The good old days on the Titanic

Libby Anne has another post on the absurdity of Vision Forum. Here’s the thing: they have a crush on the Titanic. The Titanic – you know, the big new ship that sank ten minutes after it left the dock. It’s like having a crush on a plane crash, or a traffic jam. Transportation Love.

Well but you see what you’re not realizing is that the Titanic was totes Christian. Why? Because it was women and children first. Yes it was, my darling. So much so was it that the captain took the precaution of posing for pictures beaming down on sparkling little bourgeois children in the few hours before the ship sank, so that people afterwards would be able to know how Christian it all was, and rejoice.

See? Wasn’t it nice of him to pose that way before getting busy running the ship into the iceberg? Or actually I guess that’s after the ship hit the iceberg (obviously that’s the friendly iceberg itself over there in the background, hanging around sympathetically in case it can help) – he took time from his busy schedule to smile Christianly at little Miss Purity because he was a Man and a Christian so she and her doll were going to live while he was in for a cold dunking.

Now you might think he would actually be too busy to take the time to gaze pityingly at some little girl from Ohio and put her lifejacket on, but that’s just because you’re not Christian. Oh it’s all so beautiful and Christian and touching…how I wish I could have been there too, don’t you?

Not if you were in steerage you don’t. As usual, Libby supplies a picture from Underneath, too.


The whole thing is hilarious, except that this guy has a real effect on a lot of people’s lives. They take him seriously.


  1. says

    A more appropriate image:

    “The picture which presents itself before my eyes is that of the glassy, glaring eyes of the victims, staring meaninglessly at the gilded furnishings of this sunken palace of the sea; dead helplessness wrapt in priceless luxury…Everything for existence, nothing for life. Grand men, charming women, beautiful babies, all becoming horrible in the midst of the glittering splendor of a $10,000,000 casket!”

    –Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst, Madison Square Presbyterian Church of New York
    (As quoted in The Titanic–End Of a Dream by Wyn Craig Wade, 1979)

  2. says

    Their vision is so horrendously Orwellian that it’s funny. I imagine they think it must have been like that during Noah’s time, too:

    Men stepping aside as God lovingly envelops the women and children first in a warm bath of ocean currents, rays of sunlight dancing across ripples as they all relax, close their eyes to the sound of the sea, and dream, letting the deep blue waves carry them off on their ascent to Heaven.

  3. Michael Fisher says

    That R.M.S. Titanic Steerage Passengers [third class] photograph was taken by Frank Browne during the Titanic’s passage from Southampton to Ireland. At university he was a classmate of James Joyce, who featured him as Mr Browne the Jesuit in Finnegans Wake.

    Browne was studying Theology at Milltown Park in Dublin & his Uncle Robert (the Bishop of Cloyne) sent him a 1st class ticket for the first legs of the maiden voyage of the Titanic, sailing from Southampton to Cherbourg and then on to Queenstown (Cobh), Co Cork, Ireland. I’m not sure if he travelled from Dublin to Southampton just to pick up the Titanic, but It’s quite possible – it would be like an invite to watch the Apollo XI launch in ’69

    After the tragedy, Browne sold the photographs to newspapers all over the world & retained the negatives. The Jesuits still make money off the collection. Fr. Francis Browne, MC with Bar, Belgian Croix de Guerre SJ died in 1960 at the age of 80 !

  4. lordshipmayhem says

    George Bernard Shaw:

    What is the first demand of romance in a shipwreck? It is the cry of Women and Children First. No male creature is to step into a boat as long as there is a woman or child on the doomed ship. How the boat is to be navigated and rowed by babies and women occupied in holding the babies is not mentioned. The likelihood that no sensible woman would trust either herself or her child in a boat unless there was a considerable percentage of men on board is not considered. Women and Children First: that is the romantic formula. And never did the chorus of solemn delight at the strict observance of this formula by the British heroes on board the Titanic rise to more sublime strains than in the papers containing the first account of the wreck by a surviving eye-witness, Lady Duff Gordon. She described how she escaped in the captain’s boat. There was one other woman in it, and ten men: twelve all told. One woman for every five men. Chorus: “Not once or twice in our rough island history,” etc. etc.

    Yeah, women and children first.

  5. cpt banjo says

    “…the captain took the precaution of posing for pictures beaming down on sparkling little bourgeois children in the few hours before the ship sank…”

    That’s a pretty good trick, considering that the post claims that the ship “sank ten minutes after it left the dock.”

    Proofreading really is a lost art.

