Why was the film Titanic one of the most popular films in recent years? I suggest that the film is a metaphor...
The Titanic: Ship Of State?
I recently met a person who saw the film, Titanic, eight times. I, myself, have seen it twice, and I rarely see movies more than once. This film remained at the top of the charts for several weeks upon release, and except for a few disgruntled critics who negate almost everything, I know no one who didn’t think it was a great film. It remained number one for over sixteen weeks; it won fourteen nominations and eleven Oscars. It created a massive secondary market including books, memorabilia, and collectibles. Why? Why did this movie resonate so strongly with the public?
The plot is OK; the acting is fine and certainly the special effects are outstanding. The film also demonstrates the existing social class structure of the time. Yet, none of these in my opinion accounts for the popularity of this film. To me, the answer is simple. The Titanic was so popular because it was and still is a powerful metaphor.
The very name of the ship, Titanic, is a reflection of the Greek myths of the ancient struggle of the Titans against the gods. On an unconscious level the ship’s name could reflect hubris, or excessive pride. When Cal claims that “not even God Himself could sink her,” he is expressing the arrogance of excessive pride that never goes unpunished. This has always been a theme from ancient times forward.
But on another level the film is also a metaphor for our times and our world. Could the Titanic signify our world, or our country, or our state? Could the iceberg symbolize environmental dangers, the military-industrial complex, or corporate power? Could the crew represent the WTO, our government, or any other entity that guides and directs the ship of state? The passengers and its class structure are self-evident. Everyone knew their place except Jack and Rose.
If this were all, the metaphor would be interesting, but not much different than any other social commentary. Yet the metaphor strikes us on a deeper level. What is it about this metaphor that is so powerful? I believe the power of this film is that it illustrates our clear and present danger. I suggest that we are on the Titanic and unless we change or reverse the current course, we too will strike that iceberg.
There are many icebergs out there. Yet there is one iceberg that is the greatest and most dangerous one of all. This iceberg creates many of the smaller icebergs such as the environmental crisis, and unless dealt with, will continue to split off many of the other threatening icebergs.
This iceberg is the power and control of the modern corporation over our lives. Most Americans do not know that our American ancestors fought the American Revolution, not only against King George and Great Britain, but against the corporate structures the King imposed on the Americans. The Massachusetts Bay Company, The Hudson Bay Company, and The Virginia Company are only a few of the chartered corporations set up by the King.
These corporations had unfettered power and the East India Tea Company in particular used this power in India to destroy its culture, trade, and commerce. The main limitation imposed on these corporations was that they could not exceed the authority of the King. If they tried to do this, the King would revoke their charter. The corporation was subordinate to the King.
It took almost 200 years from the 1600’s to the 1800’s for the colonists to figure out what was happening. When they did, the Revolution started and by force of ideas and arms the Americans took back their sovereignty from the King and vested it in the people. All power would come from the people, not the state, not the government, not the corporation and certainly not the WTO, but the people. The people said we cannot have the King and his powerful corporations controlling our lives. The people spoke: This is inappropriate for a free and self-governing people.
The Preamble to the Constitution clearly states that “We The people” are to be served by the Constitution and the government. Yet something happened in 1886 that took our power away and vested it in the modern corporation. This resulted in the weakening of our freedoms that we had and gave them to the modern corporate state. This event was the Supreme Court Decision known as the Santa Clara County Vs the Southern Pacific Railway.
In essence, the decision for the first time declared that corporations are persons with all the rights of natural persons including the right to sue and be sued, the right to free speech, and other rights of persons. There are many arguments against this decision that demonstrate that the Court erred and that this decision is not valid. These include the argument that the Court never actually made that decision, but a court reporter, John Chandler Bancroft Davis, wrote his opinion into the headnotes of that decision.
Headnotes, according to Attorney Jim Ritvo, are not law but merely a comment by a person who doesn’t have the power to make or determine law. For more information on this and other arguments against this case see Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights by Thom Hartmann copyright 2002.
However, there is another argument that I have not seen addressed until recently. It was brought to my attention by one of my students, Sonny Heatley, in an essay that he wrote on this topic. The argument is so simple that I am surprised that to my knowledge no one, including myself, until his paper thought of it. The argument is as follows:
1. The 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution reads, 'Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States."
2. Slavery is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as the “custom or practice of owning slaves.”
3. The same dictionary defines a slave as “a person held in involuntary servitude.”
4. By law, custom, and practice, stockholders own corporations.
5. Therefore, by the above arguments stockholders (people) own another person (the corporation). This negates either the 1886 Santa Clara decision because it is a violation of the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, or it negates the custom, practice, and legality of the corporate structure.
If the above arguments are true , then the people of the United States have a legally justifiable basis to take back our country from the corporate power that controls the government, the media, and the monetary system. Here is a basis that we, the people, can use to reclaim our sovereignty.
It also follows therefore that since the people are sovereign, and corporations are subordinate to the sovereign power, the people have a right to revoke those charters of corporations that do violence against the people and do not serve its interests.
What would such a world look like where the power to revoke corporate charters was vested in the people? A corporation that engages in violent behavior would suffer the following:
1. If a corporation tears down the rain forests, releasing dangerous new diseases for which there is no cure, they would be put out of business;
2. If a mangled-care insurance company takes premiums from customers and refuses to pay for clearly defined health benefits, they would be put out of business;
3. If a logging company destroys centuries-old forests and our children’s heritage, they would be put out of business;
4. If a corporation takes our tax dollars and lays off thousands of workers while paying its CEO millions in compensation, they would be put out of business;
5. If banks pay only 2 % on a savings account and charge 18 % interest on credit cards, they would be put out of business;
6. If food companies add dangerous and poisonous chemicals to our foods and don’t tell us, they would be put out of business;
7. If a corporation exploited cheap overseas labor and inhuman working conditions, they would be put out of business;
8. And, if our government refuses to serve and protect us which is their Constitutionally Mandated duty, they will be put out of business come the next election.
Imagine a world where business and government and the people work together for the welfare of all. Such a world would put people ahead of profits. Such a world would have our government “promoting the common welfare and providing for the common defense” instead of the welfare and defense of the corporation.
How do we get there? How can we as the people regain our power and our control over a runaway corporate world and its government that is not of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations? How do we get there?
There are some very clear steps that we can do that will begin this long process. We can vote with our dollars and boycott those products that produced by violent corporations. We can support small locally owned businesses. (One of the sacrifices we will make is a higher price in the short run. A small sacrifice compared to that which faced our ancestors.)
Most of all we can demand that our government:
1. Stop selling out to corporate interests and begin passing Corporate Responsibility Legislation. This legislation would punish those corporations that take tax dollars and lay people off.
2. Pass legislation to reverse the Santa Clara decision and others like it.
3. Pass a Corporate Charter Revocation Bill allowing the people or their representatives to revoke corporate charters.
We can tell the inept crew of the Titanic, our government, that it is time to reverse course. We can put the captains of industry on notice that we will not support them or their products if they continue in this direction. In short we can choose with our dollars and our votes to support those products, companies, and elected officials that support the common welfare.
We have spotted the iceberg. The question is: Is it too late to change course? The answer is: Unless we act now it soon will be.