Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Titanic: Another Marxist view

Workers World newspaper on the occasion of James Cameron's film:

Editorial: Marx and 'Titanic'

Karl Marx and the movie "Titanic." What do they have to do with each other? We'd have thought little. But a review on National Public Radio caught our attention when it said something like "parts of this film could have been scripted by Karl Marx."

A little more research showed that the director of "Titanic," James Cameron-of "Terminator" and "The Abyss"-joked during production, "We're holding just short of Marxist dogma." He was talking about the film's handling of the different outcomes for the rich and poor passengers of the ship. What did he mean?

Apparently in saying this, Cameron thought of Marx as someone who describes reality through the prism of the class struggle. On the ocean liner Titanic the upper-class passengers loll in luxury on the upper decks while the poor are confined below and the sailor-workers toil in the depths. As disaster strikes, the ship's officers lock the poor and workers below to drown, while the too-few lifeboats are filled only with the rich.

This certainly paints an ugly picture of the rich, but it is limited to only a clear statement of fact. Marx would do more than that.

Was Cameron thinking broadly enough to see the Titanic disaster as a metaphor for today's capitalist world? Driven by the insatiable drive for profit-just as the ship's owners were driven to go full-speed ahead to reach their destination early-the capitalists can't help investing, expanding and speculating even when the icebergs of market and currency failures are right there in clear sight, dead ahead.

Marx did see capitalist disasters looming. But Marx was a philosopher who, unlike those before him, did not limit himself to social commentary. He saw his role as changing society.

What would it be like if Marx had scripted "Titanic"? The working-class passengers and their fellow workers-the sailors-would organize to take over the ship. If this happened too late to avoid disaster, they would at least make sure the lifeboats weren't used to save the rich and the system of exploitation responsible for the crash.

We don't know if this makes a better movie. But it makes a better world.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License. Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011

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