Titanic tastelessness

I always thought that the videos that appear on MTV Dance (the gym’s defected from Chartshow) appeared with the minimum of human intervention. That is, they pick out half a dozen or so dance-ish tunes each week (or is it fortnight) and rotate them. But no. They were clever yesterday. Lou Reed’s remixed Satellite of Love (sort of reviewed here), bled into Britney’s Oops! I did it again. Not impressed? Well, you should be ’cos Lou finishes just as his satellite reaches the red planet and Britney starts with a shot of her spaceboy’s control console: he’s just reached Mars.

I thought it so funny I nearly fell off the step machine. You have to be on the ball to catch these moments.

Not only that, Oops! I did it again is the Britney video with the Titanic reference: Spaceboy offers her the necklace Old Rose dropped in the sea in the film. ‘I thought the old lady dropped it into the water,’ says this first outing of not-so-innocent Britney, before removing Spaceboy’s helmet and condemning him to death.

Anyway. This allows me to segue into the Titanic Artefact Exhibition at the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry which runs to 16 January 2005. (They let themselves down badly by selling replicas of that necklace in the shop after, but more on that later.)

Katharine’s had a Titanic fixation since childhood, so it was her treat (we’re nearing the end of a week off at home, following a London trip. More on that much later). But I have to say it’s recommended. Lots of stuff brought up from the ship itself starting with the bell Frederick Fleet would have rung as he shouted, ‘Iceberg right ahead!’. There are also bottles of perfume that you can smell (well Katharine could, I couldn’t) and plenty of other stuff. You’re given a ‘boarding pass’ when you enter with the name of a passenger. I was third class Frank Goldsmith (read about him here) and Katharine was second class Ethel Beane. ‘Find out if you made it at the end.’

I’m most interested in how Titanic became the phenomenon it is and that’s the one element missing here. After all, worse things have happened at sea. I guess Titanic resonates because of what it symbolised at the time: much hyped ‘unsinkable’ ship humbled. But not only was Titanic humbled, so was an overconfidence that had marked the true end of the Victorian era.

There’s a brief discussion on the idea in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (p408 reviewed here): ‘Workings of actual past + virtual past may be illustrated by… the sinking of the Titanic. The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves… Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction – in short belief – grows ever ‘truer’. The actual past is brittle, ever-dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast the, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent.’

And so after an exhibition that attempts to recreate Titanic’s actual past, we’re exposed to the necklace from the film and DVDs of the same, as if that onboard romance is as a truer story as Frank Goldsmith’s or Ethel Beane’s.

Yet the necklace was neither the tackiest nor the most tasteless item the gift shop. That honour must go to the Water Wrigley. This is a fat condom shaped squidgy thing containing blue water in which floats a sinking Titanic, iceberg and life belt. Second prize goes to the clear plastic pendants containing crushed coal hauled from the ships engine rooms (available in dolphin and crucifix designs). Hmmm.

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