The Titanic II–Ship of Dreams or Ship of Fools?

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So, here I sit with my Quorum cigar in one hand, Balvenie in the other, perusing the drawings and computer generated graphics in the souvenir booklet produced by the Blue Star Line for the recent gala in New York City which I attended, where it was officially announced that the construction of the Titanic II would begin this month, and the details of the new ship’s design made public in full for the first time. A multiplicity of thoughts are racing through my head about this new ship, which will make her maiden voyage in April 2016, including the debate over the tact–or lack thereof–in attempting to build such a ship, the arguments over just how “authentic” such a “replica” (if that is even the right word) can actually be, and the general wisdom of the entire concept.

For those of you who have been living under a rock or on some deserted island for the last year, in the words of Inigo Montoya, “Lemme ‘splain–no, there is too much: lemme sum up.” For several years, Clive Palmer, a billionaire businessman from Australia, had been tossing around the idea of building a replica of the Titanic, the legendary White Star ship, widely believed to be “unsinkable,” that sank on her maiden voyage after colliding with an iceberg in April 1912. Similar projects had been mooted–and abandoned–ever since 1998, in the wake of the runaway commercial success of James Cameron’s soggy sea saga, “Titanic”–or, as it’s known in some circles, “Jack and Rose and the Leaky Love Boat.” The difference between Clive’s idea and those that had earlier been proposed was that, unlike the rest, he had the financial wherewithal to turn his dream into steel.

And so as the centennial of the Titanic disaster approached in 2012, Palmer formed the Blue Star Line, contacted the Finnish design firm of Deltamarin (which had previously designed cruise ships for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise lines) to create his “replica” of the Titanic. A number of internationally recognized authorities on the Titanic were brought in as advisors to help shape the final design, both in appearance and appointments. On February 26, at a gala dinner aboard the Intrepid Air, Sea, and Space Museum in New York City, the details of the finalized design were made public, and while the event was taking place, the agreement with the Chinese shipbuilding firm of CSC Jinling Shipyard, in Nanjing, China, was finalized. The first steel for the Titanic II will be cut this month. (And, yes, for you die-hard John Birchers out there, that’s “China” as in “the People’s Republic of China”–the Chicoms, the Red Chinese, the Commies. Ironic, isn’t it, that these days the communists are better capitalists than western nations?) So it appears that the Titanic II is a done deal, the question not if she will be built, but if she will be completed in time for her scheduled April 2016 maiden voyage.

Palmer’s effort in bringing his dream (I really can’t bring myself to call it a “vision”) to reality has proven to be, perhaps not surprisingly, highly polarizing, particularly within that world-wide conglomeration of fanatics known collectively as “the Titanic community.” Opinions range from paeans of praise for Palmer amid outright expressions of ecstasy that the ship will be built so that something akin to traveling on the original Titanic will be possible, to condemnations of Palmer as an incarnation of the antichrist, and his employees and supporters as hell-bound demons, for “defiling” the legacy of the doomed liner and “profaning” the memory of the 1,502 people who lost their lives when the Titanic sank. (Yes, those words have actually been used in some of the criticisms of the Titanic II published on-line.) There seems to be little, if any, middle ground, or allowance for a reasoned appraisal of what Palmer is – or isn’t – going to accomplish with his latest pet project.

It has to be acknowledged that Clive Palmer has a reputation for concocting and promoting sometimes eccentric (critics would amend that to “erratic”) ideas, and has been known to fail to follow through on some of them after they’ve been put into motion. It was this reputation that was in no small part responsible for much of the criticism, not to say outright derision, which initially greeted the announcement that he intended to have a reproduction of the Titanic built. Yet it is impossible to deny, now that the requisite legal “t’s” have been crossed and “i’s” dotted, that the Titanic II is well on its way to becoming a tangible reality. What remains to be seen, then, is what the new ship will accomplish. It is in this arena that the critics are their most vocal – and savage.

