In this episode I take a look at the alternative/conspiracy theories about the sinking of the Titanic, in the context of mass trauma events and disaster capitalism. I look at the theory that the Titanic was switched for its sister ship, the Olympic, and that it was the Olympic that actually sank in April 1912. I suggest a way of potentially resolving the mystery, as well as critiquing the mainstream and alternative media coverage of disasters. I also announce an exciting project that is coming soon.
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Sky Conspiracies episode on the Titanic
National Geographic special on the sinking of the Titanic
White Star Line complains about Titanic movie
List of most expensive films of all time
In this episode I want to do something a little different. I am not going to take a position on the Titanic conspiracy theories but instead I want to look at their existence as a phenomenon in itself, as a lesson regarding similar events. But before we get into all that, let’s get everyone on the same page. Some of you listening will know about these theories, some will not. I have been speaking to some friends about this recently and most of them had never heard of the alternative theories about the sinking of the Titanic so I imagine that for some of you this will be new material.
The basic theory is that the ship that sank in the Atlantic in April 1912 was not the Titanic, but its sister ship the Olympic. The Olympic had been seriously damaged in an accident, so the story is that it was swapped for the Titanic, the crippled Olympic was sent out into the ocean and deliberately sunk so the company could collect the insurance value of a brand new ship, and keep the real brand new ship in service for decades as the Olympic.
Was it the Titanic, or the Olympic?
To give you some of the details I’m going to play a clip for you from the Sky show Conspiracies, presented by Danny Wallace. This is essentially Sky’s version of the BBC’s Conspiracy Files, following a usual pattern of either directly trying to debunk conspiracy theories, or of being a bit sneaky and appearing sympathetic to a theory for the first half of the show before turning it all around by the end. That is what this episode does, and the whole thing is about 45 mins long, on youtube, link in notes. Clip I’m going to play is the whole first segment of the show, about 14 minutes long.
So you get the picture, there was an obvious motive, there was an opportunity to switch the ships, and it seems there have been these rumours about the Titanic and Olympic being switched ever since the Titanic set sail. Now, while this Sky Conspiracies show from 2004 ends up refuting and denying the insurance fraud ship switch theory, a National Geographic special from 2009 called Titanic: How It really Sank very much pursues this theory and encourages the audience to believe it.
I do recommend this show, it’s quite a good watch, essentially it’s a docudrama, some parts presenting evidence and theories but also some parts reconstructing dialogues that did take place during the inquiries into the sinking of the Titanic, but also other dialogues that might have taken place between people involved in the cover up. This documentary is particularly good on the role of the possible rescue ship the Californian and whether the plan to sink the ship was actually bungled and it wasn’t intended that so many people would die.
The Titanic Cover Up
And there was a coverup, no one got blamed for well over 1000 people being killed, no one was held responsible, no hard questions were asked, the insurance was paid out in a matter of days, it was just like 9/11 in some respects. But that does not, of course, add up to it being just like 9/11 in other respects. And this is what I want to get across to you – in a lot of ways I really don’t care whether the Titanic was really the Olympic and this was a massive insurance fraud. I do care that a load of people got killed, either by massive greed and negligence or just because it they got on the wrong boat. What particularly interests me about this is the way this disaster has been exploited from every angle – the conspiracy theories being only one part of that, but a useful and interesting part to think about.
For example, the fact that the shipping company that owned the Titanic and Olympic was itself owned by JP Morgan (the man himself, not just the bank) will convince many people that it is more likely that this event was a horrific mass murder for insurance fraud. Why? There is no logical reason to think like that. If we take a more nuanced approach, and ask the question whether we think the people involved could actually do this, I mean morally, psychologically, are they the sorts of people who can do such things and not feel guilty and have to confess? Are they either complete bastards or full blown psychos? In the case of JP Morgan, of course the answer is yes.
So in answering that specific question of could JP Morgan have been involved in this, was he the right sort of person to plan this sort of event, the answer is yes. But that doesn’t make it any more likely that the overall theory is true. These are important distinctions that hardly anyone makes when broaching this sort of stuff. What question are you really asking or answering? Important to bear that in mind.
Moreover, I think that this is like a lot of big disasters in that there’s often an element of mystery than is never resolved, and never can be resolved. Or at least, no one shows any interest in resolving it because there’s too much money to be made keeping people in a state of lacking resolution, a state of needing more information which you then provide to them like a drug. In the case of the Titanic, both the mainstream and the alternative media have done this, though in truth the alt media hasn’t really explored this story that much.
