Sunday, November 27, 2011

In Time & Occupy Wall Street: For the 1% to be Immortal, many of the 99% Must Die

Over the holiday weekend I managed to take a break from the rat race and squeeze a few movies in.  As a Sci-Fi buff, I decided to see In Time starring Justin Timberlake and Cillian Murphy.  The movie takes place in a futuristic dystopian society similar to that of Gattaca or Logan's Run where human beings are genetically engineered and lead lives largely detached from what we would consider a normal human existence.  The basic plot of In Time is that people are genetically engineered to stop aging once they turn 25. The catch? When you hit 25, a neon green light appears on your forearm and begins counting down backwards from 1-year.  At the end of that 1 year, you will die unless you can replenish your forearm clock by "earning" more time. Therefore, Time has replaced money as the new currency in this movie. 

People literally buy and sell things based on increments of time; a cup of coffee costs 5 minutes of your life whereas a meal at a fancy restaurant might cost 8 weeks of your life. A blue collar job might pay you 24 hours for a day's labor whereas you might be able to go to the casinos and win 2 or 3 years playing Texas Hold 'em.  This sets up a situation where the rich are able to amass virtually endless amounts of time, thereby effectively becoming immortal.  Meanwhile, the working class find themselves working crappy jobs for mere hours a day, living 24-hours to 24-hours much like the American worker lives paycheck to paycheck.  The rationale for this framework offered by the rich who are able to enjoy the benefits of this society:  "for a few to be immortal, many must die."  This draws an obvious parallel between this fictitious world and our society where the top 1% are only able to remain in the top 1% because of the labor produced by the 99%.  Stated differently, in order for the 1% to remain in the 1%, many must remain in the 99%.

Upward mobility in this world is as difficult as it is in our society.  Without giving away too much of the movie, a plot twist is introduced when Timberlake's character is given over 100 years of time by some random rich guy who doesn't want to live anymore.  Timberlake takes this new found time and decides to finally travel outside of the ghetto (the 99%) to the nearby city where all the rich people live (the 1%).  However, along the path from the ghetto to the utopian city there are many highway check points where you must deposit up to 2 or 3 months of time in one setting in order to proceed to the next gate.  All told, by the time Timberlake's character finally arrives in the utopian city where the upper class live, he had spent a total of 1 year of his life.  For Timberlake's character it was inconsequential because he had over 100 years of life on his forearm clock to spare, but for the millions of others in his position it literally would have been impossible for them to go from the ghetto to the high class society.  Especially when they're earning only hours a day on the job.  This is akin to the huge financial roadblocks (college tuition, grad school tuition, capital for a new business, etc.) one experiences in the United States while trying to elevate themselves into the top 1% when they are coming from a poor family.  As the Occupy Wall Street movement has (hopefully) pointed out to us, these roadblocks in our society have recently become too high to be sustained in the future if we hope to provide any realistic shot at upward mobility.

There's also an interesting jab at how the laws of our society (represented by Cillian Murphy's character), although claiming to be neutral, still enable the rich to remain rich while simultaneously keeping the poor people poor. 

The film's acting and screenplay left a little something to be desired, but the movie still managed to raise several poignant questions about class, capitalism, and the so-called American Dream:

1. Despite our disdain toward the unemployment rate, is some level of unemployment necessary in order for our society to function?
2. Do our laws help or inhibit upward mobility?  Name a few examples.
3. How has the American Dream of upward mobility been damaged by the greed on Wall Street?
4. How can America restore the American Dream?
5. If everybody in the 99% received $100 Million dollars tomorrow tax free, would our society break down and cease to function?
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