Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's sunk. Kerplunk. Piece of junk.


The scale of this Titanic centenary really is an amazing phenomenon.  But the piece of Titanica that keeps coming back to me is the campfire song, surely a great piece of twentieth-century popular culture.  You know that one? It started out kinda serious and elegiac:
They built the ship Titanic to sail the ocean blue
And they thought they had a ship that the water couldn't get through
But the good Lord raised His hand, said that ship will never land
It was sad when the great ship went down
Husbands and wives, little children lost their lives
It was sad when the great ship went down 
The chorus "It was sad, so sad..," seems to maintains that respectful tone. Until the counter-chorus cuts in (it always does) all blaring and sardonic:
It was sad.... TOO BAD! 
Then the song just goes anywhere it wants. It can do social criticism:

They sailed out from England and were not too far from shoreWhen the rich refused to mingle with the poor.So they put them down below where they’d be first to go.It was sad when the great ship went down.
It can do disaster theory:

Well, the Cal-i- forn-i-a not a dozen miles awayCouldn't hear the SOS cuz the crew had hit the hay
And of course, mostly it does snot-out-the-little-kids'-noses funny
Well they filled her up with beer, and she sank right off the pier. It was sad....
or:
Uncles and aunts, little children lost their pants. It was sad....
all wrapping up in that amazing, defiant, dismissive, shockingly true coda (and wildly funny around the campfire):
It's sunk. Kerplunk. Piece of junk. 
RMS Titanic, April 15, 1912. God bless her and all who sailed in her.

Also worth reviving, I think, E.J. Pratt's epic poem on the sinking.  Full text here.

Ted Betts comments:
"The scale of this Titanic centenary really is an amazing phenomenon."

    No kidding. Last night I flicked on the TV at 10:00 and there were at least 5 different shows (including two dramas, one of which was James Cameron's movie) on Titanic.
    I understand the fascination, generally, but am really baffled by the scale of the coverage. And the scale of the ongoing research into the disaster like the tens of millions of dollars searching for the debris trail at the bottom of the ocean. It is not like there is some unknown mystery that needs like say Franklin or Stonehenge. Or some raging debate like how a war was won or who won a war like Vietnam or 1812. Or something practical and useful that could result from finding a china dinner plate or even knowing definitively that they used a weaker bold to seal in the boilers.
    Maybe that is why real history isn't terribly lucrative for most, Alexandra Lord's views notwithstanding. We don't always gravitate to what is just simply popular.