One man’s tragedy is another man’s amusement

By Karsten Burgstahler

A steerage ticket to ride on the Titanic cost $172 to $460 in today’s dollars.

For a fraction of that cost, audiences will soon be able to simulate the horror a steerage family felt when they realized there were not enough lifeboats for everyone.

The Seven Star Energy Investment Group, run by CEO Su Shaojun, expects to open a landlocked Titanic theme park in China in 2016. The centerpiece will be a $165 million replica of the boat, complete with a simulation of the moment the boat hit an iceberg on a frigid evening in April 1912.


“When the ship hits the iceberg, it will shake, it will tumble,” Su said in a Reuters article. “We will let people experience water coming in by using sound and light effects … They will think, ‘The water will drown me, I must escape with my life.’”

However, more than one thousand people died on the Titanic. That is not fiction. There is no glossing over it.

In 1997, James Cameron made millions off his retelling of the tragedy. However, movies can convey a message that will simply be lost in the mix of a theme park. Cameron examined the hubris of the men who thought they’d built a ship even God couldn’t sink, and their slow realization they had failed. He showed the perfect storm of events that led to the crash. He showed reverence to the event.

Oddly enough, Bernard Hill, who played Captain Edward Smith in Cameron’s film, showed up at the press conference to christen the new “boat.” He vehemently defended the project and claimed he had received no compensation to shill for the park, but said his flight and hotel were paid for, according to Reuters. Nevertheless, Hill’s presence further suggests people are more interested in a highly dramatized version of the sinking, not the historical event itself. And while Cameron’s film is impressive, it was disappointing that much of the hype around the movie (at least, from a loud screaming audience of teenagers) was Leonardo DiCaprio and the one scene where Cameron manages to slide in some “historical nudity.”

So where is the line drawn between art and schlock? In the case of the Titanic, it is where the greater message of remembrance and understanding gets lost in pursuit of a thrill. It would be stupid to suggest Cameron didn’t produce the movie to create a modern epic; the man is driven by his ego and loves his wide shots of the ship sinking as well as the constricted shots of water flooding through the hallways. But that is not the primary reason his film exists.

It is, however, the primary reason this attraction exists.

To be fair, Shaojun said the attraction would also feature a museum dedicated to the event. But that seems like it is there only to placate those who argue against the replica’s existence. Shaojun is clearly focused on the visceral experience above all, and it is uncomfortable to suggest anyone else will get a thrill out of seeing the waves crash toward him or her.


There are all kinds of ideas waiting to be adapted in ride form, ones that don’t require tourists to step into a moment that actually happened. Hell, show some creativity and develop a new storyline for once.

The loss of human life is not something to be taken lightly, and the problem with this Titanic attraction really boils down to respect. A simple way to show it is to not turn a watery grave into an exit toward a gift shop.

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE, or 536-3311 ext. 273.