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Titanic is on the box, Film 4, and I've always wondered (albeit this is the first time I have followed through with a Google) why such an exchange of dialogue happens between them.

Rose introduces Jack:

J.J, Madeleine, this is Jack Dawson

Astor:

Hello Jack, are you of the Boston Dawsons?

Who are the Boston Dawsons, and why is this even important? I'm figuring, initially of course (as Google, hasn't been helpful actually) that this is just a way of possibly 'getting to know someone', but what difference does it make where he is from?

Jack's reply:

No, the Chippewa Falls Dawsons...

Only now, have I discovered (through IMDB) that Astor's reply was marked (by IMDB) as 'confused':

Oh yes...

Is this an age, or more of an era issue? We don't still, or the upper classes don't still say this do they?

EDIT (22/12)

Only now (on watching it again) have I noticed that Jack also says:

I grew up near Chippewa Falls

As Rose is hanging off the back of the ship.

  • 10
    I'm pretty sure that Astor was referring to a family that he knew from Boston with that last name of "Dawson" This scene was shown to depict Jack's low class status...the Boston Dawsons were obviously wealthy if Astor was acquainted with them and the Chippewa Falls Dawsons were of lower class. Astor was supposed to be confused as it was part of the humor in what Jack said. – steelersquirrel Dec 21 '16 at 22:30
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    What is taking the mick? – steelersquirrel Dec 21 '16 at 22:32
  • @steelersquirrel my apologies, I think the problem is with Astor's reply, it's not clear if he is aware that Jack isn't wealthy. – cmp Dec 21 '16 at 22:34
  • Well, when Rose is narrating the scene when they walk to dinner, she says "new money, but still a member of the club" So, I am sure that Astor assumed that he was wealthy due to the way that he was dressed along with him dining in first class. That scene was supposed to be more humorous than anything. – steelersquirrel Dec 21 '16 at 22:36
  • I will put an answer together for you in a bit :) – steelersquirrel Dec 21 '16 at 22:38
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+100

Since the sinking of the RMS Titanic was an actual event, there are people depicted in the film who were genuinely on board the ship.

John Jacob Astor and his wife, Madeleine were both real people who held first class tickets on Titanic. Jack Dawson and Rose Dewitt Bukater were fictional characters created for dramatic effect.

John Jacob Astor's family was one of the wealthiest families in America at the time Titanic sank. Astor was worth an estimated $87 million U.S. Dollars when he died on Titanic. So, it is only natural that he would know many of the prominent families in America during his lifetime. Astor would have also been familiar with more of the prominent families on the east coast of the United States, since he lived in New York.

Jack Dawson was a fictional character created for dramatic purposes only. The "Boston Dawsons" that Astor refers to in this conversation are purely fictional as were the "Chippewa Falls Dawsons". Astor was simply trying to make polite conversation by asking Jack if he was a member of the family from Boston. Jack's reply of being a member of the Chippewa Falls Dawsons was purely meant for comic relief since Astor would obviously not know any family in Chippewa Falls, let alone the Dawson family.

There was not much of a middle class in 1912. The upper and lower classes were separated by a considerable gap. The upper class rarely intermingled with the lower class. So, for Astor to ask another member of (what he thought to be) of upper class society if he belonged to a family in which Astor was acquainted was not at all abnormal.

In today's society, we have more of an established middle class. More of the classes intermingle with each other. With social media and other forms of media coverage, one can already know which billionaire is related to whom. There is really no point in asking a person this anymore when it is so readily available through several outlets.

