Seriously.....I know I seemed to have been on a wee bit of a downer (no pun intended) in my last blog posting (on Titanic euphoria sweeping the TV and radio channels this month), but, as the saying (almost) goes, there's nothing quite as strange as real life....so much so that I have a new word of the week: "Titanorakotat" (which may be defined as the obsessive consumption of tasteless souvenirs derived from real life disasters by those who really ought to know better).
OK so the Titanic memorials, church services and general world-wide commemorations held across the weekend of the 14th and 15th of April 2012 all seemed entirely respectful, reverential and appropriate, given that this is the centenary of a truly appalling loss of life at sea (and I have to say that seeing Protestant and Catholic / Unionist and Republican sat together in services held across Belfast was, given the history of the troubles here, rather awe-inspiring), but the general levels of, what one could legitimately describe as 'cashing in' that some have participated in seem (to me at least) somewhat distasteful.
Titanic coffee mug anyone?
How about a moulded plastic kit (available in 25 weekly parts) or a ship-in-a-bottle, tea towel or commemorative key fob? How about (and I kid you not) an ice-cube maker dispensing novelty ice-bergs and miniature liners (for what could be more entertaining than reliving the disaster in one's own gin-and-tonic?).
Even if the profits generated from such Titanaroakotat were going to deserving maritime charities, I have to ask who would actually feel that their lives (or homes) could in any way be improved by such purchases? The tabloid press would have a self-righteously indignant field day if they had discovered that someone was making money from the sale of novelty tourist paraphernalia based upon the loss of life in a more recent plane / train / car crash....why should RMS Titanic be any different?
There is even a commemorative cruise (on board the ship MS Balmoral) designed to coincide with the exact route and final destination of the RMS Titanic (although without, I hope, the last moments at sea). I don't know how I should feel about this. OK, so there was a wreath laying event at the scene and prayers were said, lives remembered....but...and once more here's the rub, did those involved in the cruise (some of whom were rumoured to have spent up to £5,000 for the privilege) really need to be in fancy dress? Did they need to be having, to my untutored eye, so much fun? And, for that matter, why were all those featured on the news wearing either big floral hats and corsets (mostly the women) or top hats and immense handle-bar moustaches (mostly the men). Why were they only reliving the final moments of the wealthy and privileged in first class, rather than the third-class discomfort of those seeking a new life in the USA? Where (without sounding too 'right-on') were the poor, downtrodden and miserable re-enactors in all this?
One particular reporter on the Balmoral commented upon the desire of those on board to shop (for where else could you obtain mementoes of the commemorative cruise?), noting that passengers were queuing "for up to half an hour" in order to nab a bargain (tankards, keep-sake boxes, baseball hats, T-shirts, teddy-bears, DVDs of the movie etc). A British-based auctioneer, selling genuine 'souvenirs' from the original ship-wreck, laughed when asked by a BBC reporter whether he thought people who collected such material were in any way strange. "How do you define weird?" he said "people collect memorabilia from Roman history...it's far from weird".
Yes, but this is a whole new level of ghoulishness isn't it?
Collecting Roman coins, pottery or tiles (whether ethical or not), is one thing - seeking out 100 year old items purely because they belonged to someone who died of hypothermia in the North Atlantic, or who was blown apart during the compression of air pockets in a sinking ship, or whose lungs filled with water, or who was crushed, smashed or who died horribly in a multitude of other ways (or committed grief-stricken suicide afterwards) is quite another isn't it?
Is this not a whole new level of grave-robbing (an accusation which, as an archaeologist, I realise is perhaps another case of 'pot-kettle-sooty bottom')? But, ask yourself this: if the news reported that people were queuing for half an hour on board a plane in order to buy novelty tankards 'commemorating' the Lockerbie disaster or the twin towers inferno of 9/11, would we not feel just a little bit uneasy? If there were fights among tourists trying to buy commemorative T-towels in the souvenir shop of the Ladbroke Grove rail-crash or the Kings Cross underground rail fire, would the press feel justified to ask "what the ruddy heck is wrong with people?"
Or is it just me.......?
........................................it's just me isn't it.