How to Prove whether it was the Titanic or the Olympic
Often, if people really wanted to resolve these things, then they could. One test springs to mind that as far as I know no one has even tried to carry out. If the ship switch theory is true, then the Olympic was so badly damaged in the collision with the royal navy ship that the keel was bent and the ship had a permanent tilt to the left. Witnesses on the Titanic said that it also had a list to port, suggesting that the two ships were one and the same.
However, if that’s true then the real Titanic, now rebranded as the Olympic, should have no such tilt or list, and since it was in service for decades after the Titanic sunk, there should be hundreds if not thousands of witness accounts that could explain whether it had a list or not. If it did, then it probably was the real Olympic. If it didn’t, then it probably wasn’t. That’s how I’d try to solve this thing, if I was interested in solving it. But I’m not, I don’t have the time, I don’t care enough to do the work. I’m just saying, this is how you could solve it if you wanted to, but it seems to me that no one has bothered to do this.
So, the Titanic has become like so many disasters, from the Korean ferry to the Malaysian flight that was blown up over the Ukraine, to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, it is an unresolved mass trauma. Not just for the people directly involved, though for them it must be even tougher, but for the watching audience as well. And while the individual events don’t have that much impact on the individual lives of people who are not directly involved or affected, the cumulative effect is enormous.
And it’s important to emphasise this – the alternative media is no different to the mainstream when it comes to peddling this crap. The alt media were all over MH17, feeding into people’s temporary obsession over it before dropping it like a bucket of shit for whatever the next big story is.
I could highlight individual examples, particular videos that had especially shameless, attention seeking titles but it isn’t really about individual people or individual bits of media, it’s about the way the alt media caters to people’s desire to be shocked by things that aren’t really threatening to them, to cater to their addiction to these mass trauma events. Why even do a show on MH17 when the reality is that you don’t have a fucking clue what happened, other than to feed into this addictive and therefore very profitable mindset? And this applies across the board, from the outright fear pornographers like Alex Jones to the more credible people like James Corbett – everyone tried to exploit the MH17 disaster to drive hits to their websites and thus scoop up potential donors and subscribers. No one contributed any genuinely original research or investigation. Everyone just dropped the MH17 issue and moved on to something else once they had got what they wanted out of it. I can guarantee you that none of these alt media ‘journalists’ as they like to call themselves, will revisit MH17 now it is no longer a magnet for people’s attention. And if they don’t, that proves they don’t really give a shit.
Another somewhat different example is the Madelaine McCann case – the story of a very young girl who disappeared while on holiday in Portugal. It was obvious from the get go that her parents were lying about what had happened, and they then set up a charity to milk money out of traumatised people who thought the more they donated, the higher the chance this kid would one day be found. Here we are, several years later and of course the kid has not shown up, she’s almost certainly in a hole in the ground and will never be seen again.
Even back when this story was first in the news, a lot of people said they thought that the parents were liars, that they’d probably killed the child themselves whether by negligence or deliberately. Just like with the Titanic ship switching insurance fraud idea, this was part of the conversation from the very beginning. And yet this last year the alt media temporarily went batshit for this story again, all because a man called Richard Hall, who presents a TV show from a computer generated spaceship that is supposedly floating over the earth and has a long history of talking absolute bollocks, did a special all about the Madelaine McCann story. This is how easy it is to hook people in the alt media scene these days – just give them some trauma, pretend to investigate it when your research amounts to a couple of days on google and youtube, and then make out like you’re some sort of fucking hero.
Ancient Greek Gods – Titans, Olympians
But getting back to the Titanic, there is one other angle that I haven’t seen investigated to any significant extent, and that is the symbolic nature of the ships names. Because there were in fact three nearly identical ships, the Olympic, named after Mt Olympus, the home of the ancient Greek Gods and of course the origins of the Olympics, then there was the Titanic, named after the Titans (and Titanesses) who were the pantheon of deities, the gang of gods essentially, who came before the Olympian Gods. Olympian Gods are Zeus, Aphrodite, Hermes, Apollo, Ares, that bunch, the Titans are Cronus, Atlas, Prometheus, that lot. The third ship in the series, the Brittanic, named after Brittania, the Roman name for Britain who became embodied as a deity who looks an awful lot like a female version of Poiseidon who is an Olympian God and the son of Rhea, a Titan.
