April 26, 2012

Sick of the Titanic

Dunno about you, but I have had it to about here with the Titanic.

Two things stand out in my mind from the time when, thirty-five years ago, I was selected for pre-sea training aboard the 'Training Ship Rajendra'- the successor to the 'Dufferin'. The first: my mother and I went to see 'The Poseidon Adventure' at the Sterling cinema in Bombay around then. I don't remember much about the movie except that it was about a passenger ship that went upside down in a tsunami. I do remember, however, the storm the movie created at home, with my mother spearheading the clamour that I dump the idea of becoming a sailor once and for all. And oh, I remember Stella Stevens in the movie too, but that may be because a certain kind of blonde is always more fun to a seventeen year old. Or even a fifty year old, actually, but I digress.

The second thing I remember is my sister running around the house screaming impolitely, with a kind of backhanded joy at my selection, that the "Duffer was in!"

'The Poseidon Adventure' is what I recall when I think of a sea-disaster movie. The Titanic, on the other hand, has become something that is associated, in my mind, more with hype than with anything to do with the sea. So much so that I even walked out of James Cameron's movie a few years ago (and waited for the rest of my engrossed-in-the-movie family in the lounge of the movie hall, much to their amusement.)

The commotion is at a different level today, the hundredth year of the sinking. I honestly do not know any longer if the dream merchants are commemorating the disaster or celebrating it. Every rivet of the Titanic has been dissected, every officer and passenger endoscopically probed. A 82-page Swedish study has gone viral on the internet, claiming, with published percentage figures allegedly accurate to a decimal point, the chances of survival of men, women, children and crews (they don't belong to the other categories, you see) when a ship sinks. The study claims that the 'every man for himself' philosophy is what prevails on sinking ships, not the chivalrous 'women and children first' humbug that we are led to believe. Crews apparently have much better chances of survival than the passengers do. Women are doomed, of course.

From Nova Scotia to Southampton, titanically inane trivia about a hundred year old accident is being stuffed down our throats. Pedantic analyses fail to hide the fact that commerce is obviously the driving force behind the contrived stories that pander to stereotypes (the gallant Captain Smith, the evil rich passenger, for a start). These stories have been told a hundred times before; many are inaccurate and some are plain wrong. Having depleted the stock of tales-to-tell, journalists are marketers are now making it up as they go along. Having succeeded- years ago- in convincing the public that the Titanic is something they cannot ignore, the centenary of its sinking is the perfect opportunity to sell everything from a magazine to memorabilia to kitschy knick-knacks, beer mugs and t-shirts. The perfect time to laugh all the way to the bank.

Cities are cashing in too, no doubt excited at the commercial possibilities. We have had a nationally televised choral requiem in Belfast, where the Titanic was built. In Southampton, an orchestra played 'The Sinking of the Titanic.' From Las Vegas to Singapore, 'Titanic' exhibitions are cashing in, selling everything from perfumes to porcelain dishes. The cruise ship 'Balmoral' holds two ceremonies at the site of the sinking off Newfoundland- one at the exact time when the ship hit the iceberg, the other at the exact time it sank. When not contributing directly to the hoopla, passengers- dressed in period costumes and eating a meal identical to the Titanic's 'last supper' will be bombarded with the 'history' of the doomed ship that has become a pain in the unmentionables for me.

Like the cacophonic crescendo of a bad rock band, the Titanic rubbish has gotten too loud to be ignored, though- believe me- I have tried. I was doing quite well up until yesterday, actually, when my wife and daughter told me one evening that they were going to see a movie. Which one? 'Titanic 3D,' of course. After I almost threw up and after they left, it occurred to me that they had not even bothered to ask me if I was interested in coming along.

I must be doing something right.


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