Thank you Premier Exhibitions, for putting on quite the show… and by quite the show I mean a Disneyland spectacular of commercialism and corporate greed. You sold out lives lost on the Titanic for commercial profit. I drank the juice because I thought it would be a great place to rest a childhood fascination with this tale we had heard from birth.
This afternoon I went to the Titanic- The Artifact Exhibitat the St. Paul Science Museum. The story itself, is one I wanted to share with Ava. I wanted her to be able to touch and respect parts of history that might not be around as she grew up. We purchased our tickets, went to the Omnitheatre movie and I watched her marvel as the big screen came down.
Call it Russian stoicism, but for the entire length of the movie I saw no true emotion. The person who knew the site of the Titanic said he only got it because Dr. Robert Ballard wasn’t careful in rolling up the documents after the ship was found, that bastard read the location backwards and came back later to profit. When they found the wreckage? They just stared blankly forward into the trail of coal and unrecognizable metal pieces. When they came up from the first dive there was clapping and cheering… but no faces of glory or excitement in the divers. They disrespected the site when they haphazardly knocked a part of the ship apart. The robotic arm placed flowers at the site, (again- emotionless,) then it was over. That set the mood for the entire day, I’m afraid.
I’m not one who believes that the Titanic should be farked with. Imagine people diving to a plane crash of our relatives or friends and pulling up their shoes/luggage/medications and putting them on display. I went more out of respect and to want to see with my own eyes, a piece of the legendary “Unsinkable Ship.” I knew it might be campy, a little kitschy and when we walked in; in truth, I didn’t know what to expect.
You hear with the ears of a child what you think is a fairytale. I had Robert Ballard’s book as a girl and often viewed the pages and kept coming back to the face of the doll, in the middle of an ocean. It looked so ghastly to me. I wondered what would happen someday if part of our civilization ended tragically and pictures of our belongings would be in a history book, (a la Pompeii or Titanic.)
Immediate thoughts: Far too much reading. (When you’re traveling in packs of over a hundred, it’s hard to read every, small, sign on the walls.) Though the exhibit was well-spaced out. Sparce if no people were in a room, but when it was full? Easily navigable and the perfect height. But so.. so, emotionless. I keep saying that word as if it really does it justice. But you see, there is no justice in this exhibit.. only monetary gains.
It wasn’t until I went into the third room, where we were told to stand in front of a green screen to see a picture of ourselves on the ship’s hull or grand staircase that I realized their faux pas. They were actually putting people in front of a screen which would later, (photoshop-esque) crap in the background… for a staggering, $20.00.
Now, call me sentimental, but if they would have put something to the extent of, “Be an Actual Titanic Survivor! Your body placed on top of the hull for $20.00! And you don’t hafta die, ya’ll!” It might really get to the bottom of how incredibly tacky this offering really is. That’s when it really hit me.. this was a game.
Coming in we were handed a boarding pass that we were told looked like AN ACTUAL TITANIC BOARDING PASS! (The lady passing them out was practically unable to curb her enthusiasm. Thank god for her.) We could find out about ‘Our passenger’ as we went through the exhibit and learn if they lived or died. Which was great, because standing behind a group of giggling preteens over the title, “Mistress,” (to which their mother promptly pointed out, ‘that means she sleeps around BEFORE SHE’S MARRIED.) -Add the disapproving glare and you could imagine why I had to put my hand over my mouth and look to the older guys next to me trading cards so that they could have the ones ‘with the cool names.” Precious. Truly, truly, precious. It wasn’t until my daughter set off the exhibit with her pudgy, preschooler hands that I finally broke. (Those alarms are brutal.)
They made Titanic, a folly. The artifacts were well-laid out and the staff was respectful, but there was no memorial, no somber mood at the end, (but there was a GIFT SHOP!) The ‘rooms’ put together showing First Class vs. Third Class gave no real connection for me to identify with what went on. Bunkbeds versus mahogany. (To most, it seemed like childhood versus adulthood.) I swear I had seen the comforter in the First Class suite in a JCPenney catalog. It looked like today, instead of yesterday.
The smallest box stopped my heart- it wasn’t larger like the rest and didn’t hold a precious jewel or handwritten note. It was a single, man’s shoe. A shoe that needed to be on someone’s foot, missing it’s other half- alone and incased in glass. It hit me then- a shoe in the middle of a room said it all. We all gathered around it, and no one spoke. Ava pointed out it was ‘brown!’ and I said quietly, (“The man wearing this shoe probably didn’t survive.”) I felt ashamed then, fingering the collection of items- everything from toothpaste containers to brushes to entire pieces of clothing. I remember the tears came at the shoe, and my daughter didn’t understand. When we came to the end, a gigantic board held everyone’s name that survived and perished. (Hardly big enough to really make out in the dim lighting.) A few more pictures, a piece of the side of the ship, a door, some coal.. and then we were escorted out to see our pictures in the Grand Staircase or Hull.
I looked around the gift-shop. I saw behind glass they were advertising actual pieces from the site for sale and replica photographs of people and artifacts. Even replica afghans featuring the doomed White Star Line. The Disneyland of Tragedy, this was. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Popsicles were being sold in the shape of the ship.
I wondered what Dr. Robert Ballard might say if he walked through this room. His crew vowed to leave everything Titanic was at it’s original resting place. I came across this interview Ballard did with NOVA:
NOVA: Let’s talk about the pillaging of sites. Isn’t there an argument to be made for, let’s say in the case of the Titanic, taking artifacts from the ship, and putting them in a museum where people can see them and learn from them?BB: The Titanic isn’t a ship. It’s an accident. It’s a huge debris field. The Titanic is linked to its location. When you see pairs of shoes on the bottom of the ocean where the body landed, and those pairs of shoes are perfectly preserved and sitting exactly relative to the body that’s now vanished, those shoes and their juxtaposition to one another, and sitting on the floor next to the ship are a much more compelling message—a personal message of tragedy—than some wrinkly old shoes sitting on a shelf in a museum in Memphis, Tennessee. The technology is now here for people to visit these sites on the Internet. You know, they’re selling coal from the Titanic on the Internet for $25 a lump. They’re not going down there and saying, oh my gosh we’ve got to save the ship. They’re not caring about the ship. They’re bringing up artifacts for commercial gain. These people are not historians, they’re not archaeologists. They’re not even people of the sea. It’s a used car salesman from Connecticut. And so the point is that there are ships of antiquity and ships of historical importance that are not protected from unscrupulous people.