Unification News for

January 1998

 

Titanic and the Culture War

UViews Jan 98:

We are fighting principalities and powers, as the apostle Paul postulated. This is nowhere more true than in America's culture wars. The ideology of fallen man, is informing our culture in ways both mighty and subtle. Take, for example, that wonderful and hugely popular film Titanic. It’s a great flick. We eat it up. But what is its message? What values does it express? What does it teach us?

We can look at Titanic on three levels. The first and most typically "Hollywood" is as an exemplary gospel of the politically correct.

Take, for example, the dolphins. Are there dolphins off the coast of Ireland in April? In any case, it is a nice plug for environmentalism. Are they necessary for the story? Not really, except to tell us that young Jack Dawson is, yes, a friend of the dolphins.

A second politically correct gesture: no furs, even in the coldest weather among the richest people on earth in 1912. This is hardly believable.

Third, the heroine, Rose, a sixteen year old in 1912, is a reader of Freud and collector of Picasso. She likes his art because it has no logic. How twentieth century! In other words, Rose is a member of what was to become the cutting edge of the American degradation, excuse me, liberation of the 1920s when free sex, relativism and youth rebellion entered the culture full swing.

The only politically questionable behavior on the part of the protagonists was Jack’s and Rose’s tobacco habit,. But the pitch for drug use, which entered America in the twenties, outweighed the value of health. Jack and Rose are not health nuts; at least we can be thankful for that!

It hardly merits mention that Titanic champions the traditional Hollywood messages that businessmen and industrialists are corrupt, wealth is suspect (except in the hands of artists), parents are backwards and use their children for their own purposes, engineers are good, entrepreneurs are evil, and so forth. Poor Irish immigrants are good, but not Muslims, who cannot read English.

Justifying the Fall

The movie’s second level is its justification and reinforcement of the course and motivation of the human fall. We observe an amazingly accurate recapitulation of the fall narrative in Titanic. The fact that it is digested so easily and enjoyed so much by the audience testifies to the truth of the claim that this narrative is the deep structure of the human psyche.

Consider the narrative of the fall, which Reverend Sun Myung Moon fought to discover, and challenged God and Satan to deny. It explains that an innocent but immature mother of the human race, Eve, was seduced by the mature but selfish archangel, Lucifer. She lost her innocence and gained carnal knowledge. She was very aware of what she had lost, and, amid guilt, shame and fear, tried to recover it.

To recover it, she approached her brother and to-be-husband Adam. Adam is an immature yet beautiful young man. He is intoxicated with God and the world, even to the expense of his responsibility for Eve. Eve approaches him and, finding him susceptible to her charms, seduces him. She thinks that by uniting with him, she can regain her lost virginity and her lost position as God's daughter.

She is wrong. The seduction merely pulls Adam down into the realm of the fall with her. Cast from the garden, they face a future tossed in the waves of a world without God.

Let’s see how this works in Titanic. Cal, the archangel, is the heartless millionaire who has already seduced Rose, now his fiancee. Rose (fallen Eve) is sick of Cal’s selfish love but is tainted by it. She sees Jack (immature Adam), an untamed young man, as a way to escape the false world of Cal and return to her original purity. But through her tainted love and selfish motivation, she violates her betrothal, her relationship with her mother, and, not becoming Jack’s wife, seduces him to fall with her. They have no future but to run away from everything.

We love Jack because we love immature Adam's zest for life, his reckless faith that each day will bring its own reward, his abandonment of his life to the winds of an exciting world.

We love Rose because we see in her the longing of Eve to return to her state of purity, to escape the claws of Satan, who has seduced her.

We ignore the fact that Rose is no girl from Chippewa Falls. She is a woman of the world, a student of Freudian free sex and the bohemian Parisian culture of the fin de siecle. Jack, with his drawings of nudes, is a member of the same club. But he maintains his status as immature Adam by demurring that he had had no affair with his models, one of whom was a real fallen woman (contrary to the sophisticated and still girlish Rose), a "one-legged prostitute."

We like to believe that Jack is a virgin, and that Rose is too, despite Cal's entreaty, "I thought that you would come to me last night." Last night she was in fact dancing in drunken yet innocent abandon with Jack and the salt of the earth–politically correct Irish step dancers! (And of course, Jack is an accomplished step-dancer.)

So Rose seduces Jack, first by offering herself as his nude model and then by dragging him into the back seat of her fiancÚ’s car. It is the archetypal American fornication. Yes, sympathetic though they are, courageous, idealistic and pure-hearted as they are, what it amounts to is an act of fornication.

And they go laughing away, free-spirits into the night. Rose has violated her engagement to be married. Marriage? What does that matter? Husbands are boorish and violent. This is love! Rose has betrayed her mother. Mothers? What do they matter? Mothers are clinging and petty. Rose is a much better person than her demented mother! Rose has pushed herself and Jack into an abyss. What does that matter? This is a new world! This is love!

Here is where things become interesting. The ship's lookouts are distracted by the laughter and kissing of these young lovers below them on the deck. At that moment, the iceberg came into vision, but they did not see it while they looked at the kissing Jack and Rose. When they turned back to their watch, there was the iceberg, dead ahead.

