holographs and live connections.

It is very significant to see where our collective attention resides, and how reality interests us depending on its dramatic qualities, as though it were entertainment or fiction, even down to the genre. There is a terrible and consolidated genre of submarine movies where tension is always high, the characters are running out of air and you want to know if they are saved or not. Besides, in this case the passengers were wealthy, and we are increasingly fascinated by the wealthy: some of them even run in elections and win. On the other hand, we already know the other story, there is no suspense in it: a bunch of poor people who die like rats, just like they do every other day. That story does not belong to any specific genre, other than that of life itself. If anything, it would be more of auteur or European cinema, as opposed to a more commercial American production. And the fact of the matter is that the submarine incident has worked (to use the industry jargon) much better.

You will notice that I have avoided trending terms like story or narrative. I’ve become sick of them. Not everything has to be translatable into a meme or video game, not everything has to come in a scene-like format. We journalists do it and suffer from it, of course, in our attempts to get people to read our articles (sometimes we are wrong to resort to these terms, but I also think people are getting increasingly insensitive). Just look at the election campaign in Spain, with the prime minister interviewing his own ministers on a set. The topics dominating the debate are reduced to one or two, and not necessarily the most important ones, or maybe I should say “and necessarily the least important ones,” because that seems to be the goal. Speaking of immigration: Spain will need 10 million immigrants by 2050 in a scenario of full employment, or there won’t be any money for pensions. People have to decide how to go about it. But only the far right is talking about immigration: in fact, it dominates the whole bloody narrative with its lies and a plot fit for a horror movie. And this strategy is a sure bet that will keep gaining ground between now and 2050. Could any great mind on the political left step up with a good alternative program filled with epic moments, or do we have to keep putting up with whatever’s on the TV guide?

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