Word Games: Titanic

New Statesman
Patrick Druckenmiller wears a costume depicting Titanic Captain Edward John Smith as he waits in line to board the Azamara Journey. Photograph: Getty Images.

Anyone else bored of the Titanic? Perhaps that's insensitive but there is such a thing as overkill (sorry, sorry). It's the centenary, hence the TV show, the events, the exhibitions. I had a teacher once who was a Titanic obsessive - he collected memorabilia and could rattle off trivia (number dead, water temperature, lifeboat dimensions). I can just about get my head round intense enthusiasm for trains - they are, after all, things that are a functioning part of the world. But a vast ship at the bottom of the ocean, whose unfortunate encounter with an iceberg tragically killed hundreds of people, strikes me as a little creepy as hobbies go.

But then, the Titanic evidently captures imaginations and not only that of James Cameron. Aside from the obvious horror and drama, a winning combination for any entertainment, it's the social history that sucks us in - the images of pre-war soirees in chandeliered ballrooms, while the third-classers were cabin-crammed below, and that proportionally, more of those travelling first class survived than those in second or third.

The Titanic was one of the shipping company White Star Line's three grand new liners. The other two were christened RMS Olympic and RMS Britannic but the poor Titanic was lumbered with the more ominous name. The Titans were the giants in Greek mythology who went to war with the Olympians and lost. The back story is brilliantly grotesque and worth a read - Cronus the Titan indulges in a good dose of children-swallowing, followed by regurgitation of said children after being given a mixture of mustard and wine. But that's by the by - when the Titans try to mount the heavens, Zeus and his crew summarily toss them into Tartarus, the abyss beneath the underworld.

Which, I suppose, is not far off where the Titanic lies now - 12,000 feet below the ocean surface, gradually disintegrating, interrupted only by tourists, salvage-hunters and the endlessly underwater James Cameron, footling around in one of his swish machines. But for those who can't make the trip and fancy a morbid gawp, there's a permanent exhibition at the Luxor Las Vegas hotel and casino. Now, that's my idea of the abyss.

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