Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster

Steven Biel, Author
Steven Biel, Author W. W. Norton & Company $25 (300p) ISBN 978-0-393-03965-8
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Paperback - 300 pages - 978-0-393-31676-6
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-0-393-34139-3
Paperback - 300 pages - 978-0-393-34080-8
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Another book on the Titanic, but this one deals not with how the great ship went down but rather with the disaster as a cultural icon and how, from the very beginning, in 1912, it has been used to promote all manner of ideological positions. Biel's tone is sometimes stiffly academic, sometimes almost playful, but his curiosity, fortified by a good deal of inspired research, has produced a new look at an old story that is both entertaining and instructive. The first half deals with the immediate reaction to the sinking. Feminists and anti-feminists fought over the meaning of the traditional naval call of ""women and children first"": Did it reflect chivalry? Or the infantilization of women? Socialists used the sinking to attack the excesses of capitalism. The vessel surfaced in folk music, especially in the black community, where an entire genre of sometimes ribald verses about a black crew member named Shine flourished. The second half of the book deals with how the Titanic's story has been preserved. Biel (Independent Intellectuals in the United States, 1910-1945) examines films (including a Nazi propaganda movie), novels (Danielle Steel, Clive Cussler) and music (even Bob Dylan) and spends a good deal of time on Walter Lord's A Night to Remember, as a book (1955), TV show (1956) and film (1958). Biel concludes his provocative social history with a look at various clubs formed by Titanic enthusiasts and at efforts to exploit the wreckage of the ship. Photos. (Oct.)
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