The power of pop culture imagination

Sedudu Island
Sedudu Island

James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic’s fascinating tale is still alluring audiences. On a boat at Sedudu Island Mmegi Staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE recently observed that the movie’s pop culture still lives on 20 years later

I remember very well how the movie influenced pop culture and how we used to stare at Titanic pictures on playing cards. At the time I had not watched the movie and could not understand what the pop culture was all about.

According to Tim Delaney of Philosophynow, pop culture is generally recognised as the vernacular or people’s culture that predominates in a society at a point in time.

Short for ‘popular culture’, pop culture involves the aspects of social life most actively involved in by the public. Popular culture is also informed by the mass media so as part of the media team invited by Cars & Guides I had to envision the major role played by Titanic in popular culture since her sinking in 1912.

Of course the story was influenced by a real life tragedy when RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912 after it hit an iceberg.

There have been numerous films featuring the tragedy of the Titanic but Cameron’s Titanic was the most influential and it went on to become the highest-grossing movie of all time, earning more than US$1.8 billion worldwide. That title remained in place until 2010, when Cameron’s film, Avatar, grossed more than US$2 billion at the international box office.

“I’m the king of the world,” is Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous line in the movie and it is one unfortunate phrase anyone should not say on a boat ever. But as excited, as I was to finally arrive at a place (Sedudu Island) I used to read about in textbooks, I was overconfident to utter the same line as I stepped onto the boat for a three hours cruise. I did not have the audacity to claim that it was unsinkable like the captain during the maiden voyage of Titanic from Southampton to New York City but I had to keep my hopes high.

There were two groups in the boat and the media team was asked to go at the upper section of the boat and it was a great view to see the fluvial island up there. Even though our boat was nothing close to the mighty Titanic, I remembered very well how the ship was structured to separate the high and low class. The good thing about our boat is that everyone was equal and we enjoyed the same privileges.

The boat started cruising away from the shores towards the greenish island which is inhabited by animals such as elephants, hippos and crocodiles just to mention but a few.

Sedudu Island is formed in the Chobe River adjacent to the border with Namibia, which runs down the thalweg of the river immediately north of the island.

The island was the subject of a territorial dispute between these countries, resolved by a 1999 decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ruled in favour of Botswana. The Island is approximately five square kilometres (2 square miles) in area.

As we got closer to the water that is a borderline between the two countries, the atmosphere changed and cold winds started blowing and I remembered a journalistic account of how gunfire was exchanged between the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) and the Namibian Defence Force (NDF) in the 90s. I saw the blue/black/white Botswana flag on the island and apparently it was lifted by BDF after regaining the ground at the time.

Immediately my imagination started forming mental scenes, objects and events that happened there in the past but I was snapped out of it by a journalist from RB1 who started telling us about Namibians who drowned in the same area recently after their boat overturned.

Psychologists say that everyone possesses a certain degree of imagination ability. For a man who was thinking about the happier versions of Titanic, I got scared as my imagination took over and made it possible for me to experience the incident inside the mind. It was getting cold as we passed the raft that tourists often stop at to eat and refresh. The coldness reminded me of how the character Jack froze to death in the end right before he told Rose that he is a ‘survivor’.

The reeds on the edge of the island gave me a different point of view, and I was able to mentally explore the past even though I had never been there. I was basically daydreaming as my thoughts revisited all the horror movies I could think of. As we stopped to see crocodiles lying on the grass, I began to observe how part of mythology has been firmly ingrained in my consciousness.

Titanic has been retold so many times, it is the night that will always live on but as the winds blew I imagined what stories could be retold if we did not make it out of that boat. Of course I did not wish to be any objects of public fascination like Titanic but with these things you can never know.

Titanic’s story has been interpreted as a classic disaster tale so I decided to ask my media colleague to imitate the famous, “I’m flying scene” on Titanic when Rose and Jack, stood on the railing of the ship. There are so many elements that gripped the popular imagination but I just had to capture it on camera and hopefully it might live on. 

I was on a boat so my mimic would never be regarded as the most accurate inspiration of pop culture. I was on a small boat in an ancient river and I managed to revisit the best in pop culture moment from the chronicles of history however tragic it was. American film critic Leonard Maltin once said, “There’s something timeless, or ageless, about this story,” and having reexamined the sobering and touching account of Titanic on a small boat in one of the most peaceful Islands in the region, I now possess a memory that will always live on.

Editor's Comment
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