The Unsinkable Memes of ‘Titanic’
Katee Forbis often encounters a GIF on social media that shows a white-haired woman with a faraway look saying, “It’s been 84 years.” Ms. Forbis had scrolled past the clip “a thousand times” she said, but was unsure of its origin.
“Is that from ‘Titanic’?” asked Ms. Forbis, 37, a screenwriter who has never seen the movie.
“Titanic,” James Cameron’s three-and-a-quarter-hour drama on the icy seas, was released 25 years ago, grossing (approximately) a gazillion dollars and winning (roughly) a boatload of Oscars. But perhaps even more impressive is that a movie released before the first iMac has remained such a buoyant force in pop culture and on the internet — where its audience extends beyond even that of the film.
The story’s recognizability and capital-D drama have made it ripe for all sorts of campy reinvention. “It’s so in the zeitgeist right now,” said Marla Mindelle, one of the writers and stars of “Titanique,” an Off Broadway parody that was staged until recently in the basement of a former Gristedes supermarket in Manhattan. And on “Saturday Night Live” last spring, Bowen Yang portrayed the story’s iceberg in the midst of a pivot to hyperpop.
But “Titanic” has been most vividly immortalized online, in the screenshots, GIFs and covers of a certain power ballad that fans are still finding ways to make fresh a quarter-century after the movie’s release. This way, they never have to let go.
The Memes: A Reaction for Every Disaster
The story of Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (Kate Winslet) has spawned countless memes, many of them snippets of the movie’s script.
As the R.M.S. Titanic sinks into the Atlantic near the movie’s conclusion, its musicians play on. “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege playing with you tonight,” one says, in a line that has become one of Twitter’s favorite Mad Libs whenever things go wrong.
The Enduring Legend of ‘Titanic’
James Cameron’s epic film about the 1912 Titanic wreckage was released 25 years ago.
- Review: “Mr. Cameron’s magnificent ‘Titanic’ is the first spectacle in decades that honestly invites comparison to ‘Gone With the Wind,’” Janet Maslin wrote in 1997.
- A Global Success: The movie captivated audiences even in countries where the sinking of the unsinkable was never part of popular lore. For them, the movie became the story.
- 3-D Conversion: “Titanic” returned to theaters in 2012, after it was remastered and converted to 3-D. Here is what Cameron said of the conversion process.
- A Glowing Endorsement: In 2021, the executive editor of Vogue.com, Jessie Heyman, wrote about the hold that the movie had over her since childhood.
“It has been a pleasure tweeting with you all during a genuine zombie apocalypse,” Kyle Alex Brett wrote along with the clip from the movie on March 11, 2020 — the day the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic. Others have invoked the scene to refer to tanking cryptocurrency prices or a particularly bad Yankees game.
Versions of “I want you to draw me like one of your French girls,” Rose’s instruction to Jack after seeing his sketchbook, now serve as captions for images of cats and George Costanza reclining. That scene’s nudity was part of the reason Ms. Forbis’s family did not allow her to watch the movie when she was in seventh grade. For others, it made the scene, and the line, particularly memorable.
“It was the first boob I ever saw on the big screen,” said Matt Mulholland, 34, a musician and producer in Wellington, New Zealand. “That really sticks with you.”
The Song: It Goes On, and On
Mr. Mulholland went on to create what might as well be the internet’s “Titanic” soundtrack: a pitchy recorder cover of Celine Dion’s theme for the movie, “My Heart Will Go On.” (He maintains that the quality of the video, which he uploaded to YouTube in 2009, was intentional.)
“Part of the reason Celine Dion is so great is her massive dynamic range and emotional integrity within what she’s singing,” he said. “I really loved the idea of taking something incredible, and beautiful, and emotional, and just ruining it.” The video has 36 million views on YouTube.
“My Heart Will Go On” has also been covered by Ariana Grande and James Corden on “The Late Late Show” and subjected to a club remix in “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”
Its plaintive tin whistle solo is now being recirculated on TikTok as a soundtrack for people pretending to take the advice of their trolls. “On my way back to the NFL bc user48760009 said get off TikTok and back on the field,” the twice-retired tight end Rob Gronkowski wrote in a TikTok video this month.
The Debate: Life, Death and Surface Area
Spoiler alert: Jack dies. But for years, viewers including Keke Palmer have insisted that he should not have, because they believe there was enough room for Jack on the piece of wood that floats Rose to safety.
It was the most-requested myth in the history of “MythBusters” when the show put it to the test in 2012, ultimately concluding that climbing on the board would not have saved Jack from hypothermia. Indeed, adding Jack’s weight might have further submerged the board and killed them both.
Even that did not convince some people, said Jamie Hyneman, a host and executive producer of the show. “It’s a story,” he said. “It’s romantic, and people were very taken with the couple and the whole thing.”
Mr. Cameron, the film’s director, appears to be tired of getting questions about the scientific fundamentals. “It’s called art,” he said in a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair.
The Pose: We’re All King of the World
When Amara Lambert, a 38-year-old photographer in Fargo, N.D., is working with a couple who are nervous in front of the camera, she tells them to “do the ‘Titanic’ pose.”
Everybody knows what she means. “Titanic” created the rare photographic trope that’s as recognizable as the peace sign and as tempting as the instinct to prop up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. On Instagram, there are more than 20,000 photos tagged #titanicpose: a shorthand for an image of one or two people with their arms outstretched, surveying their kingdom. “I’m the king of the world,” Jack shouts off the ship’s bow early in the movie. He replicates the pose later with Rose’s arms outstretched, and his around her waist.
“I think it’s that feeling of freedom” that draws people to the pose, said Alex Biro, who has thrown his arms out before the camera at scenic vistas in Barbados and Thailand. Mr. Biro, 38, a human resources consultant, started the @spread_your_arms_wide Instagram account in 2015 to document the pose in his travels.
He then returns to his home in Southampton, a port city on England’s coast that also happens to be the site of the real R.M.S. Titanic’s departure.