Comfort Disasters


I realized I haven’t been watching those sciencey or history-ish channels that I used to. I’m not sure how that came about. It’s not like the sciencey or history-ish channels aren’t still there. I know we’re paying good money for the “Sorta Tier” of satellite TV channels. You know, the Kinda Nature Channel or the Plausibly Food Channel or Home Craftishness TV. These are great shows, stuff you can watch without ever quite paying attention and learn stuff. That stuff will be something like there was a deputy engineering inspector with a weird name who wasn’t listened to, but isn’t that something?

But I realized this today. I know why. My social media feeds, like most of yours, were full of how the 19th of April was the 106th anniversary of the first hearings into the sinking of the Titanic. Fun fact: all your friends passing around pictures of the Waldorf-Astoria, site of the hearings? They’re wrong! It was the old Waldorf-Astoria, the one they tore down to build the Empire State Building. It wasn’t at the same site. The Empire State Builders were having a giggle and can’t believe they got away with it.

Still, this is the time of year the sciencey history-ish channel would be full of shows about the sinking of the Titanic. And they’re great comfortable shows. They open by reminding us how the ship was called unsinkable, right to its face, if ships have faces. After the first commercial break the narrator asks us if the problem was some previously unidentified construction flaw. “Was the great ship doomed when its segmented compartments were, to save time, not riveted together but instead patched with Velcro, invented in 1941 by Swiss electrical engineer George de Velcro?”

A mechanical engineer with the job of being interviewed stands in front of a black backdrop. He explains how sometimes Velcro works great, but not so much before its own invention. Then on comes a Royal Navy officer who says the same thing, but uses different words. He stands in front of nautical junk left over from a Seafood Shanty restaurant. Those were great.

Around 14 minutes in there’s been enough of that. We bring on an entertaining fellow from an obscure university who uses his hands way too much. His point: from the iceberg’s point of view the Titanic rammed it. And we never hear about how many icebergs get sunk by ships each year. However, one of the engineers explains in a cutaway, most modern icebergs aren’t held together by Velcro. They only use it recreationally.

At the 24 minute mark there’s some footage of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire. The narrator concedes that this hasn’t got any bearing on the Titanic. But they had the footage thanks to a silent movie made to better exploit that tragedy, back then. And it would be a shame to let a solid good crime against human decency go to waste like that.

Then on to some grainy footage of people. They’re walking along the boardwalk and an amusement park we’re going ahead and assuming is Coney Island. The men are wearing 34-piece suits. The women wearing dresses sufficiently poofy that they can best get down steps by rolling. That’s how people went to amusement parks back then. Women never went up stairs. The narrator explains that due to changes in materials science what the people of 1912 considered acceptable metal for building ships would, today, be classified as store-brand diet pudding. All that held the Titanic together was how much embarrassment it would cause the company if it never amounted to more than a heap of components.

At about 48 minutes in they mention that guy. You know, the one who wrote that book about the ship with a name that was kind of like Titanic? And how the book in that ship — I mean the ship in that book, but I bet there were books on the ship in the book that sank — sank. They’ll point out how that guy achieved immortality and fame. They never ask what role he had in the iceberg.

They mention the sister ships Olympic and That Other One. There’s never talk about the father or the mother ship. Sometimes they discuss how being an orphan must have affected the ship growing up. I should pitch that one. If they’re still making those shows anymore. Like I say, I haven’t been watching the Kinda channels lately. I bet there’s a story there.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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