A couple of months ago I blogged about various cruises that would be sailing to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic (you can read that post here). I was of the opinion that these types of “memorial cruises” were macabre since the individuals sailing on them didn’t seem to care about remembering all of the lives lost at sea, but instead participating in something that was buzz worthy and “special,” at least from a price tag stand point, since sailings cost more than $5000.
When I saw the pictures of people garbed in 1900s attire, some even dressed up as Captain Edward John Smith, I was mildly disgusted (I say mildly since I know there are more important things to be concerned about). Yes, until the iceberg struck it most likely was all laughter and gaiety aboard the ship. But then came the sick and frightening realization that there were not enough lifeboats for all those on board; most of the 1500 people who lost their lives froze to death in 28-degree water. For the people who donned corsets and styled their hair to look like Kate Winslet’s character in the film Titanic, it seemed horribly offensive to both the dead and the survivors of the Titanic.
The last survivor died in 2009. Although she was only an infant at the time, she never knew her father, as he went down with the ship. Her story was only one of many in which families were torn apart, loved ones forever gone. But to the people on the memorial cruises it was all about having an experience almost exactly like that on the Titanic, excluding icebergs and the actual sinking of the ship. In an article from cnn.com on the memorial cruise, a modern day passenger said that her mission in going on the cruise was to “get a sense of what those passengers experienced aboard the RMS Titanic.” I’m sure anyone who was aboard the actual Titanic would not wish that experience on anyone. If one wants to read about the meals served on board, the entertainment that was provided, and the layout of the ship, that is what books are for.
Unimaginable horrors have taken place since the beginning of time. But obviously events that took place hundreds or thousands of years ago have no direct bearing or meaning on us in the modern world. Their history, too far removed to have even the slightest personal connection to it. In the past when I’ve toured battlefields from the American Civil War, I certainly felt a sense of reverence for the sacred ground I was standing upon, knowing that thousands of men had met their end there, and yet I’m not moved to tears by it. To me, a battlefield is a historical attraction most definitely worth visiting, but not a recent tragic event I could truly understand. I know that if I were to ever visit a concentration camp in Europe, I would probably cry and feel sick that such an event could have taken place in modern history. I’ve heard from people who have visited places like Dachau and Auschwitz that they are the most sobering and bone chilling sites you can ever see in your lifetime. While the Titanic was for some people quite long ago, the survivors’ children and grandchildren are still living so the tragedy not so far removed that it’s only reserved for the history books.
Macabre tourism to me is a terrible institution, one I hope will not grow.