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.

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15 Responses to “The Bermuda Triangle Century”

  1. SadhviSez Says:

    Prudence, I enjoyed your post! I want to be surprised as well. I hope it’s good.

  2. Louise G. Says:

    Thanks, Prudence, for perceptions, wit and history.
    The undisturbed, perhaps immovable, cruise ship provides daily photo ops
    of a folly, on many levels. A screaming captain’s wife saying “it’s not fair,” and a foolish captain saying “they made me do it,” while dwarfed divers look for soggy bodies. Who is in charge here? Where are the brains?

  3. Cathy Says:

    Prudence, you paint a picture so realistic and at the same time impressionistic of time and place. You transported me back to that Beverly Hills salon, where thanks to your savvy ways, you managed to get the entire staff of our boutique PR agency to sit adjacent to the rich and famous on Canon Drive. This latest fiasco with the cruise ship, just cements my feelings about cruises, they are dangerous on so many levels, and in my experience quite dull. But this new story, if it were to be a made for TV movie, would be far too unbelievable. Truth once again stranger than… And speaking of strange, I too wait and watch what will happen in the “triangle” of our times. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Conz Says:

    I’m with you on this, Pru. I wish I could muster up some new-agey belief that we’ve reached a critical mass toward a coming renaissance, but even my “EGBOK” optimism flags in face of what passes for politics in our country right now. The world portrayed in Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaids Tale, may be closer than we know. Gee-I hope I, too, am lucky enough to trip and find myself landed safely in a lifeboat.

  5. Jayme Says:

    Call me Pollyanna, but I thought the president’s state of the union address last night was hopeful and uplifting. Maybe I’m too naive.

  6. Carine Says:

    Excellent post, Prudence. You’re a great writer. It certainly does feel like we’ve fallen into that Bermuda Triangle of inconsequence. Only we can save ourselves!

  7. Breon Says:

    Love your writing, agree with your pessimistic conclusions in this, though I’m very sad to admit it–the Republican candidates seem to be foaming at the mouth with ever more vile, racist and ignorant comments, and look at the support they’re getting! Would love to hear you wax eloquent in person, but it’s lovely to at least be able to read your thoughts via blog.

  8. dearpru Says:

    Yes, I’ve let my pessimistic flag fly boldly; I felt compelled to do so even though it’s an unpopular action to take. But, many are thinking along these lines, yes? As we near the end of our personal march towards oblivion, a certain pessimism is natural–if one is a thinking, feeling person.

    There are those who give hope, however. President Obama’s State of the Union speech was the clarion call we all need to heed…however, how many of those who truly needed to bear witness to this great man and this most recent speech didn’t tune in, were unable to tune in or simply are so brainwashed that they couldn’t hear Obama even if he were standing right in front of them?

    And Mitch Daniels’ rebuttal was ridiculous, absurd and full of lies. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am OVER stooges like Daniels who carry water for the giant, trans-national corporations telling me anything. Whatsoever. He deserves a giant prune-whip pie in his oh-so-bland face. Maybe some of that shit he’s so full of will drain out of him–with a little urging from the prunes.

  9. Carla Says:

    Prudence, ever so brilliant, again a wonderful piece about our recent events.

    Regarding your “dearpru says” comment about Mitch DanielS, Brava! so eloquently said. Why do they allow a rebuttal from the other side? They sound as if they were in the room during the speech with their fingers in their ears ???

  10. rosemary Says:

    Incredible piece of writing. I could not agree with you more. I would add only one note: unless we, as global citizens, make substantial structural changes then we’re only moving deck chairs on the Titanic. That and, I went to Umberto too. Now I go to a small, inexpensive, down to earth boutique salon in Ocean Park in Santa Monica. Oh and, I hated that f—ing song by Celine Dion. Nails on a chalkboard. At least, if we’re heading towards an iceberg as a country, we have a president who can sing.

  11. Julie Lineberger Says:

    Brilliant, as always. And, I still have not seen “The Titanic”!

  12. tim Says:

    we are always living in the worst of times in america. it always feels that way, and then we look back with nostalgia at some lost halcyon decade, forgetting everyone then, too, thought we were going to hell in the proverbial handbasket (anyone know what a handbasket is, and how you get into one?)
    we may be on the verge of greatness, with breakthroughs in clean energy, cures for deadly diseases, the retirement of james cameron. as the great irish writer samuel beckett concluded one of his novels: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

  13. dearpru Says:

    Cathy, I would be remiss, if not a fraud, if I didn’t correct whose savvy ways had us in the hallowed halls of Umberto’s (where I once sat next to Cameron Diaz who attempted to hide her celebrity and her acne behind a Vanity Fair magazine). It was none other than PR maven Carolyn Campbell who managed that account for our little company over Rebecca’s. The fact that she let us all get primped, fluffed and coifed there is to her credit, not mine.

  14. Proinsias Faulkner Says:

    I always enjoy your writing, Pru. You never disappoint.
    All the best to you from the Philippines.

  15. dearpru Says:

    Proinsias! Again with the Philippines! Enjoy soaking up that vitamin D and I hope to see you again soon…we’re off to France this summer! Any chance you’ll be in Paris in late June?

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