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Why Are We Fascinated by the Titanic?

(YouTube link)

The ocean liner Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, 100 years ago today. You’ve noticed the internet seems to be obsessed with this historic event, and Neatorama is no exception. In an extensive article at The New Yorker, we see how the story of the Titanic became entrenched in 20th-century culture, and several reasons are given for its extraordinary popularity. One is that the disaster happened to occur at the dawn of mass communication.

The Titanic was one of the first ships in history to issue an SOS. (“Send S.O.S.,” the twenty-two-year-old Harold Bride, the Titanic’s junior wireless operator, who survived, told the twenty-five-year-old Jack Phillips, the senior officer, who died. “It’s the new call, and it may be your last chance to send it.”) And the sinking was among the first global news stories to be reported, thanks to wireless radio, more or less simultaneously with the events. One of the early headlines, which appeared as the rescue ship carried survivors to New York—“WATCHERS ANGERED BY CARPATHIA’S SILENCE”—suggests how fast we became accustomed to an accelerating news cycle. The book winningly portrays the wireless boys of a hundred years ago as the computer geeks of their day, from their extreme youth to their strikingly familiar lingo. “WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH U?,” came one response to the Titanic’s distress call.

The article also examines themes of class and privilege, hubris, and heroism.

If you were writing a morality play about class privilege, you couldn’t do better than to dream up a glamorous ship of fools and load it with everyone from the A-list to immigrants coming to America for a better life. The class issue is one major reason the Titanic disaster has always been so ripe for dramatization. And yet the way we tell the story reveals more about us than it does about what happened. If the indignant depictions of the class system in so many Titanic dramas coexist uneasily with their adoring depictions of upper-crust privilege, that, too, is part of the appeal: it allows us to demonstrate our liberalism even as we indulge our consumerism.

The story of the Titanic had almost every dramatic angle possible for a great book or film, which is why so many books (both fiction and non-fiction), songs, poems, and movies sprang from the real-life disaster. You may find some titles you’ll want to read or watch in the article at The New Yorker. Link

Further reading on the Titanic at Neatorama

Masabumi Hosono: The Man Condemned for Surviving The Titanic

The Titanic Today

The Laroche Family on the Titanic

And many more posts on the Titanic.

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April 15th, 2012

Stranger to the World


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