Not being a fan of the movie Titanic, I was unaware of this anecdote. I ran into it reading Franco Moretti’s The Bourgeois. Between History and Literature. It seems to me a clear example of that “anti-capitalist mentality” we often talk about, and particularly of its prominence among “second-hand dealers in ideas”, Hayek’s term for intellectuals.

On 14 April 1912, Benjamin Guggenheim, Solomon’s younger brother, found himself on board the Titanic, and, as the ship started sinking, he was one of those who helped women and children onto the lifeboats, withstanding the frenzy, and at times the brutality, of other male passengers. Then, when his steward was ordered to man one of the boats, Guggenheim took his leave, and asked him to tell his wife that ‘no woman was left on board because Ben Guggenheim was a coward’. And that was it. His words may have been a little less resonant, but it really doesn’t matter; he did the right, very difficult thing to do. And so, when a researcher for Cameron’s 1997 Titanic unearthed the anecdote, he immediately brought it to the scriptwriters’ attention: what a scene. But he was flatly turned down: too unrealistic. The rich don’t die for abstract principles like cowardice and the like. And indeed, the film’s vaguely Guggenheim-like figure tries to force his way onto a lifeboat with a gun.

Now, here come the interesting questions. When the scriptwriters did rule out the inclusion of this scene, did they do so because they thought the audience would consider it implausible? Because they themselves despised the rich so much that they did not want to concede even one of them the moral high ground? Because they feared their movie would be considered capitalist propaganda, if they included Ben Guggenheim as a hero?