By far and away the loudest carp coming from the ranks of the Titanic II critics is that international maritime safety regulations, in particular the SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) conventions, make it flat out impossible to construct and sail an exact replica of the Titanic. A myriad of details, large and small, from the capacity and placement of the lifeboats, to the internal layout of the ship, to the materials used to build her, forbid it. This is all true. However, many of the nay-sayers then immediately declare that because the Titanic II cannot be an exact copy of the original, it is somehow a sort of fraud, an intellectual scam – because the original cannot be duplicated, the replica cannot possess any merit of its own. This is patently and self-evidently false, a conclusion which would be immediately obvious to these whining wankers if they stopped flapping their lips long enough to think through what they are saying.

History can never be “re-lived.” It can never be vicariously experienced. The most dedicated historical re-enactor will tell you that, no matter how deeply they immerse themselves in their period, they are always conscious on some level that when their “encampment” is over, they go back to the world of smartphones, contact lenses, hybrid cars, fast food, modern suburbia, and the 9-to-5 grind.  They know they are simulating history, not actually living through it. Similarly, no matter how exact the reproduction of the Titanic would be the Titanic II, anyone boarding her would only be surrounding themselves with the trappings, the accoutrements, of the real ship. No one today could actually experience life aboard the Titanic as it truly was, because every incident, every detail, would ultimately be perceived through the prism of the early 21st Century and the life-experience of the individual. No one going aboard the most precise replica could truly “experience” the Titanic, because he or she would lack the knowledge, the mother’s-milk subconscious perspective and perception of the world of 1912. They would lack the mindset, the social consciousness, the prejudices, virtues, and vices of the people who lived in 1912. They might be aware of such things on some level, but not having been born into them, are unable to integrate them into their own lives, and so understand the Titanic and her world the way that those who actually sailed aboard her did.  The people who claim that the Titanic II, by failing to be an exact recreation of the lost liner, is somehow deceptive and misleading simply do not understand that their complaints are based not on their imagined shortcomings of the new ship, but of their own flawed perceptions and expectations. They are asking for the impossible – impossible not because of the limitations imposed on the design and construction of the Titanic II but because of their own failure to understand the limitations imposed in their own desires.

More insidious, in some ways, is that camp of loud-mouthed, self-righteous, self-proclaimed “guardians” of the Titanic’s “legacy” – whatever that means and whatever it is, they never actually get around to defining it – who shrilly declaim that the whole idea of the Titanic II, “name and thing,” is simply one more expression of capitalism as its money-grubbing worst. Building and sailing the ship is nothing more, they declare, than an attempt to “cash in” on the tragedy of the Titanic disaster, to make money at the expense of the original ship’s victims. The entire concept, to them, is, in toto, a massive “cash grab.”

These are, of course, the same people whose homes are laden with every single possible form of Titanica, from artwork (invariably cheap prints) to models (some rendered with amazing fidelity, others the worst of mass-produced knockoffs) to paperweights, pens, key fobs, notepads, t-shirts, sweatshirts, stuffed animals, shot glasses, wall plaques, trinket boxes and cheap costume jewelry fabricated to resemble a key prop (itself a fabrication) from the 1997 film. All of these tchotchkes are, of course, rendered to resemble or recall or represent the Titanic, in some way or form. But never mind that – it’s the Titanic II that is the “cash grab,” not their precious “memorabilia.”

And yet, by the very standard these harpies hold high, if the Titanic II is a “cash grab,” then every book written about the Titanic (including accounts by survivors and their descendants), every movie made about her, every artifact exhibit, ever speaker’s presentation, every model kit manufactured, every souvenir sold at every Titanic-related gift shop and venue, every single item, whatever its individual virtues or vices, being marketed which is Titanic-related, anything involving the Titanic for which cash is exchanged, is equally a “cash grab.”

These are very, very little people who have nothing to offer by their stridency. Their pseudo-self-righteousness, moral posturing, and ethical condescension is as pathetic as it is transparent. They cannot be consistent in their condemnation, lest the rest of us recognize their hypocrisy for what it is – an attempt to be recognized amid the sea of anonymity in which they find themselves and which they so richly deserve. Into the dustbin of irrelevance with them….

