The announcement that an American-Swiss consortium plans to build an exact replica of the Titanic, the transatlantic liner that sank on its maiden voyage in 1912 after hitting an iceberg, raises all sorts of promising possibilities.
How about Disney buying up part of economically depressed northern France to re-enact World War I complete with mud, barbed wire and shell holes? Tourists could pay to engage in trench warfare, although presumably the bullets they fire would be blanks.Business would no doubt be brisk, especially if the admission price offered visitors a chance to dress up in the military uniforms of the era. For the locally unemployed, there would be jobs cleaning up the front lines after each show.
Restaging the 1906 San Francisco earthquake on a twice-daily basis to give visitors a thrill might be a little too close to the bone since genuine tremors remain a danger. But what about putting on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor somewhere in the Pacific, employing refloatable replicas of the U.S. battleships that went to the bottom?
The list of history's tragedies capable of being turned into show-business extravaganzas for the tourist trade is practically limitless in an age when nearly everything is seen as entertainment and virtual reality is fast replacing reality itself. For the classically minded, for instance, one could sell tickets to a restaging of the 79 A.D. destruction of Pompeii in a volcanic eruption or the barbarians' fifth century sacking of Rome.
It's wholly fitting that popular interest in the doomed Titanic was whetted by the Oscar-winning movie and its spectacular special effects. There have been previous films about the supposedly unsinkable vessel. But the latest one has been a record-breaker at box offices everywhere precisely because it is a romanticized version, short on facts but long on what Hollywood calls "story values."
The emphasis is on a love affair aboard the doomed ship involving a handsome young couple who are entirely fictitious. The film distorts history to stay in line with present-day political correctness. Thus, those in steerage class nearly all behave nobly as the ship goes down while the wealthy first-class passengers act cowardly, fighting for space in the too-few lifeboats.
In reality, the first-class passengers in most cases adhered to the strict code of honor expected of gentlemen and ladies in those distant days, sacrificing themselves to allow others to escape. The survivors' accounts all attest to this.
In a few hours, 1,522 passengers and crew members died. Ever since, the tragedy has seemed to many people like a symbolic ringing down of the curtain on the relatively orderly Victorian Age, signaling the real start of the 20th century with its horrific wars and blood lust.
Clever promoters with a true understanding of today's taste for vulgar inanity have decided to turn the episode into a profitable lark. Well, why not? It makes an appropriate commentary on the way we live now.