Given that the Titans were gods who fell, gods who became demi-gods, it is curious that of the three ships the one that sank was the one named after the Titans (and Titanesses). It is also rather strange that a book predicted the sinking of the Titanic – Futility or The Wreck of the Titan. Here the ship is explicitly named Titan, it was also a gigantic supposedly unsinkable ship that sunk after hitting an iceberg on an April night in more or less the same place that the real Titanic sunk fourteen years later. So if anyone knows of any serious research or analysis into these dimensions of the Titanic mystery, then please do tell me because I would be interested in reading or watching that.
Disaster Capitalist Cinema
There is of course the 1997 James Cameron film that ritualistically reproduced the sinking of the Titanic – right down to actually building a sodding great replica of the real ship and then sinking it. This film was at the time the most expensive film ever made, and is one of the highest grossing films if not the highest grossing film of all time. But there’s something a little odd about this.
To be fair, James Cameron does have a history of making very expensive films. Avatar being the most recent, but even going back further at the time both Terminator 2 in 1991 and True Lies in 1994 set new records for how much they cost to make. However, so did Total Recall in 1990 so the recurring factor in that particular period seems to be Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But according to the list on Wikipedia, which is as reliable as any for this sort of thing, True Lies in 1994 cost $100 million, then the following year Waterworld cost $172 million, and of course is known as one of the biggest flops of all time. So why, in a climate where watery epics must have been considered a little risky, was James Cameron given $200 million, twice as much money as he’d ever had before, to make a movie that wasn’t anything like his previous films? This is a man who made the Terminator films, Aliens and True Lies. All four quite similar films, not least because Arnold Schwarzenegger is in three of them and he’s obviously quite a limited actor. So why did he get given all this money to make some soppy adolescent love story come watery disaster epic where everyone knows how its going to end before they even walk into the cinema?
Seems like a dubious proposition to me. But then, we have to factor in other things. Like the fact that the Titanic disaster story has been great business from the word go. The first film on the Titanic came out within weeks. Many more followed, including the 1929 film Atlantic, which also revolves around a love affair on board the thinly-fictionalised Titanic. I will link up a document from an executive for the White Star Line who clearly wasn’t happy about this film production.
Also the 1943 Nazi Propaganda film Titanic, the 1958 film A Night to Remember which used special effects sequences from the 1943 Nazi film, of course the 1997 James Cameron version and the 2010 movie Titanic II, which was distributed by The Asylum. The Asylum specialise in low budget mockbusters, rip offs of big Hollywood movies that are often quite entertaining, though I admit I have not seen Titanic II so I don’t know whether to recommend it because some of The Asylum’s films are quite, quite awful.
Alongside that you have all these commemorative postcards – most of which are using pictures of the Olympic, not the Titanic, documentaries – using video of the Olympic and not the Titanic – and all kinds of plastic replica toot and other spin off products. So maybe all this helps to explain why James Cameron, a man who specialised in having Arnold Schwarzenegger blow things up, was given all this money to torture us with 90 minutes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Celine Dion, and then entertain us with 90 minutes of genuinely quite good boat sinking sequences. Before briefly returning to the romance plot that by that point really doesn’t matter because a fucking huge boat just sank. And after all the studio executives were right – Titanic made buckets of money. So what’s the lesson here?
I think the lesson is that disaster capitalism works. If we assume for the sake of argument that the Titanic and Olympic were switched and that the Titanic was sunk deliberately, then JP Morgan and the rest of them made loads of money by destroying this fantastic piece of engineering, by destroying this wealth that had been created. Even if that isn’t what happened, when James Cameron and the rest of them made a replica of the Titanic and then deliberately sunk it, they too made loads of money purely because they bothered to capture it on film. Disaster capitalism works, and nowhere does it work better than with mass trauma events. And herein lies one of the major oversights and failures of the free market advocates – they pretend like disaster capitalism doesn’t work, as though deceiving people and getting them addicted to things that are bad for them isn’t a really good, well established and well refined way to make money and control people. And it doesn’t depend on government regulation or any of the other things free market advocates try to use as their excuse for why their utopia would somehow escape this problem – James Cameron did not need the government in order to destroy a giant ship and make massive amounts of money doing it. The cold, hard truth is that in so many instances it is actually easier to make money by destroying things than by creating them.
And that is why I refuse to be a part of this, I refuse to be a part of getting people addicted to unsolvable riddles so that they will pay me to tell them what to think about it. Not only that, I will do things like this where I give up my time to explain this to other people, for free, and warn them, warn you listening, to avoid become addicts for disaster capitalism. Because they can’t do these things without your co-operation. Well, they can, but it’s a lot harder if you don’t go along with it.