  6. noastronomer says

    and of course the picture might actually make some kind of sense if Captain Smith hadn’t essentially locked himself in his cabin after skillfully maneuvering the Titanic into the only obstruction within in a hundred square miles in an otherwise completely empty Atlantic ocean.

    Thereby avoiding the onerous task of handing out lifebelts to little girls. Or organizing the launching the life boats and making sure they were all filled adequately. Or knocking up a few makeshift life rafts from the acres of wood on board.

  7. Philip Legge says

    cpt banjo,

    <sophistimacated ship-sinkology>
    Your epistemology is so crude. It may not be literally true that the “ship that sank ten minutes after it left the dock” but it’s psychologically true. It’s the narrative of the ship immediately sinking after leaving the dock that resonates on a deep, meaningful level with the human soul. And it should be clear that “ship that sank ten minutes after it left the dock” is meant to be taken metaphorically.

  8. says

    Philip – heehee.

    And captain banjo – have you ever heard of “hyperbole”? I use it a lot. The ten minutes joke was hyperbole. I didn’t think I needed to say that.

  9. Michael Fisher says

    cpt banjo says: the post claims that the ship “sank ten minutes after it left the dock”

    I hadn’t noticed that. The wreck is 3,300km from Queenstown in the Republic of Ireland which was her last port of call. She didn’t ‘dock’ at Queenstown ~ due to her large size she anchored in open water & people were ferried to & fro.

  10. Philip Legge says

    Thanks, Ophelia — but I should give credit where it’s due, by admitting it was stolen, lock, stock, and barrel from Greta by way of her reflection on criticism such as your own, of the absurd Andrew Sullivan. (That Tiger thread is hilarious by the way: it’s like a gift that keeps giving.)

  11. sailor1031 says

    I wonder how poor old Captain Smith, who obviously still hasn’t been slagged enough, was able to pose for pictures on a ship whose lifebelts read “Titanic – 100-year anniversary”. Some strange quantum-relative woo going on? Or is it just another of those disgusting patriarchs leering at a little girl? Looks like he’d like to get her alone in a boat somewhere…..

  12. cpt banjo says

    Philip and Ophelia: I think the point could have been better made by simply referring to the Titanic as “unsinkable”; the absurdity of VF’s love affair with the ship would still have come across without the jarring contrast between the two descriptions of when it sank. But I’m no one’s editor, so go with whatever style suits you.

  13. Art says

    The irony is that the offered lifejacket, like religion, is entirely useless in this situation. If you went into the cold north Atlantic water and stayed for more than ten minutes you died from hypothermia. The lifejacket made spotting the corpse a little easier.

    Offering a useless artifact as sacrifice, the fact that the captain ignored warnings of icebergs, the lookouts were not allowed access to binoculars (the man with the keys to the locker was not on board), and the fact that steerage class passengers were locked below deck until it was too late, all parallel the role of religion in society of keeping people ignorant, blind, and keep the poor restrained.

  14. Flora Poste says

    Art – I agree. And the thing that makes it all such a perfect metaphor for Vision Forum’s brand of authoritarian Christianity and unbridled capitalism is the fact that J. Bruce Ismay, the shipping executive who 86’d 32 of the lifeboats originally specified in the design, got away in the second-to-last lifeboat. He was just too big to fail! Death from hypothermia is for the little people.

  15. sailor1031 says

    As some christian clergyman preached soon after the tragedy:
    “Where did this rule which prevailed in the sinking of the Titanic come from? It comes from God through faith of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the ideal of self-sacrifice. It is the rule that the strong ought to bear the infirmities of those that are weak. It is the divine revelation which is summed up in the words: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. . . .”

    Er no! It became the standard shipwreck procedure after the events of the sinking of HMS Birkenhead in the mid-nineteenth century. You will find little in the christian scriptures to support protection of women and children.

  16. lordshipmayhem says

    When they chart where and who the survivors were, the lowest proportion of men is from Second Class, and the percentage of crew that survived is higher than you’d expect – those who worked under the waterline knew how bad things were from early in the disaster.

    As far as brave Captain Smith goes, he actually shouldn’t have been Captain of this ship – he was supposed to be retired after his last voyage on Olympic. At any rate, his record is peppered with incidents that indicate he was quite reckless about marine danger. His orders that night, that they go through a known ice field at the fastest rate they had coal for, are not atypical of the man. That this is exactly what many another respected captain of his day would have done is not really an excuse in my opinion.

    After the collision, Captain Smith basically goes into a state of catatonia, accepting any suggestion from his officers, remaining on the by-then utterly useless bridge and doing nothing to actually lead. This appears to be a result of his never encountering anything like this emergency in all his years at sea – despite his pattern of reckless captaincy.

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