austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Though the wireless code was flashing SOS around the world

It's time for annual re-appearance on the sciencey or historyish channels for specials about the sinking of the Titanic. The opening reminds us the ship was called unsinkable to its face, and mentions the sister ship Olympic. They never mention a mother or father ship. Titanic was surely affected by growing up an orphan, and perhaps that collision with the tug as mentioned about four minutes in was just a plea for affection. Perhaps it needed a hug, and settled for a tug. Imagine if it needed a jug. But what would it need a jug for?

After the first commercial break the narrator notices some previously unidentified and unpredictable-in-1912 flaw in the construction: ``Is it possible the great ship's segmented compartments were simply stapled together?'' Some mechanical engineers, in front of black backdrops, explain how staples work and that sometimes you want to staple things better than they did back then. Next a Royal Navy officer, in front of props from the 1951 movie Captain Horatio Hornblower, agrees, but using different words. Grainy photographs appear while the narrator explains that poor metallurgy of the day means staples of 1912 would today be classified as tomato ketchup, and the only thing holding Titanic together was the embarrassment it would cause the company if it never amounted to anything besides a pile of raw parts.

About 22 minutes in we've had enough of this and bring on an entertaining fellow from an obscure university who points out that from the iceberg's perspective the Titanic rammed it, and nobody seems to have been worrying why the iceberg was so perfectly aimed and what the icebergs hoped to gain. But laboratory tests on modern icebergs show that they don't use staples to hold themselves together either. They use staples only recreationally.

Around the 35 minute mark we have footage showing the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire. This, the narrator admits, has no bearing on the Titanic, but they swiped this clip of the fire from a silent movie made to better exploit the tragedy back then, and it would be a shame to let those images go unused until whenever the heck the anniversary of that disaster is.

At 40 minutes they mention that novel that guy wrote where the ship with the name like Titanic sinks, and note that this means that guy and that novel have achieved immortal fame, never asking what role he had in the iceberg.

Closing on the 46 minute mark we find another fellow with some connection to a more obscure college, who claims to have written a book, and who finds the contemporary documentary evidence unclear in important points. Do we know there was an iceberg? What happened to it? Do we know it wasn't dry ice? If it wasn't dry ice, was that because of the water splashing onto it? And this Titanic thing: how can we say with certainty that the passengers were not merely on a boardwalk amusement ride in Asbury Park, New Jersey? Assuming there were an iceberg and a ship, and that at least one of those two sank, then what about the penguins? No penguins seem to have been admitted into evidence, however, and the fellow is plainly mad. After taping he will be despatched to the Nostradamus Bureau.

The conclusion is that while the Titanic was built with unimagined flaws we would never make that mistake now. If we were to build the Titanic today no mere iceberg would sink it. Nothing could, not even meteor strikes. We might try everything we could think of and it would stay afloat. It would prowl the seas, unstoppable, until we finally drained the North Atlantic. This would not sink it, but it would at least keep us safe from the ship. We'd have to store the North Atlantic in a humongous jug, possibly placed in Nova Scotia, but surely that would be worth it.

Thus we end talking about the staples again, and the observation that if we knew then what we knew now, things would have been different, considering how few of us were around then and now. It makes the disaster so very cozy.

Trivia: The first hearings into the sinking of the Titanic began 19 April 1912, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Source: Why Things Break, Mark E Eberhart. (That would be the old Waldorf-Astoria, presently the site of the Empire State Building.)

Currently Reading: Edison: A Biography, Matthew Josephson. And every so often these things hit a sentence with startling yet coincidental meaning. bunny_hugger, you may want to note: At that period Charles Edison also showed some passing interest in owning and managing the Little Thimble Theatre, one of the ``little theaters'' of the Washington Square quarter.


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