I was six-years-old in November of 1997 when Titanic was released to much critical and audience acclaim. I loved that film. I sang my “Heart Will Go On” to anyone who would listen and sometimes to myself in the mirror. I shared Titanic trivia with grown-ups I’d just met, “Hello Sir, did you know that if Titanic had hit the iceberg head on instead of veering away, it probably wouldn’t have sunk?” I liked that tawdry scene in the back of a car. I knew one day I would love someone as much as Rose loved Jack. I also knew that if I ever actually saw Titanic, I'd sob as Rose delivered those infamous lines, “I’ll never let go, Jack,” while she was in fact, letting go. At the age of six my favorite movie was one I had never seen.
To those who know me well, this dedication to an abstraction will come as no surprise. In 1994-95, despite only kind of liking the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, I took on the alter-ego of Raphael (the turtle with the red mask) for more than a year. When my dad brought home a pretty pink cake for my fourth birthday on Valentine’s Day, I threw a tantrum until he went to the store and bought four thick ugly green candles to stick on top. My Grandma, who was worried about my mental state, confronted my delusion by offering up some very enticing brand-new smelly markers, only for Emily, not Raphael. I held tight to my alter-ego and skipped out on the markers.
In spring of 1997, by the time the Star Wars Trilogy was re-released in theaters, I was already a huge fan. Han Solo and lightsabers were the new objects of my fanaticism. 1978 Harrison Ford was my first crush (and I believe, continues to influence my choice in men). Reenacting scenes for the sci-fi classic was my favorite pastime.
By November of that same year I had all but forgotten TMNT, and though I sometimes still fantasized about blasting off in the Millennium Falcon with the man of my dreams, I was shopping for a new fixation. I settled on Titanic. Back in the late 90s, Titanic was all anyone talked about. I think they talked about OJ too, but I don’t really remember. In the Pre-9/11 world what else was there to talk about?
I wanted to talk about Titanic too! And I wanted to watch Titanic. I would beg my parents to let me actually watch it. To which they argued that Titanic was rated PG-13 and it was not appropriate for six- year-olds, "You can watch it when you turn thirteen." When my best friend Ashley got the VHS box set a few months later as a birthday present from her mom, I almost lost it. Ashley’s parents let her watch Titanic! Everybody is watching Titanic! Why can’t I watch Titanic!?
Sharon and Elton had caved on the no-PG-13-movies-until-you’re-thirteen thing by the time the Mask of Zorro came out in 1998. But it was too late, I no longer cared about James Cameron’s 1997 Oscar-winning masterpiece. I think once, now to my great shame, I called Leonardo DiCaprio, “lame.” Sorry Leo! My Celine Dion performances became few and far between (though I still staged occasional lightsaber fights). I could still be heard sharing unsolicited tidbits of Titanic trivia but most of my attention was turned to boy bands, specifically, Backstreet Boys. “I Want it that Way” was my new anthem and “My Heart Will Go On” was...let’s be honest also kind of lame.
Because of its place in pop culture history, I probably would have gone back and watched Titanic. Probably as a bored Peace Corps Volunteer, I would have been like, “hmmm…I’ve never actually seen Titanic. I should illegally download it and watch it.” And because of my compromised emotional state, I probably would have sobbed when Rose let Jack slip from that mahogany door into the frigid North Atlantic.
But I didn’t have to wait until my twenties to finally watch the film the defined the latter half of my sixth year. My dad, because he’s just that-kind-of-guy, remembered that it was my elementary school dream to watch Titanic on my thirteenth birthday. Along with the pink-heart-shaped cake without big ugly green candles that you must learn to embrace when you are born on V-Day, my dad gave me the Special Edition Titanic DVD. February 14th 2014, I fell in love with Titanic all over again and even teared up a little as Rose promised she’d never let go.
My high school bestie and college roomie, Natalie, and I expressed our mutual love and devotion to Titanic, to the 1500 souls lost their lives on that ill-fated Atlantic crossing, and most importantly, to Jack Dawson by celebrating Titanic Remembrance day every year on April 14th. It’s really moving.
As a PCV, I also express my love by sometimes performing a karaoke rendition of “My Heart Will Go” when I’m tipsy. Recently, I’ve found a new way to share American culture with my elementary students through Titanic; it makes me so happy.
at age 22, I’m inclined to agree with Mom and Dad that Titanic is not a suitable movie for children under thirteen. That has not stopped me, however, from adapting my favorite movie for the stage, starring my nine-year-old students.
Auditions.Who would you choose?
Every year PCVs put on a theater festival for Thai students. The festival, TYT- Thai Youth Theater- is a great chance for rural kids from around the country to improve their English, gain confidence, and generally, show their stuff. My students are thrilled that this year's event is being held in Lopburi, Thailand's monkey capital.
As it were, I am lucky enough to have as a co-teacher, the one person in Thailand who loves Jack Dawson almost as much as I do. She rallied the students and by consensus we decided to perform my first-ever attempt at a script, Thai'tanic.
Because my reverent, almost-religious devotion of the film, the first-draft of my adaption could be described as melodramatic...or maybe just lame, when you imagine it being performed by fifth-graders. During auditions I realized the kids were having trouble conveying emotion using tone of voice. Which...you know, makes sense because Thai is a tonal language. When I found myself adding Thai tone marks to the script, I realized this production was going to be funny.
Thai media is always funny, well not to me, but to Thai people it is. Even in the most dramatic TV, movies, and music videos there are always goofy sound effects and comedic relief to break the mounting tension. If I were actually inject 'Thainess' into the play it would have to a silly version of Titanic; it would probably include a choreographed Thai dance number. The ship might even have set sail from Southampton to Bangkok. My very serious fifteen play has turned into a very silly twenty-five minute show.
Since 2000, I've gone through a number of other 'phases' that may have alarmed my Grandmother just as much as Raphael. My current fixation is Thailand- the people, the food, the weather, the kids. I eat, live, and breath Thailand. It's a passion far more concrete and As an adult in 2013, I get to share the obsession of my youth with my my new obsession, my Thai students. I am bringing to together my favorite things, I am putting the Thai in Titanic.