The Titanic’s 3D Centennial -
Rescuing Myth From History
By Gisela Wielki
The two Titanic events, the actual disaster in 1912 and the movie version in 1997, now reissued in 3D for the centennial, are like bookends of the twentieth century. The sinking of the great ship, hailed as “unsinkable,” became something of a harbinger for the imminent and greater twentieth-century disasters to follow: Revolution, World Wars I and II, the Holocaust, famines, the invention and use of the atomic bomb, new diseases, and other human tragedies
To move from the actual sinking of the unsinkable ship in 1912 to its retrospect in 1997 is to journey from reality to virtual reality. Some might call it instead a journey from truth to myth, in the sense that myth is merely illusion or fantasy. But a myth is also a tale that embodies a timeless truth, a story that—unlike history—maintains a continuous presence. It is perhaps this kind of myth that we have yet to extricate from the Titanic catastrophe, which shook the world at the beginning of the last century.
The Titanic was a social microcosm of nineteenth-century society, a society in which each individual could still feel more or less secure in his or her own social position and role in the world. At the end of the century that followed, little assurance or security of any kind remained, and now it is all too common to feel lost, unhinged from one’s moorings, afraid of capsizing or even being shipwrecked. At the close of the twentieth century, we knew that “trouble at sea” no longer allowed a simple return to safe and familiar harbors. We see a picture of the storm-tossed twentieth-century predicament itself in the final words of the Titanic’s captain: “Every man for himself!”
Some have characterized the sinking of the real Titanic as a kind of punishment for hubris, for placing too much faith in technology. In contrast, the movie has been praised for its depiction of love as stronger than death. Indeed, to a certain extent the Titanic film nourishes our deepest longings that this indeed be so, that perhaps heart’s warmth can melt the iceberg of our rational and calculating intellect. But today it is surely no longer a matter of choosing between cold and lifeless technology on the one hand and heart-warming feelings on the other, for indeed the time has come to compose the myths that will join head and heart together.
With respect to a new myth, sure to endure, the cry “Every man for himself” might refer to a new ship, though this time not a physical object or technological marvel that will carry us collectively, but rather that will bear us from the old world to the new as individuals. Such a ship can be built only out of individual initiative, but in its construction, each may hope to find his or her brothers and sisters united in a higher purpose, in a ship of life fit to carry us securely into the future of humanity.
Gisela Wielki (b. 1944) grew up in Stuttgart, Germany. After receiving her diploma in early childhood education, she spent a year in Chicago as a student teacher. She also spent 6 months working in a Camphill village for adults with special needs. In 1967 she entered the seminary of the Christian Community in Stuttgart and was ordained at the age of 26. “I wanted to work with people from the cradle to the grave and beyond, if possible.” Gisela was sent to work in the congregation in New York City in 1972. In 2002 she was appointed director of the newly founded Seminary of The Christian Community, first located in Chicago and since 2011 in Spring Valley, NY, 28 miles from New York City. www.christiancommunityseminary.org.