When Ever Given was jammed sideways like a corona swab stick across the throat of world trade, Suez Canal became the passageway for international meme exchange. The most famous reference to the canal in popular culture was last made in 1989 when Billy Joel cited “trouble in the Suez” in We Didn’t Start the Fire. He was alluding to the failed mission of Israel, the UK, and France to annex the Egyptian channel in 1956. The Ever Given episode, however, started a social media inferno.
Joel didn’t have Twitter back then. But people didn’t have a pandemic either. So when citizens around the globe were feeling that their life was stuck like a container ship between the jagged Covid-19 curbs, the Suez crisis of 2021 produced a mutant of schadenfreude. The German word means LOL-ing at someone’s bad luck. Since the virus has confined all of humanity in the quarantine of equal misfortune, it exulted in ‘comparison-freude’.
Castigated by your boss for misspelling a word in a presentation for an important business house? Well, the smartphone alecs said, think of the Ever Given canal pilot who spelt disaster for all of maritime business! Waited for 2 hours for a 2-second vaccine shot? ‘Ever given’ a thought to hundreds of ships that languished for about seven days waiting to make the 12-16 hour Suez transit! Gained weight? At least you don’t need a tiny earth mover to widen your doorway!
Ever Given’s pilot had a more disagreeable load around the neck than the ancient mariner of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who is forced to use the albatross he killed as a pendant of punishment. Ever Given’s crew were garlanded with viral wisecracks and 24-hour news cycles.
Seafarers’ misadventures are anchored in a sense of isolation, a feeling that people marooned at home understand. And comparison-freude is handy in alleviating the distress of being cut off from the world. Herman Melville’s oceans-spanning tale can offer such solace. His white whale is uncatchable unlike the coronavirus infection. Captain Ahab strangles himself with the harpoon rope while trying to jab it. This can spawn gags for the new normal era: ‘Flying restrictions scuppered my Paris trip where I wanted to have a whale of a time. But it’s fine, I don’t want to suffer from breathing difficulties that Captain Ahab endures at the end of a tour!’ As for the Ever Given pilot, to quote Coleridge, “A sadder and a wiser man, He rose the morrow morn.”
This article is intended to bring a smile to your face. Any connection to events and characters in real life is coincidental.
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