Bad History and the Logics of Blockbuster Cinema: Titanic, by Patrick McGee (auth.)

By Patrick McGee (auth.)

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Nonetheless, the action in these movies is still animated by the drive to accumulate the wealth that the system itself promotes; and there is little sympathy toward the corporate capitalist in Die Hard, while Speed suggests that its villain is the crippled product of the system’s own inequitable distribution of wealth. In Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break (1991), these issues are made more explicit. As he would in Speed, Keanu Reeves plays an agent of the law (the FBI, in this case), but the bad guys are an almost likable gang of surfers who rob banks while wearing the masks of former Presidents Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and Johnson.

The gossip at the time was that the movie reflected the director’s unstable marital history and suffered from the absence of Gale Ann Hurd, who may have been responsible for the feminist subtext of the earlier films. Though that may be true, the feminist elements in Cameron’s movies, including Titanic, are primarily responses to social context and reflect the ambivalence of that context; already in The Abyss, there is a tension, if not outright contradiction, between misogynist representations (Lindsey is frequently labeled by others as, and even calls herself, “the cast-iron bitch”) and feminist thematics (understood as theoretically unsophisticated).

The movie certainly exploits this cinematic convention, but it also discloses the source of this convention in the social system of the Titanic, a class system that contradicts itself when it becomes the condition of a desire that has the potential to undermine the system itself. The power of Jack’s gaze to consume the image of the woman as commodity derives from his marginalized status as the social vagabond or flâneur. Benjamin, in his reading of Baudelaire and the Paris arcades in the nineteenth century, identified the flâneur as a type of modern individual under capitalism, an individual who first appears in the nineteenth century but who anticipates figures of Benjamin’s own time and, as I will argue, beyond that time.

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