Last year, as the centenary of the sinking of RMS Titanic approached, I was struck by the increased (and increasingly bizarre) production and consumption of wholly inappropriate toys / souvenirs / products deriving from, or inspired by, the real life disaster. At the time I felt I was suffering from Titanoraknophobia (a fear of Titanic anoraks) and tried to coin the word 'Titanorakotat' (the manufacture / sales / purchase collection of ghoulish paraphernalia by and for the Titanic anorak).
The list of novelty tie-in products to the Titanic, including coffee mugs / moulded plastic kits / ship-in-a-bottle (complete with iceberg in a bottle as accompaniment) / tea towels / commemorative key fobs / ice-cube makers dispensing novelty icebergs and miniature liners (for those who wanted to relive the tragedy in their own gin-and-tonic), all seemed tasteless enough, but I have since discovered that there is more.
Much, much more.
Last week I visited the rather excellent new
in Sea City Museum Southampton, which combines collections taken from the now closed City Archaeology and . I liked it a lot. I especially enjoyed the Titanic exhibition which set out, not only what the liner was and represented, but what it meant to the people of Southampton (in terms of employment) and the devastating impact that the catastrophic loss of life in 1912 had upon the city. Maritime Museums
It was a very sobering experience.
Downstairs in the Museum was the 'Legends of the Titanic' exhibition, showcasing some of the more bizarre and surreal associations with the Titanic, demonstrating how, thanks mostly to the movie industry, the loss of the liner has resonated down through popular culture. Much of this collection was cleverly presented without comment, allowing the visitor to make their own mind up about the relationship between tragedy and income generation.
Ladies and Gentlemen let me present the following gems for your consideration:
1) 'Sinking of the Titanic' the board game:
1) 'Sinking of the Titanic' the board game:
Proof, if it were needed, that tasteless enterprises are not new (this dates from the 1970s) and that literally any event, however tragic, can be turned into a game. Note especially the tag line "The game you play as the ship goes down...then face the peril of the open sea!" - yes it's all fun fun fun in the
Really? No doubt it has Chance or Community Chest cards with the witty commands: "You drown in icy waters with your entire family - miss two goes" or "Engines explode taking all those working below decks with them - do not pass go, do not collect £200". Terrifyingly crass.
3) Titanic Barbie:
Well I guess this shows the impact of the movie more than anything else (and thank you James Cameron for that), but I'm not convinced that facing your doom with a vacant expression and a heavily lip-sticked smile was what it was all about (or am I missing something?).
Seriously? All the fun of the disaster in your own bath....what could be better?
Experience the life or death struggle on board the stricken ship in the luxurious surroundings of an aircraft hanger (and with no icy water) on this inflatable slide. What other great disasters / natural catastrophes / terrorist atrocities could be made more fun by the simple addition of rubber, plastic and air?
Collecting genuine artefacts from the Titanic disaster is one thing (and I'm still not convinced that the seeking of possessions that once 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 a) ethical and b) something that I'm all that comfortable with), but turning the catastrophe into something bright, colourful and jolly good fun (and financially exploitable) seems, at least to me, misguided.
Last year I asked whether, if news programmes reported that people were queuing in order to buy novelty tankards, games or commemorative T-towels that celebrated the Lockerbie disaster, the twin towers inferno of 9/11, the Ladbroke Grove rail-crash, the
Indian Ocean Tsunami, the Chernobyl disaster or the Kings Cross underground rail fire, we would all, as human beings, feel just a little bit uneasy? Wouldn't the press, in such circumstances, feel justified to ask "what the ruddy heck is wrong with people?"
Apparently the answer is no......no they wouldn't.