Was The Stuck Boat Funny?

A rousing debate on the subjective nature of humor, from the ACBN's expert panel.

Humor is a subjective thing.

Things that may seem utterly hilarious to one person can fall completely flat for another, and there’s countless factors that play into this--your own sense of humor, emotional context, learned experience, mood on any given day. It’s nearly impossible to objectively state whether or not a certain thing is “funny”. 

But I’d like to try.

Today, I’ve convened a panel of humor experts to debate one of the most pressing and hotly-contested issues of our time:

Was the stuck boat funny?

Of course, I’m talking about the massive container ship Ever Given, which as you may know has been lodged between the banks of the Suez Canal for nearly a week, blocking maritime traffic in one of the world’s busiest waterways. As of publication Monday morning, it appears that salvage crews have finally begun to succeed in their quest to dislodge the ship, though the process has not been completed yet, nor the canal re-opened to through traffic.

First up, we’re going to speak with the author of this newsletter, beloved Internet personality and self described “digital prophet” Scott ‘Action Cookbook’ Hines.

ACB: The stuck boat was and is extremely funny. I have derived great pleasure from the boat being stuck, and I expect to continue to delight in its exploits for the duration of its stay wedged between the two sides of the Suez Canal, and possibly well after. The stuck boat is one of the purest, funniest things that has happened in 2021, and we should celebrate the big stuck boat for bringing a moment of joy into the grey sameness of modern life.

Interesting. For a counterpoint, we’re going to speak with a leading opposition voice: Scott’s wife.

ACB’s Wife: Are we still talking about the stupid boat?

ACB: So, there’s a number of reasons why the boat works so well as a piece of humor, and I’d like to touch on all of them. First of all—no one has been hurt. The last time I can think of something so unexpected happening with a big boat was the capsizing of the Costa Concordia pleasure cruise liner off the coast of Tuscany in 2012, but there was no joy to be found there: 33 people were killed in that accident, a genuine tragedy.

In contrast, the Ever Given cargo ship’s grounding has apparently resulted in zero injuries, and no serious damage to the ship or cargo. It’s just stuck. They crashed a boat in such a way that it completely screwed up maritime shipping for a large portion of the world and didn’t even hurt anyone. That’s remarkably funny.

ACB’s Wife: It’s just a boat. I don’t get it.

ACB: Second, it’s a very easily understood issue. Writer Brandy Jensen summed up the situation well in a tweet late last week:

In a complex, modern world, one where our problems are often difficult to diagnose—let alone solve—the boat is a very clear problem. It’s stuck. Grasping the issue requires no personal experience as a ship captain or canal pilot. You can see the problem from satellite images. We—and by we, I mean the collective internet public, people who played no role in getting this boat stuck but can all clearly view how the boat is, indeed, stuck—are placed in the role of umarells, virtually sidling up to banks of the now-impassable Suez Canal with our thumbs hooked in our suspenders, saying “you know what your problem is here, is your boat’s sideways.”

ACB’s Wife: No, I understand the problem. I just… I don’t care?

ACB: Now, while the problem is easily understood, the greater ramifications of that problem are quite difficult for the layperson to grasp. Again, had there been deaths or injuries—or even visible damage to Ever Given—that would be something that would be immediately understood and could potentially subtract from our enjoyment of the moment. Unless we happen to work in logistics, however, very few of us understand the intricacies of the global supply chain. We understand that we are able to press buttons and make products appear on our front porch, and increasingly many of us suspect that bad things are involved in that happening. But the impacts of the Suez Canal blockage as they relate both to our lives and the broader global economies aren’t terribly clear.

“Boats will have to go around Africa to get from Asia to Europe”.

Oh. Okay? Yeah, go around, then. That’s what I’d do.

ACB’s Wife: He’s been talking about this goddamned boat for a week.

ACB: Now, the first three points—that is, the lack of tragedy, the simplicity of the problem, and the opacity of the long-term implications—are all very important in building a case as to why the stuck boat is very funny. But the fourth point is possibly the most critical, the one that ties the whole thing together:

We did not know that that was a thing you could do.

The Suez Canal has been in operation, with a few interruptions, since 1869. 1869! That’s over 150 years. Also, the Panama Canal has been operation for over a century. I’ve never heard of a boat getting stuck before! Maybe it’s happened, but not in a way that’s snarled ocean traffic so badly that laypeople like me were made aware of it. I don’t know how wide I thought canals were, honestly, but either I thought they were so narrow that you couldn’t turn at all in them, or so wide that it didn’t matter if you did. I did not realize that they are—apparently—exactly the width that you can turn in them and it will be an enormous problem if you do. And DESPITE THIS, no one has done it until last week. That’s phenomenally funny.

ACB’s Wife: He brought up the boat during parent-teacher conferences last week. We had twenty minutes on Zoom to talk to the preschool teacher about our four-year old daughter’s fine motor skill development, and he managed to steer that to talking about this stupid boat for like ten of them.

ACB: It would be like if you turned on the news tomorrow and they were like “ahh Niagara Falls got shut off” and you’re like “wait what I thought it was a waterfall” and they were like “no yeah it is but it also runs on power and someone tripped over the cord and it turned Niagara Falls off and now Canada’s flooded”.

ACB’s Wife: I’m going to take the kids and go stay at a hotel for a while.

ACB: Now, surely this boat will eventually become unstuck, but it’s extremely fun to speculate about how exactly that might be achieved. The tiny-in-comparison excavator juxtaposed with the massive container ship is a remarkably funny image, and it invites further humorous conjecture. Should we just pull harder on the boat? Should we send more boats in after it and see if they jar it loose? Should we blow up the boat?

Modern life is so immensely complex. There are so many factors pushing on our lives in ways we can barely comprehend. In conclusion, I think it’s refreshing to take a moment away from politics, a moment away from nuance, away from the things we can’t understand and and can’t easily solve, and appreciate something as simple and delightful as a big dumb boat that got stuck in the ocean.

ACB’s Wife:

ACB: Hey, it’s your turn.

ACB’s Wife:

ACB: You still there?

ACB’s Wife:

ACB: Hmm, she left a note. [reading note] Ah. Hmm.

Well, I know where she’s not going.

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

Do you think the boat was funny? Is there something you find much more or less funny than others? This is a safe place to share, so sound off!

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