The Bermuda Triangle Century
January 24, 2012, by Prudence Baird
Prudence digs deep into an ocean of insight
In 1998, if you hadn’t seen The Titanic by week two of its release, you were in danger becoming marginalized; a social misfit unable to contribute to the main topic of conversation du jour—a shipwreck from 86 years before. Sheesh.
This brings me to chair number 18 at Umberto, a Beverly Hills über-salon where—for the right price—even nobodies like me can rub foiled locks with B-list celebrities.
David, my stylist and a dog show aficionado who could have walked straight (so to speak) out of Best in Show, was trying to ignore overtures from a buff young man in a tight black t-shirt sweeping up shorn locks from Umberto’s imported Italian marble floors.
But Muscles McSixpack said the magic word, “Titanic,” and conversation between the two men ramped up as if I weren’t there. I tried to signal my displeasure with various eyebrow moves, which is a near-impossible feat when peering out from under an awning of tin-foil shingles.
David was just dropping one of those behind-the-scenes tidbits (that he no doubt read in People magazine) when Muscles pursed his lips and covered his ears, “Ooo! Don’t tell me what happens in the end; I want to be surprised!”
David’s hands fluttered to a stop in midair over my head and he shot me a look in the mirror—a look that said, “You may be cute, Muscles, but you are a dunce.”
Who knew that 14 years later, and on the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, the Costa Concordia, an Italian luxury liner (if that’s what we can call a floating monstrosity jam-packed with tourists and low-paid help from former Iron Curtain countries), is listing; half-sunken after striking rocks just off the coast of Tuscany. What a bizarre homage.
It may be a reach to say that the Costa Concordia’s demise is in any way, shape or form connected to the Titanic disaster, but the all-too human habit of looking for patterns, especially those linked to anniversaries, is one we embrace. Stating that “today is the anniversary of…” or “150 years ago today, such-and-such happened” gives us a superficial grasp of issues and allows us to fill our Facebook pages and tabloids as well as our TV and radio talk shows with issues we don’t so much explore as exploit for their shock value.
But these snapshots of historical coincidences and frightening statistics do not serve to build an enlightened society any more than historical novels or feature films do justice to real human, legal and organic issues of former times. We must dig deeper.
If we held close the lessons of history, if we—everyday people as well as leaders—looked for patterns to help us predict—and thus avoid—disasters, couldn’t we have avoided the chain of events that has emblazoned the past 100 years with mass murder, mayhem and unprecedented environmental degradation?
What could have been a seminal century, a 100-year span that married the industrial revolution to the information age spawning enlightenment and the spread of knowledge, has instead degraded into the Bermuda Triangle Century.
The material lessons that should have abided seem to have disappeared into some mysterious ether that swallows facts and spits out feelings; feelings that can be used to manipulate the masses whose ability to access authentic reality (vs. reality TV) is an increasingly difficult task.
I don’t blame Muscles McSixpack for not knowing the Titanic sank to the bottom of a frigid sea. In 1998, he probably could have waxed eloquent on headline-grabbing Monica Lewinsky or shared juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits on the murder of comedian Phil Hartmann, both now forgotten players in the melodrama of the late ‘90s.
Meanwhile, what really mattered—the systematic dismantling of the U.S. Justice system, the purposeful disruption of the Clinton presidency by his opponents, the beginning of an unprecedented pick-pocketing of the middle- and working-classes by wealthy bankers and insurance corporations—lurked under the fog of inconsequentialities that has only thickened with players such as the Kardashians, the not-so-real reality shows, and opinion shows masquerading as news.
I’ve been alive for more than half of this past century, and I am not optimistic that we can turn this around. I hear Republican presidential hopefuls beat the war drums as they eye Iran; I listen to the belligerent crowds cheering vile, racist rhetoric at so-called Christian gatherings; I witness unparalleled hatred of the media, of the poor and the disenfranchised. What, I ask you, can come of this?
I think I’ll purse my lips and cover my ears. Don’t tell me where we’re headed. I want to be surprised.