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What are the implications of gender and culture stereotypes in James Cameron's Titanic?

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Cameron's Titanic critiques the gender stereotypes and their sociopolitical implications of the period it depicts, while also revealing how persistent some elements of those stereotypes have been, even through to the 1990s, when the film was made. It also perhaps unwittingly reinforces those implications under the cover of a kind of conventionalized liberal posture.

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The film Titanic (1997) is a dramatization of an iconic and tragic historical event, overlaid with a love story which in itself exemplifies historical transformation and perhaps ironically shows that things did not change as much over an eighty-five-year period as people may have believed.

In the story, Rose Bukater (Kate Winslet) is a young woman being forced into a marriage for financial reasons with a man she doesn't love. Her fiancé, Hockley, (Billy Zane) treats her in a demeaning way and moreover is a pompous and self-important representative of an upper class that symbolizes the past.

Society on the ship is shown as stratified and oppressive in both class and gender. Rose's affair with the young, socially unconnected artist Jack (Leonardo di Caprio) encapsulates her rebellion against the social and gender norms of the time and later.

Cameron's story obliquely makes the point that although this is taking place in 1912, the dynamic between men and women, rich and poor, and profound and shallow (the latter shown in Hockley's boasting that "God himself could not sink the Titanic!") isn't totally a thing of the past in 1997. Perhaps with only a few alterations, the story could be updated to the end of the twentieth century.

This is why the public responded to it so enthusiastically. The film depicted raw emotion and returned to an older type of sentimentality the public yearned for in an age of cynicism as the nineties were. Gender discrimination and stereotypes were not a thing of the past, as many at the time were declaring them to be. The story of Rose Bukater's defiance of stifling restrictions, set against the backdrop of the famous sea disaster (which itself is a metaphor of the seeming destruction of past values) resonated with audiences in a way hardly any other film of the time had done.

That said, one wonders if the older values and norms are perpetuated in a more subtle way by the plot, though veiled by the progressivism the film appears to celebrate. That Rose is so easily and instantly smitten with Jack almost represents another kind of stereotype. The awestruck manner in which she looks at his sketches and immediately thinks him a great artist is a bit naïve.

Yet the basic point seems to be that even a socially connected woman of that time (and later, unfortunately) has few choices, especially when economic factors are in play—in this case, the fact that Rose's mother is strapped for cash. The engagement to the amoral, dislikable Hockley drives Rose quickly into the arms of another man and precipitates her personal tragedy when Jack drowns in the disaster at the film's close.

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