The Raft of the Medusa and One Of Our Submarines

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Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818


Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Shallow water, channel and tide
Bye-bye empire, empire bye-bye
Tired illusion drown in the night... 

"One Of Our Submarines" - Thomas Dolby


In 1816, a ship set out on a disastrously ill-fated voyage. Traveling from France to Senegal and captained by Hugues Duroy de Chaumerys (who had never commanded a ship before), the Medusa stuck close to the African shoreline in an attempt to make good time. Eventually, the ship ran aground on a sandbar. Whoops! The wealthy and important people onboard grabbed all the lifeboats for themselves, leaving over 100 people drifting on a makeshift raft. Over the next two weeks, cannibalism, insanity, and rough waters claimed all but fifteen of the survivors. In other words, the Medusa only needed Leonardo DiCaprio and a haunting soundtrack to become a major theatrical masterpiece. 


Théodore Géricault did the next best thing and used the tragedy as the subject of a painting, The Raft of the Medusa. The starving mariners are depicted as heavily muscled, idealized figures, barely clothed and sprawling over the deck of their ersatz craft. The pile of (white) sailors culminates with the upright figure of a black man, waving a frantic signal to the distant ship, a not-terribly-subtle statement about race. The tension and desperation of the tragedy come across loud and clear, reflecting the scandal that broke out in France after news got out. 

A century and a half later, musician Thomas Dolby (best known for "She Blinded Me With Science") released "One of Our Submarines," a work of art about a completely different nautical disaster. The haunting, echoing synth-pop was inspired by the story of Dolby’s late uncle, who was part of a submarine crew fighting in World War II. He drowned not during a military engagement, but while performing routine maneuvers. The futility and pettiness of his death stuck with Dolby over the years, eventually taking shape in this song. The Raft of the Medusa takes advantage of the same feeling of despair. Shipwrecked men are at the mercy of an uncaring sea, and not even the timeless love between Rose and Jack can save them.

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