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'I'm the king of the world': the influence of Titanic (the film)

The 1997 movie has pervaded popular culture to the extent that, for many, James Cameron’s story is the only story.

Leo and Kate as Jack and Rose
Leo and Kate as Jack and Rose
Image: Topham/Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images

THE SINKING OF the RMS Titanic has become embedded in popular culture – at least eight English-language films have been inspired by the tragedy, as well as two Broadway musicals, hundreds (if not thousands) of books, poems and songs and some terribly tacky memorabilia.

But nothing exalted the cruise liner’s position quite like James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic.

The public’s fascination with the tragic event was matched only by teenage girls’ fervour about the fictional love story of Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio).

It has been well-documented this week that for some of a certain age, it has never been quite clear that the sinking of the ship was actually a real event.

It could (tentatively) be argued that the film itself has offered up so many pop culture references that it is somewhat understandable that the younger generations get a little mixed up.

On hearing Celine Dion’s warbles, one thinks automatically of the Oscar-winning blockbuster. Only last week, a contestant on The Voice of Ireland used the track My Heart Will Go On to pay homage to those who lost their lives on the ship (despite the song having nothing to do with the original disaster).

(YouTube Credit: RTETheVoice)

The film and the real-live event have become somewhat entwined.

The now overused ‘I’m the king of the world’ line has provided fodder for American sitcoms, cartoons and Hollywood for the last 15 years. Come on, have you never stood at the front of a ship/car/moving vehicle and screamed those words or pretended to fly while being embraced by DiCaprio? Oh, maybe just us then.

US-based website Gawker has put together a supercut of 50 such instances, including scenes from ER, The Simpsons, Modern Family, Saturday Night Live and The Office. Thankfully, some of them know how annoying it actually is.

Indian cricketers Harbhajan Singh and Suresh Raina imitate that scene while in Galle, Sri Lanka back in 2010.

The popularity of the film was definitely driven by teenage girls and others in the tween market capitalised on its popularity.

Britney Spears, pop princess of the day, interrupted her music video for Oops…I did it again to please her fans with a little joke about the film.

After being handed a giant blue stone – The Heart of the Ocean to all those aficionados - by her astronaut (!) boyfriend, Britney says, “But I thought the old lady dropped it in the ocean in the end?”

If that has just whetted your appetite for pop-related Titanic references, see how that spawned another performance from a couple of tween sensations:

The original X Factor performance can be found here.

Watchable or not?

Even though it was popular with critics at the time of its release (see the many, many Oscars as proof), Hollywood’s finest turned their backs on Cameron as quickly as teenage girls shift from Team Edward to Team Jacob.

For the adult watchers out there, the official Titanic ‘drinking game’ believes its rules make the film easier to watch. The rules include drinking every time Jack or Rose’s names are said, the necklace changes hands or there is an obvious historical inaccuracy. These things happen a lot. But do you know what happens more? Celine Dion’s track being played in the background, people talking about how great the Titanic is or somebody falls off the boat into the water. Drinking is required at all these junctures as well.

Earlier influences

For a number of reasons, the tragedy aboard the “unsinkable” cruiseliner was always going to be romanticised. Just 29 days after the ship hit the iceberg, a film called Saved from the Titanic was released by Dorothy Gibson (one of the first people to leave the ship).

The movie was a major success but it has since been lost, with the only known prints were destroyed in a fire in March 1914.

Image: Wikimedia

There was also the small matter of an 1898 novel by Morgan Robertson which was eerily prophetic. Futility, or Wreck of the Titan, features an ocean liner called Titan which sinks in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg.

Similarities between the novel's plot and the Titanic's sinking 14 years later include the timing of the tragedy and the fact there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers.

The glorification of the tragedy, and the subsequent industry it has created - although unavoidable - would have angered at least one man who was quite vocal about the "seriousness of the occasion".

In his reflections on the loss of the Titanic, novelist Joseph Conrad, who was himself a former seaman, wrote critically of the journalists covering the event:

I am not consoled by the false, written-up, Drury Lane aspects of that event, which is neither drama, nor melodrama, nor tragedy, but the exposure of arrogant folly. There is nothing more heroic in being drowned very much against your will, off a holed, helpless, big tank in which you bought your passage, than in dying of colic caused by the imperfect salmon in the tin you bought from your grocer.

And that's the truth. The unsentimental truth stripped of the romantic garment the Press has wrapped around this most unnecessary disaster.

TheJournal.ie's coverage of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic>

Is Titanic a true story? Er, yes.>

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