But having disposed of the ship of fools, is it inevitable to conclude that the Titanic II must be a ship of dreams? There is no simple answer to that question, for dreams are by definition individual and subjective. Yes, the Titanic II is meant to make money: Clive Palmer didn’t become a billionaire by throwing money away willy-nilly with no plan to make a return on his expenditure. There is a very significant segment of the cruising public who have become so jaded by – or fed up with – the offerings of the majority of the cruise lines, with their endless parties, repetitive ports of call, art and jewelry auctions, loud music and louder Tannoy systems, that they will embrace the Titanic II like a long-lost relative. Palmer has sensed this, and tailored his creation to appeal to that market. More to the point, while the Titanic II will not be an exact recreation of the original ship and her times, she will be a distinctive experience in her own right, one that will deserve to judged on her own merits. If given the opportunity to present them to the world, the Titanic II has the potential to become as distinctive – and well-regarded – as any ship afloat today. While she will never rival the legend of the original Titanic – and what ship possibly could? – she has the potential to carve out her own niche on the North Atlantic by offering a unique experience; if that experience satisfies the dreams of those aboard her, then she will have served her purpose. While it would be folly to ask, let alone demand, that the Titanic II take her passengers wholly back to 1912, it may be possible for her to capture the echoes of those last golden years of the Edwardian Era — before civilization committed suicide in 1914.

But that’s another story, for another time….

I’m Daniel Allen Butler, and that’s the way it is.

12 thoughts on “The Titanic II–Ship of Dreams or Ship of Fools?

  1. To those who feel that the Titanic II threatens or somehow dirties the memory of the original ship, I would simply say “Well, nothing is being taken away from you, you know!”

    In 1987, when fans of the original Star Trek series received word that Gene Roddenberry would produce “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and were unhappy about it, David Gerrold offered that very response to them. He was right.

    So is Clive Palmer, in my opinion. This new Titanic vessel will recapture a great deal of the fine elegance no longer incorporated into cruise sips and liners today.

    As I was touring the Titanic Artifact Exhibit at Kansas City Union station in April 2012, I was quite taken by the beauty of the mock-up of one of the original First Class staterooms of the Titanic. Over the decades, we turned our backs on that elegance and great beauty, and I think we lost something special when we did that.
    Surely, it would not at all hurt us to dress up in fancy dress, and re-live such elegance and high manners and grace once again.

    • I was one of those who in ’87 felt that TNG was “sacrilege”; HOW could you do another ‘Star Trek’? And WITHOUT any of the originals (Shatner, Nimoy, et al.)? But I watched the premiere…and never missed an episode over its’ 7-year run.

      (Unfortunately, I DON’T feel the same about DS9, “Voyager” or “Enterprise”.)

      I don’t object to a “replica” TITANIC personally, but I simply don’t think it’s POSSIBLE. You can build a ship that looks somewhat similar, but it will be far different from the original. You couldn’t BUILD the TITANIC (the original) today for various reasons we ALL know. So how much of a “Replica” could she BE?

  2. Beautifully stated, Daniel. And Doug, too. I wish I’d said all that! The uproar that Clive Palmer’s “dream” of replicating the Titanic and something of the onboard experience for a modern traveling market is akin to that expressed by some over the removal of artifacts from Titanic’s debris field. I, too, was initially put off by the recovery of artifacts, as any number of the paired shoes found on the ocean floor could have been those of my distant cousin, Archie Butt, let alone the 1500 or so others whose families to this day mourn and revere them. Nevertheless, I stood in line with the rest of the mob to buy a ticket to see the artifacts (several times) and have been a collector myself for many years, thus feeding the “cash cow”. Even dear Milvina Dean, who I believe refused to see Cameron’s film, nevertheless benefited from the lucrative trade in all things Titanic, her friends coming to her assistance in helping her dispose of her personal possessions related to the Titanic to help her in her golden years. So where does one draw the line between proper respect and a desire to go back in time to a gentler period? I’m afraid I’m a bit of a hypocrit, because I have personal reasons to protect the memory of those who experienced this tragedy but fully intend to be on Titanic II’s maiden voyage. I hope Archie won’t disapprove.

