The Proper Gander Column from the May 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
Television producers don’t usually acknowledge that they’re competing with the growing millions of people with their own video cameras. So, when a TV show is made almost entirely of camcorder footage, it either means that its producers are embracing a new trend, or they’ve found a cheaper way to make programmes. The Sinking Of The Concordia – Caught On Camera (Channel 4) probably wasn’t the first show of this kind, and it won’t be the last.
The programme knits together footage filmed by passengers on the cruise ship which ran aground in January. This has been mixed with recordings from the bridge and the rescue operation to give a narrative of the disaster. The programme starts with the last evening parties on the luxury liner, which looks even more gaudy when filmed on a smartphone. Then, after the vessel has hit the rocks, we see both staff and passengers milling around, confused about what’s going on. By the time the lifeboats are launched, the ship is starting to tilt on to its side. And when the survivors reached the shore, they found no organised help. The Captain had already left his post, and we hear the angry phone calls ordering him to return to the liner.
The ubiquity of video cameras means that any significant event is likely to be recorded by dozens of people. So, now we can preserve and share experiences more than ever before. This has been useful to analyse what went on during events such as riots and uprisings, and no doubt footage from the Concordia has been used in the subsequent investigation.
But the readiness of some people to film their lives also dovetails nicely with the guilty pleasure of voyeurism. And this programme sails closely to being exploitative at times. It is particularly unnerving when we hear the screams during a botched launch of a lifeboat and when one of the passengers continues filming his scared young children as they cry in front of him.
We’re more used to seeing scenes like this in disaster films. So when we watch real tragedies, we often unwittingly associate them with blockbusters. The technique of using ‘found footage’ of disasters has also appeared in fiction, such as in the films Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity. And of course, when the disaster is the sinking of a luxury liner, we’re inevitably reminded of the Titanic, both the real event and the film which followed in its wake. These associations make The Sinking Of The Concordia – Caught On Camera even more disorientating to watch.