Consequence of Fall

Here we enter upon the third level of meaning, and the most encouraging from a cultural message point of view. The movie on this level is an allegory for the fate of the world. (Here I am indebted to insights from Rev. Joong Hyun Pak.)

The ship Titanic is human civilization in all its grandeur and pride evoking majesty. The captain and crew steering the ship are America. The fate of the world is, like it or not, in America's hands. The iceberg is the destruction lying ahead on the path we are pursuing.

The captain (America) is tempted by the illusion of fame offered by the entrepreneur (capitalism). "Just imagine if we arrive in New York Tuesday night! It will be in all the papers. We have not just the biggest ship, but the fastest ship." So is America deluded by her own seeming invincibility: is this a great country or what? Nothing can sink the Titanic!

Thus, the Titanic did not have by half the proper number of lifeboats. The engineer tells Rose, they thought the full number of lifeboats would make the deck too cluttered. Arrogance combined with a sharp eye for appearances.

Distracted by the titillation of immorality, the watchmen gawked at the illicit lovers. So too is our culture distracted by petty entertainments, cheap expressions of love.

The bowels of the ship represent hell, the realm of brute and brutal labor necessary in the fallen order of things to keep the rich and famous pampered in their self-indulgent ways. Titanic is a microcosm of the fallen world. On the top floor, for a price in today's currency of $200,000 per ticket, are the elites, Cal and his friends the industrialists. In the middle are the steerage, the immigrants, the salt of the earth sharing accommodations with the rats. At the bottom are the laborers sweating like dogs, feeding the dynamos which keep the ship moving forward … to its doom.

When the ship hits the iceberg, the laborers in hell are the first to die, washed away by the initial engulfment of the ship's lower holds. Next to go are the people in steerage, locked up like cattle by the boat's policemen until the decent people on the upper decks are all on lifeboats. Class consciousness receives new life!

The actions of the captain and crew are most interesting, for they represent America here, custodians of the ship of the world. There are several types of responses to the disaster for which they must take responsibility. The captain and engineer are most noble, each stoically going down with the ship, thinking not of their own safety. The officers have the thankless task of loading the insufficient number of lifeboats. One of the officers is overcome by the moral weight of his deciding who is to live and who is to die, and shoots himself. Two officers wind up on lifeboats. One, representing 19 of the 20 lifeboats, viciously threatens a woman pleading that they return to the scene to pick up the wretches floating in the icy sea. One of the twenty turns his boat around to rescue them, but too late. He finds but one still alive ... Rose.

Resurrection

Now, in the final chapter, we enter the realm of the resurrection, the second generation, as we pass through death into the next life. The world as we knew it is destroyed. Cal clings to the old rules, in vain. Lucifer has become Cain. He virtually insured Jack's death, and himself survived by cunning. He maintains his wealth and status but meets a miserable end later when the stock market crashes. Jack is Abel, killed by Cain and by his premature love for Rose. But his death for the sake of saving Rose makes him a Christ figure, humankind’s ultimate Abel. Rose, representing fallen humanity, strives even in her self-centered confusion to find salvation through true love. A betrayer of her mother and fiancÚ, she is redeemed only by her love for Jack, the Christ-figure, whom she (unwittingly?) leads to his death.

And yet Rose, fallen humankind, is the only trace of nobility left from the Titanic. She did not opt for a lifeboat, but rather abandoned her seat for the sake of love. Her life support now is no longer a million ton behemoth called Titanic, but a shard of wood. Jack's last breath of life imbues in her the strength to live, as his bride in spirit.

When she disembarks in New York, she gives her name as Rose Dawson, taking on Jack's last name. She has a new identity in a new world, with a husband in spirit. And she pursues the life of a liberated woman, marries and has children, and lives to over 100 in order to tell her story.

Well, you might say, the story of the star-crossed lovers is nothing new in the west. Look at Romeo and Juliet. Innocent love is a valid justification for abandoning parents, tradition and morality. A compelling argument, that. It connects with the most morally ambiguous phase of the fall: Eve’s striving to return to God. This was a virtuous desire, but it was rooted in a selfish mind. Thus it resulted in Adam’s fall, which extinguished the possibility of her salvation. By her action taken to save herself, she damned herself.

But the gallant attempt at liberation itself is appealing to the fallen world. We all are in the position of fallen Eve, striving to save ourselves but that very striving comes out of the selfish mind. We end up destroying that which might save us.

The ultimate appeal is that of Eve for Adam: the temptation of love. Whether Romeo and Juliet or Jack and Rose, it all seems justified by that tremendous, eternal moment of physical love. Jack and Rose in the back seat of the car, in infinite ecstasy, Rose’s hand stiffly, involuntarily arching upon the steam-covered window. Wow, it must have been good!

That’s the lie. It was not good. It’s a made-up story, folks. The love of fallen Eve and immature Adam was a let-down. Rose and Jack go laughing into the night? Forget it; Adam and Eve hid themselves in shame, guilt and fear. Suddenly alienated from their bodies, they grabbed leaves to cover their sexual parts, they felt so bad. The vision of exultant illicit lovers, whose selfish love is legitimated by the joy they experience: this is where the Bible tells the truth and Titanic retells a destructive myth. 

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