    • I myself still oppose the recovery of artifacts. I never went to any of the exhibitions, nor bought any of the coal, as I refuse to enrich the salvagers. I spoke to George Tulloch once (he had attended one of my lectures, where I positively excoriated the salvagers, unknown to me until he recognized me by name at his OWN lecture at one of the TITANIC International gatherings. I have to admit he was very civil & accessible when I spoke to him personally (mainly to ask him, “heh, heh, I’m not going to get sued, am I?”), and said basically that I would come around to his way of thinking, but I never have.

      (But I WILL at least give him credit for being a classy guy, something I didn’t expect.)

    • I have always been fcnsiaated by Titanic, and sincerely appreciate how these close-up glimpses make it seem even more real than ever before. Trying to imagine the sights and people that make up the whole story is definitely enhanced by the color. I think the Grand Staircase is amazing the warmth of the wood and the skylight (and even the floor) lend a sense of elegance and humanity to the picture I’ve always had in my mind. Thank you!

  3. What makes the original Titanic such a memorable ship? After all, if the ship itself was so head-and-shoulders above the crowd, then why don’t people similarly worship her essentially — and infinitely more successful — twin sister, Olympic?

    Titanic is memorable because she sank. Let’s be honest…it’s the disaster that’s at the heart of the attraction. So my first question is: how can Titanic 2 deliver on the Titanic promise without the disaster?

    You might point to the museums, shaped like the forward half of the ship, that are successful. I would counter that they are monuments to the disaster. Aha! arefacts from the wreck can be displayed aboard Titanic 2, making it in effect a floating museum. But then I would ask, is that enough of a return on the price for a ticket?

    Ultimately, Titanic 2 has to compete in the modern cruise industry. I am not certain how what was originally designed as an emigrant ship, an ocean liner, can compete in today’s cruise industry. As the recent Carnival Triumph incident shows, the cruise ship public has little tolerance for unrealised expectations. When you break down the business numbers on what makes a cruise liner successful, it is difficult to see how a Titanic 2 — even with an additional deck devoted to modern pleasures — will find a sustainable niche, despite the uniqueness of her appeal. As an engineer, I am accustomed to designing to meet function, not trying to fit function into a design that was meant for other purposes.

    But, who I am to say? My opinion was not solicited, my formal proposals have been ignored. People smarter than me have got it all figured out without my help, although I do wish that they hadn’t copied my material to help make their brochure.

    • Unfortunately, I have to agree. What made TITANIC memorable was her FATE, not the ship HERSELF, no matter HOW great or luxurious she was. How many people outside us ship & liner devotees remember the OLYMPIC? What about the BRITANNIC (II)? ALSO sunk, but nobody made a movie about HER…correction, there WAS ONE movie made about her. But even THEN it was promoted as a “movie about the sister ship of the TITANIC”. I myself knew nothing about her for YEARS. The most I had ever seen in print about her was 1 1/2 pages in John Maxtone-Graham’s “The Only Way To Cross” (I actually wrote a 60-page article about BRITTANIC (II) back in the ’90′s, but Charlie Haas rejected it as “too long”- he wanted something no more then 40 pages, because he felt burned by the negative reaction to the multiple-journal Ismay history). Everybody has heard of the LUSITANIA; but what person ouside the “fraternity” could tell you something about the MAURETANIA? The ANDREA DORIA-same thing. Is the CRISOFORO COLOMBO (sp?) well-known? The fact is that, unless you’ve been at this for a while, chances are your knowledge of ocean liner history is very limited if you’re part of the “general public”. TITANIC is known because of her history. If she had arrived in port, she would be forgotten today.

      TITANIC has received a canonization today because of her fate. It’s as simple as that.

  4. I just don’t see it happening. I followed the similar efforts back in the days following Cameron’s flick (by the way, I refer to it as “Jack & Rose on the Leaky Love Boat” MYSELF), and didn’t take any of them seriously. Sure enough, none of them materialized. And THAT was when TITANIC interest was at an all time high, 15+ years ago. It’s not 1997-98 anymore. The peak of interest just isn’t there now. I believe Palmer’s project is the farthest any of them has progressed, but until there’s a real live ship that I can see with my own eyes & touch with my own hand I’ll be a doubter.

