Commenting on the captain of the capsized cruise ship Costa Concordia who abandoned the ship too soon, The Guardian (January 24) recommended more modern morals than those that prevailed during Shakespeare’s times:
“Alcoholics Anonymous has the phrase: ‘Fake it till you make it.’ If you want to become a different sort of person, first act like you are, and the acting will eventually transform you. Pretend to be the person you want to be and you will end up becoming more like that person.
“This cuts right against the grain of familiar assumptions that moral change comes from within, that the most important thing is expressing who you really are – ‘To thine own self be true,’ as Polonius puts it in Hamlet. From this perspective, an honest confession of our own weakness – our lack of courage, for instance – becomes the only real expression of virtue. In other words, an emphasis on authenticity can easily become an alibi for a refusal of character development.”
Hardly had we recovered from watching scenes from the Italian cruise ship disaster that we learn there will another movie about the Titanic, written and directed by James Cameron. He had already written a 1997 version. Eight movies have been made about the Titanic, another eight featuring (whatever that may mean) the Titanic, and nine inspired by the Titanic.
What is the appeal? One explanation is that we are relieved that we have been spared – that we are watching other people’s agony. No doubt we also enjoy the suspense of waiting for the impact with the iceberg, and the suspense of learning who will, and who will not, be among the survivors.
There seems to be something deep within us that is thrilled by the experience of witnessing unexpected and undeserved mass – and individual – panic and suffering, and by the heroism of those who rescue the survivors.
It could be that disaster movies are a genre of their own, like war movies or horror movies and, of course, they invariably deal with love and death, a universal subject.
Disasters are tragedies, but not in the literary sense. To qualify as a Greek tragedy and its descendants, the main character is brought to ruin as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, hubris or inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances.
By that definition, the only tragic figure – in the case of the Italian ship – may be the captain who, by reason of a tragic flaw within him that we don’t yet know, seems to have been unable to cope with unfavourable circumstances.