Life is a gift: Value cosmologies in Hollywood cinema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Is life “priceless,” or can life be bought and sold like a commodity? Anthropological theory has not yet been able to integrate incommensurable value with commensurable value. But such an integrated theory of value exists—not explicitly in theory but implicitly in everyday ethics and fictional narratives. I analyze how the movie Titanic, one of the most commercially valuable artefacts of all time, reveals a comprehensive ideology of how life and material wealth should be valued. Titanic works through key themes in economic anthropology: social inequality, class struggle, gift/commodity distinctions, the meaning of money, and inalienable possessions. Titanic demonstrates that the tension between ethical values and economic value can be resolved when short-term individual gains are transcended by a mutuality of being that reaches beyond death. Titanic proposes that American capitalism can integrate core cultural values with economic freedom and self-realization.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEconomic Anthropology
Early online date28 Mar 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Mar 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • capitalsm
  • commensurability
  • everyday ethics
  • Hollywood cinema
  • ideology
  • incommensurability
  • value theory


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