Tuesday, May 31, 2011

#266: The Titanic (It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down)

Some anniversaries manage to slip by you with a relative sense of ease, and this is one that I expect has easily gone past the bulk of the world’s population.  Next year, on April 15, the world will certainly stop to reflect on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.  The name, Titanic, has become part of the English language, as instantly recognisable as part of the 20th century as Hitler, Churchill or John F Kennedy, if not slightly more recognisable really, by virtue of age.   Indeed it has been said that the word Titanic ranks only behind the words God and Coca-Cola as the most recognised word in the world today – but I’m happy to accept any argument on that point.  So if it’s not April, and it’s not 2012, then what anniversary is it today?

At just past midday on the 31st of May, 1911, the Titanic was formally launched, thus setting off a chain of events that would culminate in the most famous of all shipwrecks, at the River Lagan in Belfast, Ireland.  Curiously no champagne bottle or any other form of traditional christening was done for the Titanic, nor was it ever going to happen, that kind of thing just wasn’t done at Harland & Wolff, the shipbuilders, at that point in time.  After a period of sea trials and fitting out, she was ready to undertake her maiden voyage.  The rest, as they say, is history, indeed it’s more than history; it’s both legend and lore.  Her last survivor, Millvina Dean, passed away, also on May 31, 2009, at the age of 97.  The irony is incredible.  Sadly the ship lies on the bottom of the ocean, a desecrated grave site as people plunder it for profit.  When anyone tells me that it's historic and that by bringing artifacts and personal belongings to the surface to be placed on display is valid, I always ask them how they'd feel if people started looting the graves of say Queen Victoria, or Lincoln or any other historical figure.  Such is the fascination with the anonymous dead, and those who we never knew or had a direct link with, that people pay money to see items that were worn by those poor souls who perished on that cold April night 99 years ago. And as for the claims that the ship hasn't been touched, if you compare the images of the ship from when Robert Ballard found it in September 1985 through to the images that James Cameron displayed in both Titanic and the follow up documentary Ghosts Of The Abyss you'll easily see that those who have 'salvaged' material from the ship have probably done more damage to it than time has.  But then again the iceberg that clipped the ship did the most damage.

Apparently this is the iceberg that the Titanic hit
There’s plenty of books out there about the Titanic, and even more have popped up since the James Cameron movie.  Personally I don’t mind the Cameron movie, I can give or take the plot, what I’ve always enjoyed are Cameron’s sweeping shots of the ship as she cuts through the water, and then ultimate scene as she sinks in a mass of humanity.  Cameron could have made a far more interesting movie if he had spent more time focusing on the sheer insanity of decisions of the night and the trip as a whole, but, to be fair he did what he did and as a movie it’s entertaining enough.  Hunt down some of the books and read for yourself, after all each year brings more and more details forward and just when you think you’ve read all there is, another interesting slant comes out and turns your head into a new direction.

So pause, just for a minute, at 12:05pm today and remember the Titanic, that grandest of the grand, the might unsinkable liner that tempted the Gods and failed.

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