Monday marks the 101st anniversary of one of history’s most famous disasters. As if any of us need reminding, the RMS Titanic took 1,502 people with it when it struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912 . . . and actually, some of us do need reminding, if the vast popularity of the Google search “Is ‘Titanic’ based on a true story?” is any indicator.
You know what I think when I look at pictures of the Titanic? I think, “Dang, people really wanted to be on that ship until it sank. Hey, just a minute . . . why not build it AGAIN? And charge people a ton of money to get on it and party like it’s 1912?! There are SO FEW problems with this that it is actually a brilliant idea and must be so.”
Wait, I didn’t think that, because of-flipping-course I didn’t.
According to The Guardian, billionaire mining tycoon Clive Palmer has announced his intentions to build an almost-exact replica of the Titanic (obviously, it’ll have more lifeboats, better conditions in the third-class rooms, and high-speed Internet), creatively named Titanic II and due for completion in 2016. The plan is for it to take almost exactly the same route as the Titanic’s maiden voyage and celebrate the triumphant landing in New York the original never got to see.
Palmer is going out of his way not to claim his ship will be unsinkable, though its head designer, Markku Kanerva, claims it will be “the most safe cruise ship in the world.” To be fair, they’re tempting irony quite equally whether they say it’s the safest or the least-safe ship ever made, so why bother commenting either way? Oh, and Palmer made sure Molly Brown’s granddaughter is OK with it, so, dude, keep your ignorant objections to yourself.
I can’t say this is a bad business move. According to the article, more than 4,000 people have applied to join the maiden voyage. Some have already pledged millions of dollars to travel first-class on it, because rich people do that sometimes. To add to the atmosphere, passengers are encouraged to wear period costumes — undoubtedly while punching out tweets and Facebook statuses of questionable taste on their iPhones:
“Having the time of my life on THE TITANIC! Holy crap, was that an iceberg?? LOL, too soon? #sogoingtohell”
“What a humbling experience to be on a replica of the RMS Titanic. RIP to all the souls whose lives were tragically lost this night 104 years ago. I almost feel bad for having an absolute BLAST! #rip #tragedy #neverforget”
“Whaddya know, no icebergs! Thank heavens for global warming, amirite?! #bestcruiseever”
OK, I don’t claim to know Palmer’s intentions, and I can’t exactly fault anyone for making money off the tragedy of the Titanic when one of my favorite movies made more than $658 million off of it. In James Cameron’s (and my) defense, though, at least the film treated the sinking as the horrific tragedy it was, and raised massive interest in and empathy for the victims. I remember seeing it in fourth grade, and it was the most intense and shocking film experience I’d known up to that point. For the first time, I tried to wrap my head around that many people suffering so much and dying all at once, and it was both terrifying and enlightening to me to realize I couldn’t make any sense of it.
I have no doubt that this effect is what this imitation trip is going for as well (at least on the PR-friendly surface level). It’ll surely be even more jarring and eye-opening to actually stand on virtually the same ship, in the middle of the ocean, on the same night of the year (they haven’t said yet that that’s the plan, but you know it is), and realize the dead are no different from you, how easily it could’ve been you whose life was ripped so brutally from you on what was supposed to be the highlight of your life. (I hope the on-board hospital has plenty of tranquilizers for the inevitable mass panic attacks.)
I’m sure they’ll observe a moment of silence at the time of the sinking and everything, but you know what? After that moment of silence, they’ll go back to enjoying their cruise, making off-color jokes and posing for “I’m flying, Jack!” photo-ops. I know there’ll be emotional televised speeches when they arrive in New York about how the Titanic has finally reached its destination, how this is symbolic closure for the dead, but you know what? The Titanic didn’t reach its destination, and it doesn’t mean victory or closure for the dead. They don’t get to go grab the finest New York sushi or take Facebook pictures at the Statue of Liberty with you. They weren’t eating lobster or languidly making out on the deck the night of April 15 on their trip. Rather than feeling vindicated by this symbolic relaunch, I think they’d be more likely to feel like even the best-intentioned of passengers are doing little more than dancing on their graves.
The bottom line is that the Titanic’s fate was a tragedy on an astronomical scale that cost real people their real lives, not some lucrative Las Vegas-hotel theme to be milked for all it’s worth.
And also that we’d all better pray Fate keeps it classy and doesn’t have a really sick sense of humor.