Thinking Through "The Farmington Valley Herald": Social Media Then and Now Social Media: Not Just For the Digital Age
The Titanic: A Closer Look Posted on May 11, 2012 by
When most people today hear the word Titanic, the first thing to come to mind is generally James Cameron’s 1997 movie.  Everyone knows how the Titanic was called “practically unsinkable”, a claim made so ironic by its unfortunate demise. Our popular conception of the events April 14-15, 1912 recognizes the tragedy (for example, Cameron asking for a moment of silence at the Academy Awards ceremony). However, because we are so removed from the event, it is hard to see the real tragedy. Yes, it is sad. About 1500 people lost their lives. But the story of the Titanic has become so enveloped in romanticism that these deaths have lost their meaning, serving only as a backdrop for societal ideal. However, the romanticizing of the sinking of the Titanic is nothing new. “Beginning on 20 April, the sinking of the Titanic departed-at least partially-from the realm of documented history and passed into a realm of myth.” Initially, this surprised me. I went into this with the assumption that this national tragedy would have a similar effect on the population as events such as the Kennedy assassination or, in my lifetime, September 11, 2001. One thing I did not factor in was the effect of communications technology on how the public responded to these events. JFK was shot in front of a crowd of people and was captured on film, sent around the country almost instantly with the relatively new television media. The images of planes crashing into the Twin Towers were aired live, later to be looped ad infinitum. Though of course not everything was known in those first few days or hours (and of course some would argue we still don’t know the whole story), the basic facts were available almost immediately. However, the Titanic’s story unfolded somewhat differently. “The first press accounts of the Titanic disaster were speculative and often completely erroneous. Most newspapers reported on Monday 15 April that the Titanic had struck an iceberg but was still afloat and being towed to Halifax…with all passengers safely transferred to other ships.” The New York Journal proclaimed that, “All Safe on Titanic” while the Wall Street Journal wrote that, “the gravity of the damage to the Titanic is apparent, but the important point is that she did not sink.”
 This confusion, while somewhat eerily humorous today, stemmed from a failure to communicate. There was a decided “lack of information coming from the White Star Line [the Titanic’s owners] or from any of the ships that had been in direct contact with the Titanic.” The survivors of the sunken ship did not reach New York until April 18 th, a good three days after the ship went under. Until they arrived, most of the questions that people had about this sinking could not be answered. A telegraph can only say so much. But the newspapers needed something to write. They had been planning on running pieces on the triumph of Man over the ocean as the unsinkable ship slid into the harbor. Instead, they were left with concerns over the inadequate lifeboat count, iceberg experts, and blame towards the White Star company.
 Others, such as the Farmington Valley Herald, filled their pages with little obscure pieces of data in an attempt to connect the event to their area.
 And of course, there were reports concerning the dead.
 Following is a piece about the Captain Straus, who went down with his ship:
 Some “expressed righteous indignation and voiced demands that measures be taken to prevent such an appalling calamity from occurring in the future”.
 However, what all of this speculation accomplished was to create the story of the Titanic.
 A passage from Stephanie Barczewski’s text “Titanic: A Night Remembered” sums it up best. “There was a moment, as the newspapers for 19 April were being prepared, that reporters and editors could have chosen to stress the less noble aspects of the story that were emerging from the survivors’ accounts, which frequently emphasized the chaos, the terror and the panic that had increased as the night wore on. But they did not make that choice; instead the carefully selected the parts of the accounts that fitted with the vision of first class men standing calmly aside while women and children of all classes were loaded into lifeboats.” The press established and reinforced three principle aspects of the Titanic myth. “First, it emphasized that the law of the sea’-‘women and children first’-had universally prevailed”. This assertion proved to be false, in large part because of the large number of male crewmembers who were saved.
 Even when more accurate tallies of the fatalities arose, the idea that the men stood stoically aside to face their watery grave, sacrificing their lives for the stereotypically weak, held firm. However, it wasn’t just any man. It was the first class AngloSaxon passenger which was glorified in the retelling of the Titanic tale. The language used to describe the ‘heroes’ of the Titanic reeks of upper-class Anglo supremacy. Although there were claims about the sinking acting as an equalizing factor, in reality the event only cemented existing perceptions about race, class and gender.
 Not that this idyllic image was universally accepted. George Bernard Shaw was among critics who “accused the press and public of failing to confront the real reasons for the tragedy and of promoting false heroism based on ‘outrageous romantic lying.’” Additionally, the story played out differently in America and Britain, the two nations directly affected by this tragedy. The American version was much more splintered, with some examining the issues of the above myths.
 Americans were also likely to put the blame on the British for the disaster. However, as the following article suggests, this was not a universal theme. Rather, they looked towards what the United States could do to prevent a future tragedy. This was about more than a sinking ship, however. “The aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic had become an arena in which the relative maritime worth of nations was being assessed.”
 Meanwhile, Britain turned the disaster into a catalyst for British patriotism. Although “many of the most frequently cited acts of heroism on board the sinking Titanic were in fact carried out by American, there was little effort to turn this to patriotic account in the United States.” This is in sharp contrast to the reaction to the JFK assassination or 9/11, and again, I wonder how technology affected the response. Ultimately, all tragedy is subject to romancing. Tragedy makes us reevaluate, looking at actions in order to discern a greater meaning to something so uncontrollable. Horrible things will continue to happen for the foreseeable future, and so will the contemplating that accompanies them. However, if we can be aware of the way tragedy fits into and manipulates society expectations, we can be better prepared to look at future disasters critically.
 “Titanic (1997 film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2012. .  Barczewski, Stephanie L.. “Titanic: a night remembered”. London: Hambledon and London, 2004, 2.  McGee, Patrick . “Terrible Beauties: Messianic Time and the Image of Social Redemption in James Cameron’s Titanic.” In Bad History and the Logics of Blockbuster Cinema. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 21-67, 50.  Barczewski, 53.  Barczewski, 47.  IBID  Socol, Ira. “SpeEdChange.” SpeEdChange. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 May 2012. .  Barczewski, 48.  Barczewski, 50.  N.Y. Times. “Titanic a Degenerate Luxury.” Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), April 26, 1912.  Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), “Went Over Titanic,” April 26, 1912.  Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), “The Shamrock…,” April 26, 1912.  Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), “Samuel Anderson of Hartford…,” April 26, 1912.  Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), “There was memorial services…,” April 26, 1912.  Brooklyn Eagle. “Titanic Heros: Acts of Magnificent Devotion.” Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), April 26, 1912.  Barczewski, 52.  Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), “It is stunning to learn that the steamships…,” April 19, 1912.  Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), “Titanic Heros: Acts of Magnificent Devotion,” April 26, 1912.  Barczewski, 53.  Barczewski, 54.  Boston Transcript. “It is stunning to learn that the steamships….” Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), April 19, 1912.  Barczewski, 54-5.  Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), “Titanic Sinks. Biggest Floating Palace Goes down in Four Hours.,” April 19, 1912.  Barczewski, 56.  Brooklyn Eagle. “The Undistinguished Heros.” Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), April 26, 1912.  Barczewski, 79.  Farmington Valley Herald (Bristol), “Safety, like Charity…” May 3, 1912.  Barczewski, 57, 63.  Barczewski, 71. This entry was posted in Extended Article and tagged Titanic. Bookmark the permalink.
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