The enduring fascination with the Titanic should probably make us stop and think sometimes. There have been countless books, films, documentaries, plays, musicals and even operas made about the ill-fated ship.
It's never enough. It's never the final word. It's never the definitive story.
There's a good reason for that. We are fascinated by the Titanic because it reminds us that human effort – even the mightiest human effort – will ultimately come to nothing in the face of nature and time. We called the Titanic unsinkable. That was our hubris. Make a big enough hole in any ship and it will sink.
The truth is simple: behind the mystique of the Titanic is the ineluctable mystery of death. That's why we can't let it go. At some level we're bothered by it. We want to change it. We can't accept it. We're frightened by it, too.
That's why we keep going back. Some of us more than others. This week Australian billionaire Clive Palmer is pushing ahead with his ambitious plan to launch Titanic II, a faithful replica of the original ship, scheduled to set sail on its maiden voyage in 2017. The liner will be built by CSC Jinling Shipyard Company in China.
No expense has been spared. No original detail has been thought too inconsequential. A great deal of thought has been given to the herculean task of creating a near perfect replica of the original Titanic, but apparently much less thought has been given as to why we are creating a replica of the Titanic at all.
Remember that the tragic ship has long since come to rest two miles underwater in the north Atlantic. Remember that it has become a famous graveyard, too.
That fact should have given us pause. It's understandable to want to defy nature and time and fate and complete that tragic maiden voyage from Belfast to Southampton to New York City. But it isn’t necessarily smart.
To underline just how serious Palmer is about re-creating – and completing – the ship's long delayed journey, reports in the press this week suggest that passengers on the maiden voyage of the replica Titanic II will be subjected to an eyebrow-raising level of authenticity when it comes to the privations of steerage.
They may not have showers, they may have only two baths for 700 people. They may be squeezed in four to a cabin. Welcome back to 1912.
But it's when you reach New York that the one percent versus the unwashed world of the gilded age will be underlined. At the dock steerage passengers could find themselves being 'de-loused' by canons that blast colorful confetti at them rather than bug killer. That's the sort of detail that should really catch your eye.
I mean, what on earth do we think we're really doing here? Do we really think we are salvaging a doomed ship from its dreadful fate? It's too late for that.
Do we think we can re-write history by having a doppelganger complete the original voyage? It's hubris as objectionable as calling the original ship unsinkable. We should have learned the hard lesson.
It's a floating mausoleum, not a ship.
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