Whether or not a conversation takes place at a billionaires dinner party...I really do not know what kind of conversations would take place at a party like that ;)

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    @steelersquirrel Just because $87M and $2B might be very different places, socially. – KRyan Dec 22 '16 at 16:19
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    @KRyan Sure, but if $87million in 1912 is like $2 billion now, Astor would still be in upper class. The Astor family was in the upper class ever since Brooke Astor (the last remaining family member, I believe) passed away approximately 10 years ago. – steelersquirrel Dec 22 '16 at 16:26
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    "There is really no point in asking a person this anymore when it is so readily available through several outlets." Sure there is: not being a member of such outlets or wanting to use the more personal touch. =) I could come up with more, but you get the point. – jpmc26 Dec 22 '16 at 23:30
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    @steelersquirrel If I meet someone in person in a social context that gives me reason to believe they are a member of a family I know, I will absolutely ask them if they are a member of that family myself rather than try to Google it. Billionaire or not. – jpmc26 Dec 22 '16 at 23:46
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    I guess that's my point, though. This isn't anything all that specific to the upper class; it's pretty normal conversation. It could be that the upper class are somewhat more aware of their economic peers, but that's kind of the point: he thinks Jack is an economic peer at first. And with peers where we suspect we might know their family, this is still a question you might ask today. – jpmc26 Dec 23 '16 at 0:15
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Google won't help you a lot, as the specifics are made up even though, as we all know, the sinking of the Titanic actually happened (and certain passengers were known to be on board). For instance, John Jacob Astor IV was a known victim, but there is no record of a Jack Dawson having been on board.

In this hypothetical "universe", there is a very well-off family in Boston with the surname "Dawson". They would have traveled in the same social circles as the wealthy people with whom Jack was dining. Astor was asking, in effect, if Jack was related to these Boston socialites. If so, then he was "a member of the club" so to speak, and Jack would have felt included in the circle with familiar contacts.

Jack's answer was honest; his family was from Chippewa Falls. When Jack submitted his answer, Astor's response was a combination of feigned recognition and outright confusion. He clearly didn't know any Dawsons living in Chippewa Falls.

  • I don't know that (in the movie's universe) there really was supposed to be a prominent Boston family named Dawson. It would not be unreasonable for Astor to be merely picking a large city at random as a more polite way of asking "Who the hell are you and where did you come from?" The answer he would be expecting is either "Yes" or "No, my family is from Philadelphia -- I did not even know there are Dawsons in Boston!" and then everyone could chuckle. He wasn't expecting the scion of a wealthy family (as he perceived Jack to be) to hail from a tiny town in Wisconsin. – Malvolio Mar 7 '17 at 6:23
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It's a joke. It's meant to be funny. "Are you related to so and so?" was a way that wealthy people socialized. It was small-talk on Astor's part. There might be "Boston Dawsons" and there might be "New York Dawsons" and there might be "Philadelphia Dawsons." Astor was asking if Jack belonged to a wealthy family with which he, Astor, was familiar, as a means of making a small social connection to Jack.

Jack's response indicated that he wasn't from ANY wealthy family, but Astor didn't understand that, not being familiar with "non-wealth."

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I am going to focus on

Is this an age, or more of an era issue? We don't still, or the upper classes don't still say this do they?

It never was a social class thing. And yes it is still done today.

First thing to realize is that the US population in 1912 was about 95 million. Today that's about the size of three states(Texas, Florida, and California).

Second is that, with everyone so spread out, it was not uncommon to have one or two family lines dominating an area. This had nothing to do with income or wealth. It's just a fact. As A Husband and wife settled in Backwater Arkansas, they had kids, their kinds had kids, and so on, till a large part of the population of Backwater was a single family. That family didn't have to be rich, just prolific.

Third, when people left their family lands and moved elsewhere they looked for people they recognized. It was not uncommon, to run into someone from your home town, that was part of one of the larger families. Hey, John Smith, from Backwater, Your not related to the Backwater Smiths are you? Oh your Jane's second cousin on her Dad's uncles side? Oh yeah, I think we shopped at the same grocery store that one time, lets be friends in this big scary city where we don't know anyone.

Finally, back then, but even now, travel was a big deal. You couldn't catch a flight to so an so. So if your blimp was leaving out of Backwater Arkansas, then a lot of the people on board would be from backwater and the srounding area. People would travel for a few days or a week or two to get something big like the Titanic, but that still limited the area to basically New England. Remember if you traveled to New York, you were probably there for something else, the Titanic was likely just a fresh new way to get to where you needed to go. It would be unlikely to travel from California, to New York, just for the sole purpose of taking this one boat. Maybe you timed your trip around it, but you probably didn't travel there the same way we travel across country to take a cruise ship now.

