Who doesn’t love a great story? Particularly one that tugs at our sense of nostalgia, sorrow for senseless tragedy and desire for a new beginning? It seems our particular modern brand of instant-access news media is built on sharing stories we all want to read, whether it be salacious and outrageous on the one hand or wholesome and interesting on the other hand – and it’s that latter type of “feel-good” story I wish to discuss today.
The story making the rounds the last few days is that Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, known down under as an iron ore magnate and politician, will be building a replica of the Golden-Age steamliner R.M.S. Titanic (what sank horribly in the bitterly cold north Atlantic one April night in 1912 after hitting an iceberg, killing roughly 1,500 mostly-not-brown people.) This successor is set to launch some time in 2018 and is supposed to be a faithful reproduction (but with enough lifeboats, modern safety technologies/design and, presumably, without the same cheap-ass steel that helped sink the original Titanic.) The story has struck a chord in the West precisely because the Titanic tale is still so well-known and loved (so much so that we’re about due for yet another Titanic film any day now!)
Seriously, it seems as if the popular culture knows and cares more about the Titanic story than the much more significant and deadly tragedy that happened just a few years later. (And just to prove that’s true, the above image is actually the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I, not the sinking of the Titanic.)
While everybody is going primate-poopy over this throwback news item and buying into it, hook, line and (pun alert) sinker, I’m convinced it’ll never happen. The basis of my skepticism? The first point that several of the articles and discussion on radio, television and social media seem to be neglecting is this ambitious plan was announced in April 2012 (on the hundredth anniversary of the original Titanic’s maiden voyage) and was originally scheduled to launch this year.
The 2018 date is a revised postponement. Workers for the Chinese shipbuilder slated to construct the thing have stated the idea was never more than a proposal and little real work has been done to build an actual ship. And even checking the Website of the project shows (as of this writing anyways) no meaningful news updates since September 2013.
Maybe it’s still held up in the design phase? (Pic hosted at YouTube)
Now admittedly, none of this means the Titanic II project won’t move forward from here. Oftentimes a big press release is just what something in development hell needs to get reignited. But I decided to do a little more digging into the man behind the venture. And from what I’ve found of Clive Palmer, his track record on such ambitious ventures (outside of digging giant holes in the Australian desert for ore) is dodgy at best.
Case in point: As if raising the Titanic weren’t enough, Clive Cussler (sorry, Palmer) announced a bid to build an animatronic Jurassic Park on his Coolum Beach, Queensland golf resort. Billed as the “world’s largest dinosaur park,” this project was opened in December 2013, and the verdict from the community and visitors was a collective “meh.” Regardless of the reception it received initially, however, having a bunch of robotic dinosaurs rampaging down his professional links didn’t very much impress the Australian PGA, who pulled the championship tournament from his resort where, until the Jurassic invasion, it had been hosted. One local council member noted that putting the 18th hole with a giant T-rex standing overhead reminded him of the movie Happy Gilmore; “It’s quite bizarre.” Not content with shooting himself in the foot with the dino folly, Palmer was later involved in a dispute where he allegedly locked out the owners of homes on his resort.
Presumably so he could properly house his mechanical therapod minions? (source: news.com.au)
Palmer’s penchant for dreaming big and playing by his own rules has also destroyed his tenure as owner of a premier league soccer team. The Australian newspaper reported in February 2012 that Palmer was kicked out of the Football Federation Australia for “flagrant violations” of the A-League’s rules. One to take the governing body’s decision with grace (and in no way missing the point of ‘sour grapes’) he reportedly responded that he “doesn’t even like soccer.”
No, apparently he likes dinosaurs! And boats! Maybe he’d like dinosaurs on boats? (via ToySwill.com)
So what does all this mean? With regard to Titanic II, (pun alert again) don’t hold your breath. Again, I could be wrong about it, but given his history of general fuckoffery, I remain dubious. The cynical analysis is this publicity is all a ploy to gin up some easy VC which will be promptly squandered. I’d personally be very worried if the ship were actually built, because I once saw a prescient documentary presenting a very plausible scenario for (pun critical mass reached) how it could all go down. It was called, appropriately enough, Titanic II and was produced by The Asylum; a studio known for their excellent production qualities, original stories, brilliant casting and beautiful set designs. (Check out this shit for EMM’s commentary on this masterpiece of cinema!)
If Palmer does ever build this thing, I nominate renaming “Titanic II” to “Futility II.” (image from The Asylum)
The takeaway to me, however, is not whether Palmer ultimately builds the Titanic II. Rather the more fascinating thing is everyone and their aunt Gertrudes losing their collective shit over this. Several reputable (and not so reputable) news outfits have gone all in, reporting this as pretty much certain and evidently not doing the five minutes or so of Google searching I did to find out about this guy. Few of the articles mentioned the delays up to this point. None mentioned his sordid history of semi-failure. And I could only find one article out there from Jalopnik calling out-and-out bullshit on this entirely.
Do we really want this to be true so badly that journalistic rigor goes right down the shitter? Or does something like this mostly harmless story simply not warrant what tiny amount of due diligence is left in the struggling news business? Who really knows, but if you’re a presstitute person, please weigh in in comments or email – I demand answers!
If, in the end you’re just one of those people who would like to experience a bit of a bygone era, don’t waste your time waiting around for some wingnut billionaire to probably never build a replica of an over-century-old ship design. You can book a transatlantic passage today on the luxurious Queen Mary II! You’ll be re-enacting your own “I’m flying Jack” scenes before you know it! Bon voyage!