DOWN WITH THE OLD CANOE
A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster
WW Norton & Company - 2003
An immensely readable, provocative, and entertaining exploration of the Titanic as cultural icon.
"I suggest, henceforth, when a woman talks women's rights, she be answered with the word Titanic, nothing more, just Titanic," wrote a St. Louis man to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He was not alone in mining the ship for a metaphor. Everyone found ammunition in the Titanic, suffragists and their opponents; radicals, reformers, and capitalists; critics of technology and modern life; racists and xenophobes and champions of racial and ethnic equality; editorial writers and folk singers, preachers and poets.
Protestant sermons used the Titanic to condemn the budding consumer society ("We know the end of... the undisturbed sensualists. As they sail the sea of life we know absolutely that their ship will meet disaster."). African American toasts and working-class ballads made the ship emblematic of the foolishness of white people and the greed of the rich. A 1950s revival framed the disaster as an "older kind of disaster in which people had time to die." An ever-increasing number of Titanic buffs find heroism and order in the tale. Still in the headlines ("Titanic Baby Found Alive!" the Weekly World News declares) and a figure of everyday speech ("rearranging deck chairs..."), the Titanic disaster echoes within a richly diverse, paradoxical, and fascinating America.