Why we were fascinated with the boat in the Suez Canal

From butterfly effect and “punching up” comedy to anthropomorphizing and edutainment.

I know I, uh, “missed the boat” on this topic (sorry) but I intended to have this newsletter out more than a week ago. Still, I thought it was never too late to explore why we all got so obsessed with the Suez Canal story, and maybe learn some lessons about storytelling along the way. 

The “butterfly effect”

How can a gust of wind move one ship and cause the entire world’s ocean transportation network to be thrown off course to the cost of millions of dollars per hour? The stuck boat made for a good story because it showed how events snowballed from “gust of wind” to “world economic problems” 

Punching up/Schadenfreude

We were able to laugh at the misfortune of the Ever Given because the misfortune ultimately was that of massive corporations. We weren’t punching down by laughing, but punching up. And since nobody died or got hurt, this was the kind of accident that everyone could freely make fun of. 

We’re all in this together

Had a boat been stuck in a smaller canal, we might have barely paid it any attention, but this was the Suez Canal, affecting trade between countries across the globe. It was in everyone’s interest to get the canal back open, and one of the more charming parts of this story was that of international cooperation. 

Anthropomorphizing 

There were so many memes of the Ever Given, and in many of them the creator somehow identified either with the boat itself or with the little diggers and tugboats trying to get it loose. Even though there were people in charge behind the scenes, we identified with these machines, which gave it a certain Pixar movie feel. The absolute cherry on the top was when the moon came to the rescue: it was the changing of the tides that ultimately helped loosen the ship. 

A welcome distraction

If there was ever a time we most needed a feel-good Pixar-like butterfly effect story where nobody got hurt, the middle of a global pandemic was just perfect timing. We collectively needed this distraction so badly.  

Edutainment

Finally, I bet you now know a lot more about international trade, container ships and the Suez Canal than you did a few weeks ago. We all learned new things, without even trying - and it was fun! 

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Book recommendation

Author Delia Owens is a wildlife biologist, and that shines through in the detailed descriptions of the North Carolina marshlands in Where the Crawdads Sing. Main character Kya grows up by herself in the swamp but survives through her detailed knowledge of nature.


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