We're here to reveal the horror of society. The Ghouls talk about classism, what is it and why it is a real terror here in America. We dive deep into the work of Bong Joon-Ho to explore classism in the media, with Snowpiercer and Parasite.
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Kat's Facts - Classism as a means of social order
Lol, guys did you forget that people are trash? Cause lemme tell you...dear lord are we. So today we’re talking about classism. I wanna preface this with I might be using some big words today and hope you stay with me cause this ish is complex and complicated and just an all around bad time. So Classism, if I were to define it, Is a means of social order, the keeper of the peace. Marx described religion as the “opiate of the masses”, and our class structure operates the same way. Classism is a way to justify atrocities happening to the masses with the euphemisms of duty and purpose. “to explain and elaborate the social structure, reconcile the lower orders to their lot, assist the rulers in repressing the people, and prevent rebellion.” It is used in many forms across many societies, be it religion, race, economic or political standing, any way with which to place people within boxes, separating us into categories and making it impossible for us to rise up against our oppressors. We accept our places not because we enjoy them but because of societal pressure, and the idea that we have a role to play. That there is a reason we are where we are. Be it the decisions of their parents, the location we are born, the color of our skin, the history of our ancestors, our roles are explained and told to us and we begrudgingly accept them because it is our only way of rationalizing our circumstance. For many it’s also the false idea that we sit higher than someone else, even though we are still so unbelievably far below the elite. They pit us against each other so that we do not rise against them. For anyone like, oh it’s good we don’t have that in America cause capitalism and the American dream, LOL. America has this real messed up way of dangling the idea of individual freedom and power, the idea of upward mobility in front of us, suggesting that we aren’t confined to our classes, that we have the choice to escape. Our own version of the “the island” or the “lottery” is the American dream. The idea that hard work and determination is what separates us from the social elite. That through hard work and sacrifice we can improve our standing in society, placing the blame on ourselves and not on the upper classes pulling the strings. The reality however is that today the barriers between us and something better are immense and extremely intentional. We’re fed the idea that we can move up if we want it bad enough, and are force fed stories of underdogs who did it, when the reality is for the majority of us, without the right privileges, or back doors, we won’t make it. We’re fed hope without any real pathway to what we hope for, because they don’t want us to achieve those things, but do want us to think we can. We fight the system, thinking it’s our own idea, when it’s not. In America we also feed into the idea of choice and status, that for many middle or upper middle class, that they are better than those in the labor and lower labor class. We classify whole groups of people as lazy, criminals, uneducated, and say they are DESERVING OF DEMORALIZING AND DEHUMANIZING LEVELS OF POVERTY cause they don’t work hard enough. The majority of our country believes that that level of poverty is a choice, and not because of our political system being funded by the economic and social elite. Who turn the other way when RICH companies are given tax abatement so that schools remain underfunded, The U.S. government does "considerably less" than comparable democracies to even out disposable family incomes, Jencks says. And current state and local tax policies "actually increase income inequality."
In Snowpiercer, we are told that the train is like a body, and the cars are like the systems necessary to maintain the health of the train. The passengers are told that if any cars don’t fulfill their duties, that the whole train will fail/suffer, and how lucky they are to be in the safety of the train and not somewhere else. Classism operates the same way.
Christopher "Sandy" Jencks, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, believes that the last 30 years of rising American inequality can be attributed to three key factors:
The decline in jobs and employment rates for less-skilled workers, which has increased the number of households with children but no male breadwinner.
The demand for college graduates outpacing the pool of job candidates, adding to the gap between the middle class and upper-middle class.
The share of income gains flowing to the top 1 percent of earners doubling as a result of deregulation, globalization, and speculation in the financial-services industry.
"All the costs and risks of capitalism seem to have been shifted largely to those who work rather than those who invest," he said.
Compounding the economic imbalance is the unlikely prospect that those at the bottom can ever improve their lot.
"We have some of the lowest rates of upward mobility of any developed country in the world," said Nathaniel Hendren, an associate professor of economics at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences who has studied intergenerational mobility and how inequality transmits across generations.
What unites areas of low mobility, Hendren says, are broken family structures, reduced levels of civic and community engagement, lower-quality K-12 education, greater racial and economic segregation, and broader income inequality.
In addition, 90 percent of American workers have seen their wages stall while their costs of living continue to rise.
"When you look at the data, it's sobering. Median household income when last reported in 2013 was at a level first attained in 1989, adjusting for inflation. That's a long time to go without any gains," said Jan Rivkin, the Bruce V. Rauner Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.
