Is It OK To Laugh At The Lost Submersible Because The Passengers Are Rich?

At what dollar does empathy become undeserved?

titanic submarine tiktoks @jakefresca, @itisjamarmar and @caiticlaire89 / TikTok

On June 22, 2023, it was reported that those aboard the missing Titanic submersible the 'Titan' were "believed to be dead after 'catastrophic implosion'."

As reported in an article by The Independent, on June 18th, the CEO of OceanGate, Stockton Rush, took four other billionaires, including explorer Hamish Harding, French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet, Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his son Suleman Dawood, on an expedition in the Titan to explore the Titanic shipwreck site, 4,000m under the ocean. These people each spent $250,000 to join the expedition.


About 105 minutes into the trip, the Titan lost all communication with its mothership, leading to an onslaught of memes, TikToks and tweets making fun of those aboard the submersible. The tragedy opened up a conversation about whether or not there is an income limit on empathy.

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Is it OK to laugh at the lost submersible because the passengers are rich?

In a time where the division between the rich and poor seems more blatant than ever, much of the apparent contempt for the crew comes from the flagrant price tag.


"When you finally have something a billionaire doesn't," one person captions a TikTok as a Bill Hader character dances in front of an image of the 'Titan' which then changes to a sign that says, "air."



Undoubtedly, most of us could think of much more practical ways to spend $250,000. Indeed, for many people that amount of money could be life-changing. As in-your-face as the wealth is in this situation, do we really have the right to tell anyone how they should spend their money?

As one person commented on the TikTok, the people on the Titan worked hard for their money, so others shouldn’t be laughing about how they died. 


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It's easy to find gratification in the "have-nots" seeing such an epic failure by the "haves."

"Privileged people rotting in their own toxic privilege" is a popular television trope, as writer Megan Hatch explains in an article for YourTango. Perhaps the general lack of empathy towards the situation is an effect of desensitization to the pain of the 1%.

The humor surrounding an otherwise unfunny situation could also be a form of "punching up." According to comedian Sarah Cooper in an interview with USA Today, "There's something inherently much more powerful about comedy and satire when you're using it to point out something about the people in power that needs to be pointed out."

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A since-deleted Reddit post called out individuals for laughing or celebrating the missing submersible because the passengers were rich.

"It's definitely not a funny situation but a lot of what I'm seeing is less 'haha this is good because they're rich' and more 'well of course this would happen to a bunch of billionaires, they have so much money they forget they're human' which is absolutely a valid point here," wrote one person.

Another user wrote that celebrating the deaths of the Titan’s passengers is ridiculous. They continued by saying “the people who paid for tickets probably didn’t do any research on the product they paid for and expected the company they were paying for to have done the due diligence of the safety research. Like anyone else buying a plane ticket or vacation package.”

Others are saying that they do not feel bad for the CEO because he knew the circumstances when it came to the safety of the submersible.

We should be upset about the lack of safety measures put in place before this expedition happened. According to an article published in the New York Times, OceanGate was warned of potential for "catostrophic" problems with the Titan mission, yet they still chose to embark on it.


Despite the fact that these people are rich and may have made an uneducated decision, they are still humans, and people should be sensitive to them and their families. 

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Tarah Hickel is a Washington-based writer and frequent contributor to YourTango. She focuses on entertainment and news stories including viral topics.