A question came to mind the other day. After being bombarded with all things Titanic thanks to the one-hundred year anniversary two weeks ago, I couldn't help but wonder - Why are we so obsessed?
Why do we care so much about a steamer ship that sank a hundred years ago? What about it still draws us in? Of course, James Cameron's sweeping and glamorous movie helped boost the interest, but why? This is my hypothesis:
There are a bunch of things that make the Titanic unmistakeable and unforgettable - it was it's maiden voyage, it was cutting edge, the ship's captain was to retire immediately following the docking, it was populated by many rich and famous aristocracies, and it's sinking showed the massive division of classes in the early nineteen-hundreds.
In an era where man thought they had everything figured out - the industrial revolution had just ended, technology was beginning to become incredibly useful and women's rights were beginning to come up in conversation. Basically, it was a progressive, cutting edge time. The Titanic, all 46,000 tons of it, was a manifestation of this time. It represented the glamour, luxury, and technology of the 1910's. On May 31, 1911, the ship steamed out of Belfast harbor, representing man's accomplishments over the elements. On April 14, when, on it's maiden voyage, it struck an iceberg, man's confidence was taken away. The Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic and man's triumph over technology was crushed by 12,460 feet of oceanic pressure.
The rich and famous think they're immortal (well, some of them do). In a time where class division was so powerful, and money was the only measure of success, the Titanic was a rebuttal to this idea. John Jacob Astor, a millionaire at the time, was the richest man on the ship. What strikes me as notable about this is that, he himself, one of the richest men in the world, went down with the Titanic, just like the vast majority of the third-class population. On a sinking ship, your position in society doesn't mean anything. The only thing that matters is your life, and the distinction between classes is blurred when everyone is struggling to get into a lifeboat - one's life because more valuable than the ostentatious jewelry in their staterooms.
The way the ship sank was ghostly. When I first watched James Cameron's "Titanic" in 2002, I was haunted by the image of the back of the ship rising into the chilled, north Atlantic sky. It's the perfect action-adventure story. And the best part? It really happened.
Ultimately, I think these qualities contribute to our fascination with the tragedy. But above all, I think there's an intangible quality of the Titanic that draws us in, something about it just fascinates us, and we may never know exactly what that is.