Gabe's Film Analysis - Bong Joon-Ho and Classism
With Bong Joon Ho’s two films we’ll talk about here (we haven’t seen Okja or the Host yet IM SORRY), we have classism expressed with shots focusing up and down or left and right. The left and right is what we see in Snowpiercer and the up and down, in Parasite.
I want to start with Snowpiercer. Which, on the surface, seems like a fun and silly dystopian film about the end of world, brought on by our own hubris. Classic, cliche’d, starring Chris Evans (post-Captain America debut!). But it's so much more, obviously. And the thing that fun about Snowpiercer is that it takes itself somewhat seriously but it is so blatant and in your face with its moral tales and themes that you’d have to work really hard to avoid learning or understanding what Bong Joon-ho is trying to tell you. In essence, WE MUST SEIZE THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION! In this case, the literal engine to the train, which is the only thing keeping people alive. First, the people seize the food, then the water, then the children. It's so in your face it's fun! But let me start at the beginning, or somewhere else rather - we have these people who are clearly the lower class. They live in the back of the train, they are fed bugs (spoilers) and have even taken to eating each other once upon a time (spoilers again). They are dirty, resemble coal workers and are all broken a bit. The first act of rebellion - a shoe thrown (haha, a page right out of the Bush years if anything) is met with a horrifying punishment AND a lecture, about how they are all shoes that belong on the foot and the rich are hats that belong on the head. This is my favorite line. She is so ridiculous but it's also so impactful in that we are conditioned to believe this is where we belong, there is no other place for us and we would be silly to think otherwise - How absurd! A poor person in a mansion??? They will never let us up there, loves. Sorry to tell you.
Our train is separated into back, middle and front or lower, middle and upper class. The lower is dark, gloomy, windowless and broken. The middle is bright, windowed and full of hope (keep the people satiated) and the front is full of hedonistic monsters out of an Aldous Huxley story.
Nerdwriter1 on Youtube said this about the middle class which I feel encompasses the whole thing, "educated enough to think for themselves, yet comfortable enough to be highly susceptible to propaganda. The middle class is at once the most important and most dangerous cross sections of society and the school is where the middle class is indoctrinated into a system that will exploit them and those less fortunate where ideology is most powerful.”
Nerdwriter1 also brings to light how the true heroes are Namgoong and his daughter Jara who are from the middle class! We also have our (spoilers) only 2 remaining protagonist as people who were very much born into this system and finally break free from all they’ve known - with stories of the outside and hope for a real life piloting them forward.
I also want to talk about the children car - it reminds me of The Wave or this other similar film where it we have a group of young children (in a world where Hitler won) and we have the new fascist teacher coming into a classroom and slowly over the course of the film deconstruct the young minds and reconstruct them over this idea of their new God - Hitler. One of the more memorable scenes is where the teacher says, “Close your eyes and pray to God for candy.” they do and when they open their eyes, there’s no candy. So she goes, “Now close your eyes and pray to Fuhrer.” and they open their eyes and voila! Candy! This scene was screaming this film and I felt it. One of the best ways to keep people in line is to convince your children the government/systems of oppression are the heroes. In 1984, kids would rat their parents out. It’s real.
Accented Cinema, a youtube channel I will mention much in this section - explains the use of the left/right camera movement to show progression and ascension but also the character looking back and forward to indicate a decision being made. Not just a decision of - should I save this man who has been my best friend and (spoilers) who’s mother I killed and I tried to eat him (yeah, wtf Chris Evans??) OR progress forward to the front of the train and SEIZE THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION!? Well, you know what he chooses. Curtis (Cap’n) becomes more animalistic and kinda evil as he progresses forward (or right of the screen). My least favorite part is the reveal (spoilers!) when Curtis tells the gruesome Donner party tale of desperate cannibalism with him being revealed as the big bad all those years ago. Now we know why he was so against being the leader, not modesty, he’s evil! I don’t like this scene for a multitude of reasons. I don’t think we need it. I think it’s tongue-in-cheek hee hee look at our hero be evil - but it happened long ago and off screen so it really doesn’t matter and its not enough to break our stride of feeling for Curtis and his struggle. It's also rather absurd. AND it severely slows down the momentum of the film. We’ve been progressing forward and forward, door after door, class after class and we’re on the edge of our seats only to be barred from the last door. But not only that, but we’re sitting here - stagnant. We have a better reveal happen in this moment when Namgoong Minsoo explains that he isn’t some drug user but actually wants to use the substance to blow open a door and go outside, he believes the earth is warm enough now! Wow! What a great reveal - oh wait we’re still talking about Curtis trying to eat babies...cool. And then the door is just opened. So nice of Wilford to give Curtis that emotional moment before having his lackey bring him inside. It’s just a waste. I get it, we’re all flawed. I also don’t enjoy the “Gilliam was evil all along” too reveal. I do like the messages coming from Wilford, that makes sense but Gilliam nah son. We also have this choice given to Curtis in the end, that this whole rebellion was designed by the higher ups (all of them have been to keep people in line - just like real governments!) and he has been chosen to be the successor. How many real-life rebellions have led to the same conditions or worse, Curtis will just be perpetuating the system he sought to rebel against.
