The Unsinkable Ship

Opinion | Vienna Review | May 2012

If anyone was looking for a good movie to watch on Sunday 15 April, there was little to choose from. A documentary on the sinking of the Titanic, the James Cameron film Titanic, the 1953 Hollywood version, the 1958 docudrama A Night to Remember, a recent documentary on the wreckage of the Titanic, interviews with survivors...  What is it about this story that resonates with cinema and TV audiences?

The idea of a sinking ocean liner conjures up our fears about dependency: The fear of having to rely on someone else’s judgement in the middle of the formidable, and ever-changing ocean. Not unlike the global financial markets, where we trust our livelihoods to banks and creditors for safekeeping, just as formidable, and before we know it someone has missed the signals and Crash! We look on in awe as the reality of the damage unfolds.

Sound familiar?

There is a famous scene in most of the films, in which the Capitan explains that there are not enough lifeboats for all the passengers. "It would have looked too crowded," he explains.  The designer points out that with four water-tight compartments damaged, it can still float.  Not five, of course, but that could never happen.

In the 2010 documentary The Inside Job, George Soros compares markets to an oil tanker in which compartmentalization prevents the oil from sloshing around and capsizing the boat.  "And after the Depression," Soros explains, "regulations actually introduced these watertight compartments. And deregulation has led to the end of compartmentalization." When something is unsinkable, or  "too big to fail", why even contemplate lifeboats? Or a safety net? [see George Soros's commentary in the Nov. 2011 TVR]

And no matter what, never admit anything is wrong, which is why the band at the Federal Reserve kept playing even after March 2009, when Ben Bernanke finally admitted there was a problem.

Isn’t it time someone behaved like the "unsinkable Molly Brown", fighting to save every life possible, and less like Benjamin Guggenheim who, when asked to get into a life boat is said to have replied, "No, thank you. We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down as gentlemen."

But if the Titanic story resonates with so many, it is perhaps because it was an avoidable tragedy. Which is what we hope for the euro crisis. Because if we are on the Titanic, a lot of us will inevitably go down with the ship.


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