Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rags to rags

So all the buzz now is about Slumdog Millionaire. I haven't seen it yet, and I'm not entirely sure I want to.

It's always nice to see a non-Hollywood movie getting this kind of hype. It'd be even nicer if the movie itself were a bit less Hollywood in plot. Unregarded lowly schmoe comes into incredible good fortune? Pur-leeze. It's a story that was old when Charles Dickens was cranking it out.

Another way of putting it would be to say that it's an updated version of a timeless classic story. As, let's face it, what isn't? We've all heard the argument that there are only N basic plotlines, where N is anything from three to sixty-something. But the lowly-guy-makes-good story is ancient by anyone's standards. It's embedded very deeply in our culture.

And, I've decided I don't like it there.

Rags-to-riches stories make us feel good. They're inspiring. But they're also oppressive: they preach the value that it's okay for billions of people to live in abject misery, because a vanishingly tiny fraction of them will escape it... and if they can do it, anyone can do it.

And to a point, that's true. Anyone can do it, with sufficient luck. But not everyone can get that lucky. There just aren't enough winning lottery tickets to go round. And for every slumdog millionaire who gets to have a movie made of their life, there are tens of thousands who live and die in the same misery they were born in.
"Stories are not, on the whole, interested in swineherds who remain swineherds, and poor and humble shoemakers whose destiny is to die slightly poorer and much humbler." -- Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad.

I think that's why I like Thomas Hardy. Jude the Obscure is a tale of wasted potential; our hero constantly tries and fails to better himself, living out a life of high drama and deep tragedy without ever making a ripple in the world. That's a hero I can relate to.

But this "rags to riches" myth is endorsing poverty. And it's so unnecessary.

3 comments:

SMG said...

I saw the film (and wish I hadn’t) and your assumptions are correct. It is as you say only worse. Abject poverty is only the beginning of what is wrong with the protagonists world. Rather than being uplifted by the story I walked out of the theater saddened by the brutality of human kind.

vet said...

I used to watch lots of movies. At least one a month in theatres, often more, for years. Now I'm down to what feels like two or three a year (cinemas in NZ just - suck), and I don't get the feeling I'm missing much.

Ruby Apolline said...

I read it described as "poverty porn" by one reviewer, a British one I think. Consumption of brown-people poverty for the Western masses to ooh and aah over, shake their heads in dismay, cheer on the plucky hero and feel very Correct.

Ick. Danny Boyle should stick to rage-zombie movies.