The story of the unsinkable ship was utterly unavoidable this week.
We’ve heard about everything from the deck chairs to the dogs aboard the Titanic. With the exception of the ship itself, nothing escaped a thorough dredging-up from the annals of history. That media frenzy will culminate April 14-15, the 100th anniversary of the ship striking an iceberg and sinking in the cold Atlantic near Halifax, Nova Scotia.
So why has the passage of 100 years only increased our fascination with the ill-fated vessel? The movie certainly helped (we’ll get to that later). But our love affair isn’t with the fictional Jack and Rose of James Cameron’s epic film — it’s with the ship itself, and all of the humanity, heroism and hubris that its story embodies.
Joel Achenbach talked to historians about why this tragedy has a particular place in our hearts:
“It’s a delimited area and time, there are a lot of human stories, and they involve choice,” said Stephen Cox, a literature professor at the University of California at San Diego and author of “The Titanic Story: Hard Choices, Dangerous Decisions.” He compares the two hours and 40 minutes between impact with the iceberg and the sinking at 2:20 a.m. April 15 to the length of a play.
“I don’t think a myth can develop unless you have a choice that could be very unfortunate or tragic,” he said.
Some of the coverage this week has attempted to relieve the blame from those choices — such as the decision to speed up through those treacherous waters, making it difficult to avoid the iceberg. One theory posits that cold-air mirages may have been to blame for the disaster, not avoidable human error.
But that’s not the only surprising thing we learned this week, as every Titanic scholar and pop culture expert revealed additional insight into the sinking and the stories that followed. Other things we learned (or relearned) this week:
• The men of the Titanic, long lauded as heroes, may not have been so chivalrous after all.
• But the Washingtonians aboard the Titanic weren’t among the cowards. Michael Ruane writes about Archie Gracie, the only local to survive the disaster. He went into the water with the ship.
• Just as the story itself was stranger than fiction, the women aboard had more compelling stories than the fictional ones of the movie.
• Belfast, the city that built the Titanic, is no longer reluctant to flout that association: They’ve opened up a $150 million tourist center on the slipway where the Titanic was built from 1909 to 1911.
• One of the first things that the passengers on a Titanic Memorial Cruise did was try on their life jackets. Many were dressed in Edwardian attire.
• But the cruise, while not as ill-fated as its predecessor, has become the butt of jokes when it, too, met with some misfortune: Bad weather and a medical evacuation have caused delays.
• Also, in an idiom come to life, they are literally rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic (well, on the Titanic Memorial Cruise).
• In terms of Titanic media, no movie is ever going to top James Cameron’s. TV critic Hank Stuever doesn’t have kind words for ABC’s “Titanic” miniseries, from the creator of “Downton Abbey”
• Not everyone will agree, though. What did you think of the movie “Titanic”? Art or junk?
• Seeing that the CGI-created stars in “Titanic” were inaccurate, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson persuaded James Cameron to change the starfield for the 3D re-release.
• But the 3D does nothing for the movie, says film critic Ann Hornaday.
• No one has had a busier month than Robert Ballard, the man who found the Titanic wreck. He told the Reliable Source that, as of April 10, he had done 154 interviews in the last month -- a number that’s surely grown over the weekend.
What do you think of the Titanic coverage this week? Was it more than the anniversary deserved? Let us know in the comments.