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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

Way back in 1955, I read "A Night to Remember," Walter Lord's book about the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Titanic. I became an avid reader on the subject of the sinking of the ship on its maiden voyage in 1912.

I was still interested in the subject in 1986, when Lord's follow-up book, "The Night Lives On," came out after geologist Dr. Robert Ballard found the remains of the ship and photographed it in 13,000 feet of water, using a robot submarine.

I'm not a Titanic expert. Call me a "sort of" Titanic buff. I've studied it enough to believe that some experts make too much of the historical significance of the event. I don't believe, as many do, that it marked the end of the Victorian Era, for instance. That era in history would have faded away had the Titanic never sailed.

What fascinates me is the audacity of the ship's builder to proclaim mastery over nature in that the Titanic was "unsinkable." Technology had conquered the sea. The ship was so invincible that sufficient lifeboats weren't necessary, nor did the crew need much if any passenger-evacuation training.

So certain were the ship's officers of the Titanic's invincibility that warnings of dangerous icebergs ahead were ignored. Wrong-headed command decisions were made at almost every turn, which caused the needless death of 1,500 passengers.

It's the real-life drama played out by the passengers amid the decision-making process of the captain and crew that has fascinated me for so long.

As a "sort of" Titanic buff, I read with interest reports that a new Titanic movie was in the works. Then word surfaced that the movie might never be finished because it was far over budget. If actually finished, it might be the most expensive movie ever made.

Then it hit me; it was going to be another disaster movie. The money was being spent destroying the ship in Hollywood fashion, like it has destroyed trains, skyscrapers, entire cities, Air Force One, even the White House. The Titanic was next.

The movie did get released. Advance publicity indicated that the central plot would revolve around two fictional star-crossed lovers, not the real-life star-crossed heroes and villains who played out their roles that night in 1912.

I felt as I might feel if my all-time favorite novel, "East of Eden," were being made into a TV situation comedy starring the cast of "Baywatch."

The movie "Titanic" didn't sink, as some predicted. It has become the in thing. It's the all-time box-office moneymaker well over $1 billion and counting. It cleaned-up at the Academy Awards, except in acting categories.

It's a long movie, lasting almost as long as the Titanic itself. Some people, who may need to get a life, have seen it several times (one lady is reported to have seen it 15 times). Americans have fallen head-over-heels in love with this movie. It's the hula-hoop of the '90s.

Following in the wake (pun intended) of the movie hype, Titanic Mania is everywhere. There are as many Titanic books in bookstores as Princess Diana books and that's saying a lot.

In fact, Titanic Mania and Princess Di Mania converged recently when a necklace copied from one seen in the movie sold for $2.2 million at a fund-raising gala in California to benefit the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund. And an entire collection of high-dollar "Titanic"-inspired jewelry is selling like hotcakes in upscale jewelry stores.

Three Titanic books are on the "Trade" Best Seller list, and the 1955 and 1986 books by Walter Lord are both on the "Mass Market" Best Seller list. I'm surprised that some fast food chain isn't marketing a "Titanic Burger" (four beef patties, one for each smokestack) and giving out plastic replicas of the ship (iceberg not included) as prizes.

Titanic Mania reminds me of people who pay no attention to baseball pennant races, yet become rabid fans during the World Series.

The thing about hype-created frenzy is that it doesn't last. A new movie or something else will come along to mesmerize the public. Remember when mothers got into fist fights in stores over the last Cabbage Patch and Tickle Me Elmo dolls in stock? Titanic Mania will fade away. I'll still be a "sort of" Titanic buff.

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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