Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
29 March 2012updated 06 Sep 2021 2:26pm

Word Games: Titanic

By Sophie Elmhirst

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
I consent to New Statesman Media Group collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy

Topics in this article: