Monday, January 27, 2020

Did we see the same movie?

Robin Hanson has a post up comparing Parasite with Joker. I can't comment on the first movie as I have not seen it have no desire to see it. But I'm a bit puzzled by Hanson's take on Joker.

He writes that both movies are "social commentary" [the scare quotes are in the original] and comments,
That commentary is said to be about inequality and class conflict, and most critics see Parasite as more “sophisticated” than Joker. My take: Parasite is done in a setting and style designed to appeal to upper class folks, and it is about class conflict from a more upper class perspective. Joker is designed to appeal to lower class folks, and it is about class conflict from a more lower class perspective. Which is partly why upper class critics prefer Parasite.
My position is that Joker is not class commentary.

Now Hanson has left himself lots of wiggle room here—first with the scare quotes and then the "is said to be". He may not think Joker is about inequality and class conflict. That said, he proceeds as if that was the case and nowhere considers any alternative.

Towards the bottom he quotes the Joker's character during his television appearance, "when he gains a public stage",
Everybody just yells and screams at each other. Nobody’s civil anymore. Nobody thinks what it’s like to be the other guy. You think men like Thomas Wayne, men at ease, ever think what it’s like to be a guy like me? To be anybody but themselves. 
Here's the question I have, at any time in this entire movie, does the Joker character wonder what it's like to be anyone but himself?  The answer to that question is "No!!!!" There are a couple of moments when he appears to but we later find out this is fantasy. With the possible exception of his mother, he has no real relationship with anyone.

If there is a villain in his life, that villain is his mother. If! We can't really be certain about that. When he kills her, you feel zero sympathy for her. Can we trust him, though? I'm not sure even on this point.

The movie resonates with people because we can see how easy it would be to go down that victim route. That's the social commentary. Class has nothing to do with it.

I think it's telling that academics like Hanson, whose blog is called "Overcoming Bias", don't seem to be able to see a social commentary as anything but a class commentary. [But! Note the caveat about wiggle room above.]

Further thought, what do the terms "upper class" and "lower class" mean in this context? When we read a line like this, "Parasite is done in an art-house film style, while Joker is done in a mass-market comic-book style," what does that suggest? I'll grant you that art house primarily appeals to people who consider themselves intellectuals but that's a funny way to designate upper class. Given the choice between art-house style and mass market comic-book style, which do you think Donald Trump would prefer? Some people may like to think of people like Donald Trump as lacking class but I don't think we can reasonably call him lower class.

I think we're talking not about any "upper class" but rather about a credentialed class. That is people whose status depends on credentials conferred upon them by "peers and experts" as I discussed in my last post. A credentialed class is a lot like a peacetime army. The challenge for a peacetime army is that it can't evaluate officers in actual combat. A series of other measures have to be devised. Worse, the whole system is subject to corruption because the officer class are the ones who create the measures—and while some of them may actually be experts, most are just peers.

This is speculative, but suppose that there was a credentialed class whose power base was founded upon, oh I don't know, how about  a postwar liberal consensus. And suppose that consensus was in danger of crumbling. And let's imagine that members of this credentialed class looked out and saw that something momentous was happening but, instead of seeing there was a danger that their entire world could come crashing down on them, they saw it as a conflict between economic classes—they saw it as a conflict between abstract entities. How might that work out for them?

No comments:

Post a Comment