parasite-1

Parasite and Class Warfare


After Parasite won Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday, I slipped into a Wednesday matinee. This is the movie we need right now

Lower class Korean family

“It’s so metaphorical” marvels the adult child of the lower class Korean family about an important prop, introduced early in the movie. The same could be said about nearly every frame in Parasite.

This is about lower class Korea at war with upper class Korea. I’m not saying we need Parasite because it solves anything. It does not neatly tie up class differences in a bow. I’m saying we have a huge communication block about everything related to class and inequality in America. I welcome art – the language of metaphors – because we can’t seem to talk about this stuff any other way.

Whenever I write about inequality – even hinting at the theme – I receive resentful emails. Some other people, I should understand, are always getting a better deal. They get money for nothing. They cut the line. I’m working so hard, and those other people have it so easy. It’s unfair. Those other people, it seems, are like parasites.

As a guy who writes about money and finance, and receives regular feedback on the subject, I sense the bottled up rage around inequality, class warfare, the haves and have-nots.  Inequality is a top three problem of our time. Yet simply writing about inequality – pointing out the vast and growing gulf between upstairs and downstairs dwellers in America – feels like a deeply political act.

Nowhere is the potency of class warfare more apparent than in Presidential politics in February 2020. 

President Donald Trump’s successful pitch to the electorate in 2016 was that an elite class of wealthy professionals – and their avatars Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama – snub their noses at real, down-to-earth, Americans. The upper classes laugh at those they see as “deplorables,” said Trump, who intuitively channels the resentment of people who feel looked down upon. In Parasite, the upper class family literally wrinkles its nose at the lower class family.

Meanwhile, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, has made demonizing the wealthy a central plank of his appeal. He’s going to redistribute what the wealthy have taken.

We cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war with the working families of this country for 45 years,” says Sanders.

 

Nobody has ever made it this far in a major party nomination in America so clearly channeling class resentment. The lower class family of Parasite has no hesitation to grab what isn’t theirs from the upper class family.

Socialism has never taken root in America, said John Steinbeck, because Americans traditionally conceived of themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. That myth – that achieving a rich life is just around the corner – has seemingly disappeared for lower class Americans. Is it any wonder the appeal today of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders? The fervency of their political supporters feels stronger than anything I remember in politics in my lifetime. But also, the fear these leaders inspire from opponents feels like something stronger than anything I remember in my lifetime. 

I don’t think I’m spoiling much by saying that – whether in the movies or in real life – class warfare does not end happily ever after. 

One advantage of a movie like Parasite is that it’s entirely metaphorical. Could that give us some symbolic language to start a dialogue about this taboo in America? 

Maybe another advantage is that Parasite feels foreign enough for us to observe Korean scenes and images without settling into our traditional American symbols of inequality. I welcome a movie – something, anything – that can give us language to communicate about this. 

We need to talk about this. We need to have a difficult conversation about our debts. We need to have a difficult conversation talk about our inheritances. We need to talk about failing to “make it” in America. We need to talk about our resentments. The ones below, not working as hard as us. The ones above, not working as hard as us. 

Please see related post:

Great graphical display of inequality in America

Book Review: The Upside of Inequality by Edward Conard

Kooky and good idea to address inequality

New Estate Tax Changes and Inequality

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I founded Bankers Anonymous because, as a recovering banker, I believe that the gap between the financial world as I know it and the public discourse about finance is more than just a problem for a family trying to balance their checkbook, or politicians trying to score points over next year’s budget – it is a weakness of our civil society. For reals. It’s also really fun for me.

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