“Oi mate, ya can’t park there!”
The guy in the video sounds like he’s screaming at a little car on a cramped London street, but viewers instead see the Ever Given, the giant cargo ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal for six days. This TikTok is just one of thousands of funny memes and tweets that circulated around social media in response to the maritime jam that halted the 12% of global trade that relies on passage through the Suez Canal.
It’s a logistical nightmare that will cost billions in damages according to The New York Times. The mess of financial liability may take years to untangle, and will include compensation to the Egyptian government for the $90 million in lost revenue, the cost of excavating the ship, and various payouts shipping companies for the $10 billion they lost each day the ship was stuck.
Even so, there’s a lot that’s refreshing about having a news cycle dominated by something so simple, especially compared to the pandemic and racial tensions that have dominated the national discussion for over a year. There is a simple problem and a simple solution: A ship is stuck, and it needs to be unstuck. This is the kind of crisis that really could bring us together, rather than tear us apart like so many others. There’s nothing to argue or politicize, so for once we can all just laugh.
To begin, this isn’t the first time that maritime trade has dominated conversation on TikTok this year. The year 2021 started with a sea shanty trend that had Generation Zers obsessed with 18th-century sailor songs. Just a few months later, ships were forced to navigate the pre-1859 route of rounding the Horn of Africa to get from Asia to Europe. Was it a coincidence, or perhaps a case of psychic manifestation or cosmic foreshadowing?
Then there’s the interesting route the Ever Given took while waiting its turn to traverse the canal. Astute observers tracked the ship’s movements and saw a meandering path in the shape of a phallus. Adding to the middle-school humor, it’s stuck because boats like this have an oblong prong protruding from their bows, and this is what got wedged into the bank. The shipping industry just got screwed.
The visual of a tiny excavator trying to dig out the ship was just too good not to meme. Images compared the ship to a large problem and the excavator to an inadequate solution. In one of the most amusing memes, the ship is labeled “my depression” and the excavator “have you tried meditating?”
Ultimately, it’s funny because for once everyone can agree on most of the facts of an international crisis. It’s grounded in physical reality, needs no one’s punditry, and was resolved more quickly than expected. No one was hurt, and the boat wasn’t even damaged. Beyond some fretting over how the Ever Given exposed the fragility of the shipping industry, the bigger takeaway was the revelation that boats can even get stuck in the canal. The Suez Canal Authority has already been working on expanding the canal, so the long-term solution was already in progress before it was needed.
“I truly think the ship stuck in the Suez Canal debacle is what we all needed,” a widely-shared Tumblr post summed up. “They say disasters really bring people together, and here’s one that doesn’t actually involve the death of anyone. We just get to watch an absolute f**** up live and relish it. I feel more alive than I have in a year. I feel God in that stuck ship tonight.”
Even the New York Times couldn’t help but point out one last interesting detail, ending its live reporting with this observation about the YM Wish, the first boat to pass through the newly unblocked Suez: “The vessel may have made it through the Suez Canal without mishap, but it had little reason to gloat … Six years ago, VesselFinder.com reported, the YM Wish ran aground in the Elbe River in Germany. In that case, however, it took less than a day to get the vessel afloat again. And with that this live briefing will come to a close.”
Virginia Aabram is a senior studying history. She is an assistant editor for The Collegian.