Saturday, May 26, 2012


The other day I read an article in Smithsonian magazine about the Titanic (I know, I'm way behind on my magazine reading), and I can't help wondering why, of the myriad of shipwrecks throughout history, the sinking of the Titanic has captivated the public's attention more than any other.  I've spent recent days going through it in my mind, trying to figure it out, but so far I'm coming up empty.

Unlike the sinking of the Lusitania, which compelled the United States to join the fighting in World War I, there is no particular historical significance to the Titanic sinking.  Nor is there the political intrigue - the Germans claiming they were justified in torpedoing the Lusitania because the US was using it to supply munitions to England, a claim that proved true in 2008 when divers explored the wreck and found about 4 million rounds of ammunition.  The sinking of the Indianapolis is also far more historically significant and, in my mind, far more deserving of a film.  I'm actually kind of surprised and disappointed that no film has ever been made about the Indianapolis.  And come to think of it, the same could be said about the H. L. Hunley, the Confederate submarine which sank the Housatonic - that's a buy one, get one free nautical disaster.

My next thought is that perhaps it was Hollywood that pushed the Titanic into the forefront of the public imagination.  Other shipwrecks featured in the media haven't generated the same hype, however.  The Perfect Storm failed to cement the name Andrea Gail in people's minds (I had to look it up).  U-571, while largely fictitious, is based on some historical fact and the sinking of the Bismarck is rarely thought about.  Several books and Seinfeld reference are not enough to make the Andrea Doria a household name.  Even Gordon Lightfoot singing about the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald only managed to drum up temporary interest. 

It's not the number of passengers lost in the disaster.  According to the internet, which would never lie to me, the death toll on the Titanic only ranks it fifth in maritime history.  While some rich, powerful, and famous souls were aboard the Titanic, the same could be said of the Lusitania.  And again, the Lusitania was every bit the luxury liner that the Titanic was. 

The only unique facts I can think of regarding the Titanic are that it sank on its maiden voyage and the hubris of the owners who called it unsinkable.  So where does this all leave me?  I can only conclude that rather than one thing it is the multitude of factors that combine to make it memorable.  And since it's never been overly interesting to me, I feel that Hollywood owes me films about the Indianapolis and H. L. Hunley, both of which I find more interesting.  So if you have any sway with the film industry, do me a favor and get them started on one or both. 
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