    I myself don’t oppose the idea of a “TITANIC 2″ personally, but where I have the problem is, truly how much of a replica could she BE? We all know a ship like TITANIC (the original) couldn’t possibly be built today. The steel used is probably not up to modern standards; Of course the lifeboat situation would never fly. Would TITANIC II have coal-fired boilers with stokers shovelling coal into her furnaces? I somehow doubt it. What about the lack of Internet & TV? Cruise passengers have come to accept that today. So, it’s simply not feasable to build an exact copy…No, it’s IMPOSSIBLE. So what’s the point? What’s there in building a ship that basically is similar to the original only in that she has 4 funnels, and a similar exterior appearance? I don’t see Palmer duplicating the original’s interiors. I don’t care HOW much money he has, recreating period furnishings, much of it hand-crafted, would seem to me would cost ASTRONOMICAL amounts of money (and for that matter, I don’t see the Chinese constructing a ship on the order of quality of Harland & Wolff’s work). Like I said, as a 30+ year TITANIC historian, I don’t have an objection per se to a replica being BUILT, I just don’t think it’s possible. I’m sorry, but until 2016 rolls around, I’ll just continue to be a skeptic.

  5. It’s difficult to deny the financial aspect of “every book written about the Titanic…, every movie made about her, every artifact exhibit, ever speaker’s presentation, every model kit manufactured”, etc., etc., but: the intent to make some profit doesn’t necessarily _prevail_ in these listed items, the desire to ‘grab some cash’ is not absolutely dominant there.
    I don’t see anything wrong in the Author’s intention to cover his material expenses since I know the actual price of this. The work must be rewarded, decidedly! But only the Hi-quality, worthy and honest work, and not the one which is impregnated with the spirit of gain initially, screaming in your face in the clear language: ‘I’m a totally commercial project!’

    Some people say naively: ‘He’s already a billionaire, so he doesn’t need to get more profit’ (implying that the TII project is therefore automatically pure, romantic and greed-free). Like fun. He became a billionaire exactly because his greediness & acquisitiveness are boundless! Or bottomless, to say it more relevantly.

    As an esthetician I take the liberty to claim that TII has very little to do with the original ‘Ship of Dreams’ (at least, as far as I can judge from the officially published draft plans and images). That TII is like a grotesque hybrid and a floating monster, rather than the original ‘Floating Palace’; a shipbuilding Frankenstein which is closer to the modern-day cruise-ship design than to those graceful Edwardian lines.

    Having as much money as he has, there are many more opportunities to truly preserve the vintage beauty of the great ship and to honor the memory of the dead, than to create such a dummy.

  6. The point is simple (pardon for my bad English!). TII project, in my opinion, is aesthetically poor taste, an absolute distortion and desecration of the glorious H&W traditions. It is nothing more than a hybrid Titanic-shaped Chinese counterfeiting, a floating circus and advertising of his ego.

    Of course, we all – the members of international fanatic community devoted to the Titanic, I mean, – we dream to get on board the legendary ship, to admire her interiors, to walk her decks and to touch her in reality. What one can do to make such dream come true (esp. if this one is a billionaire)?

    One of the possible scenarios (but slightly less profitable, maybe): to build up a full-scale, 100% accurate (down to the minute details) replica of the ship – but not navigable. An eternally moored museum like QM.
    That would be the true memorial! There would be the excursions for the visitors (to educate the masses) and much more useful educational programs…

    This is what could be done (for example) if he really would have loved the Titanic (but not himself and not money, primarily).

  7. As is obvious from the content of my initial post, I disagree with you, Eugene; however, you have the right to give voice to your opinion with the confidence that it will be allowed to be heard. Since our views on the Titanic II are diametrically opposed, I believe this is one of those classic “we must agree to disagree” scenarios, as there is no “right” or “wrong” answer here–opinions, by definition are entirely subjective and so don’t lend themselves to such absolutes. I will make the observation that the court of public opinion within the Titanic community will be the ultimate arbiter of which of our two views is preferred. There will always be a segment of that community which will shun the Titanic II, the question that will only be answered by time and experience is whether or not that segment is in the minority, and if it is, how large or small it will be. Setting aside the Titanic II for the moment, let me say thank you for your posts and your input. Please don’t be a stranger here in the future!

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