Neoliberal and Social Democratic Versions of History in James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ and Roy Baker’s ‘A Night to Remember’

Steve Cramer

Abstract


In cultural terms, representations of the foundering of the Titanic have, assumed the proportions of a socio-economic myth. Within academic circles the disaster has widely been seen as paving the way for the onset of literary modernism, shattering the myth of Victorian/Edwardian technological progress and challenging the hierarchical grand narratives of a golden age of mechanical achievement. The loss of the Titanic is often seen as prefiguring the First World War as the final act in the slow demise of the technologised utilitarian vision of speed and mechanical efficiency which characterised world economic growth since the late 18th century. But what also emerged from the disaster, and its subsequent inquiries, reportage and survivor accounts, was the inescapable issue of class. The hierarchical nature of the loss of life, with vastly disproportionate mortality among steerage passengers of the working or lower-middle classes, by comparison to the wealthy first class and comfortably-off second class passengers, has been inescapably inscribed upon many accounts of the loss of the liner. In the medium of film, however, little was made of this tragic disparity until a half-century after the Titanic sank. This paper will explore this issue through two films which seem to approach the matter in some depth: Roy Baker’s ‘A Night to Remember’ (1958) and James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ (1997).

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