On the Costa Concordia tragedy

I’m watching Captain Schettino scramble down the emergency as I float up and down in the little life raft. Something tells me he should get back on the ship, but I am but a lowly cadet, what do I know? Besides, the ship isn’t exactly falling into the ocean and it looks like people are getting off safely anyway. What do they expect the Captain, just one man, to do? He looked pretty flustered and panicked. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The Captain assured me we’ll skip ashore for only a little while, get our bearings, and then go back and assess the situation.

The emergency phone rings. I answer, it’s the Coast Guard. Thank goodness. Finally some help from the outside world. They’ll know what to do, and get us out of this mess.

“Hello? This is De Falco from Livorno, am I speaking with the Captain?”

On January 13, 2012, the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground near Giglio, Italy and the world watched stunned, enraptured, horrified. Not long after, it was discovered that the captain of the ship, Francesco Schettino, had fled the scene of the crime prematurely, with hundreds of passengers still struggled to make it ashore. Not long after that, an audio recording was discovered, in which the captain of the coast guard furiously berated Schettino for refusing to answer the call of duty. And almost immediately after that, the media and the public response exploded with admiration and condemnation for these two men.

Our response to the crashing of the Costa Concordia cruise ship has been stunning. In mere days, people all over the world turned yet another daily tragedy into something positively larger-than-life. They assigned the tale two characters, polar opposites. I am of course referring to disgraced Captain Francesco Schettino, and Coast Guard Captain Gregorio de Falco, whose morally upright and stern characters stands almost like a foil to Schettino’s bumbling, incompetent, persona. No attention paid to those unfortunate passengers who died at the hands of Schettino, his incompetent, bumbling hands. No, our attention quickly turned to the stunning performance played out over an emergency radio, in which Schettino unknowingly damns himself in the court of public opinion. The appeal in the case is varied.

To the typical person, who watched the real-life drama unfold in front of him, he would be delighted at such a clear-cut case of right and wrong, a good guy and a bad guy.

To the European, watching, he would no doubt be impressed at a public servant doing what’s right for the people for a change. With the debt crisis threatening to tear apart the Union, and chronically inept politicians unable to solve the problem, men like De Falco seem to be in short supply.

To the Italian, such decent, honest man would be an icon, and emblem, for all of Italy. The memory of Silvio Berlusconi is still fresh in many minds.

This is why this event is so fascinating. The public seemingly forgot about real stars of the story, those victims who died and those who remain missing. The true focus of the event was forgotten as a scapegoat was created, conveniently inept enough for us to justify our scapegoating. Is it us simply baying for blood, desperately wanting someone or something to easily place blame? Or is it simply fun to laugh at this man, and the many alleged mistakes he made before that fateful night? For me, it’s the latter.

Some have commented we might be going a little too hard on the hapless Captain. Panicking in such a situation is understandable. It is easy for you or me to judge from our comfy armchairs, but ought we to temper our judgement until we find ourselves in his shoes? And of course, we’re all only human and make mistakes. And all things considered, almost everybody escaped the wreck in one piece, so what’s the harm really?

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