So today, this still happens. I get this all the time. When someone finds out my Family name and that my family was from Hastings Michigan, I get a question very much to that effect.

You would be surprised how many people you run into that know some cousin that you barely know by name only, that one time you tried to look something up on ancestery.com.

Keep in mind that not everyone has their eyes glued to their cellphone screen and facebook at el. Some people actually do talk to strangers. And this will come up frequently, if your in an area with a lot of people that travel from other areas.

  • I'm 24, and maybe for me, seeing as I'm still 'young' ish. And a big ish... I don't think I've ever heard a friend of mine (give or take a few years above me) ever say: Are you from the ___ from ___. Or similar. It MUST be an age thing, maybe not 'do we still do this'. Nice answer however :-) – cmp Dec 23 '16 at 12:51
  • Could be area, I live in Florida now, which has a lot of people from MI. during the winter months. Usually it's something like "Remember that huge snow storm of 19XX", wow yeah I remember that, are you from that area? Yeah I lived there, most of my family still does. Oh are you related to so and so from xyz? Yeah, that's my super distant relation 4. Oh we used to work together at the Foo. And so on. – coteyr Dec 23 '16 at 15:06
  • that is very true. That is more rounded nowadays I suppose, yes, I completely missed (don't know how) that it was intended merely for comedy. {hides away} :-) – cmp Dec 23 '16 at 15:09
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Is this (...) an era issue? (...) the upper classes don't still say this do they?

It is not necessarily related to upper social classes.
In rural areas, when you meet someone for the first time, it is fairly normal to ask them if they are related to this or that family. It's a simple way of narrowing their place in your social circle, and at the same time it could open new topics of conversation (common acquaintances etc.).

Back to the movie, I saw it just as a polite way of Mr. Ascot trying to find whether he knew this Jack Dawson from before, or anybody related to him.

  • It is completely related to the social class. To John Jacob Astor, if he listens to the family name of someone, then they may belong only to a handful of families of which he knows most (because they are in the "upper class section"). It does not matter how many Dawson families are in the USA & UK, he is pretty confident Jack must be a "Boston Dawson" because that is the only rich Dawson family he knows of (although he accepts that there may be another rich Dawson family in Chippewa he does not know about); the "poor" Dawson families simply do not appear in his mental map. – SJuan76 Dec 22 '16 at 22:35
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    In rural areas they may do the same, but in those there are effectively few families and it is quite reasonable to think that a known name is due to a known family. Astor functions at the same level, but with the whole of the USA & UK population, because his "few families" are the "few rich families" he has relationships with. – SJuan76 Dec 22 '16 at 22:37
  • @SJuan76 The social circle of someone from a rural area tends to be comprised of people from other families of the same rural area. Similarly, the social circle of someone from a wealthy family tends to be made from people from other families of the same wealth level. Your surname is a key identifying trait in both circles, and someone asking if you are from this or that family is a common behavior for both groups, despite their social class being different. My point being that asking for your surname's origin, per se, has nothing to do with being upper class and yes, it is still done today. – walen Dec 23 '16 at 7:27
  • @SJuan76 if you happened to be called Juan Piñeiro and met someone from Ferrol that knows a Piñeiro family in Valdoviño, you can be sure they would ask you if you are from the Piñeiros of Valdoviño. And if you said you are from some other Piñeiros, they'd just nod politely and move on with the conversation, much like Mr. Astor did in the movie. – walen Dec 23 '16 at 7:39
  • But the issue is that they are not from the same rural area. Imagine you know some John Smith from Chicago and, while being in China, you meet some Frank Smith, from location unknown. The probability of them being related is ridiculously low to mention that, unless you have some criteria to restrict radically the number of Smiths by some context (for example, you are in a congress of people of Eskimo descent). Their criteria was wealth. In your example the criteria is that there are few people in Valdoviño, thus making a relationship likely enough (how many more people are in the USA?) – SJuan76 Dec 23 '16 at 9:21

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