However, all in all, this film is very fun and educational without making you think too hard. It's exciting to progress forward. It's not my favorite horror train movie though (that goes to Train to Busan!) but it’s a great film nonetheless.
Parasite is incredibly worthy of all the awards it has received. Please do not let subtitles keep you from a breathtaking and cinematic masterpiece. I’m not usually one to buy into hype but I gave Parasite a shot and I am very happy I did. I watched it in the theatre with some friends and I was utterly silent the entire time (which is a big feat for me! I am a commentary monster). Afterwards, my friend Sergio asked me what I thought. He had seen it before and wanted to be excited with me, now that he could finally talk about it. But I had no words. I needed time to just sit with it because there’s so much that happens and I wanted to be sure I got my bearings before I talked about it. Sergio thought I was being rude but we’re all strange each in our own way. As soon as I walked away, there was a scene that stuck out to me and solidified it as a new favorite. SPOILERS PEOPLE! You know how this works, please go watch this film because I’m about to spoil it but I want you to enjoy the spoils with me.
So, glad you paused, watched the movie and came back. There’s a part in the film where the Kim family is fleeing the Park house. Its downpouring and the family has been absolutely rocked, the audience has been on edge - pins and needles- from the sharp turn the film just took and we are all collectively catching our breaths as they travel home. Their journey home, takes them down and down and down - down stairs and dark alleys. We have this incredible wide and distant shots - almost like a platformer game with our protagonists (if you can call them that) are making their way down the landscape. As they go down, the rain has gone from pleasant storm to torrential downpour. They come home to find their home flooded, their belongings destroyed and their worlds falling apart. As sister, Jessica, closes and works to sit on the lid of the toilet spewing out ...matter we get a parallel shot of the previous maid, whose life they sabotaged and ultimately cut short, is vomiting in her own subterranean toilet from the concussion she suffered at the hands of “not nice” mom. (If only she were rich, then she’d be nice).
There’s so much to dissect here cinematically but that paired with the scene preparing for the impromptu birthday bash where Yeon-kyo (the Park Matron) mentions making lemons into lemonade - how out of touch is she? Or when she tells Jessica, Ki-jung, that Jessica is so naive and has a lot to learn about people. The film is full of smart dialogue that pokes fun at the Park family’s disconnect with reality and true hardship while making you feel for and pity the Kim family’s desperation and cunning. “If she really wanted to, she would make an amazing con-woman.” says Chung-sook about Ki-jung as she cunningly convinces the Park’s to hand over their sensitive materials - including their company’s title! This alongside some amazing cinematography makes for a beautiful and impactful film.
I watched a video from Accented Cinema on Youtube and it only solidified further my appreciation for Bong Joon-Ho’s filmmaking. Yes, on the surface we have a narrative that is clearly about classism and does not hold back from the blatant, in-your-face commentary about the problems from classism. But we also have movement and angles that further solidify that as well. We start by revealing to the audience that this family lives in a sub-basement home, the camera coming down and looking down on Ki-woo, later dubbed Kevin (how American!). In our last scene of the film, we have this shot mirrored but now it’s dark and although so much has happened over the last 2 hours of film - our protagonist are no farther along in their life, still living in their sub basement and stuck in this reality they can only continue to dream their way out of. When Ki-woo gets his interview with the Parks he is shown ascending upward and the camera, when he reaches the steps to their home, is now looking up at him - its blinding in the light and seems almost impractical for this shot but it's here to show us he’s levitating - rising from his poverty.
Accented Cinema goes on to explain the line which Mr. Park continually mentions as Mr. Kim toes the line but never crosses it. There are some amazing scenes that Accented Cinema references that if you’re not looking you’ll miss but are brilliant. When Ki-woo is waiting to be introduced to Mrs. Park he is looking out the window. There is a line dividing the window with Ki-woo, on the inside, on one side of the line along with Moon-gwang, on the outside, and Mrs. Park on the other side of the line. Later, when Mrs. Park is showing Kevin up to Da-hye’s room, Mrs. Park is walking along the hallway. There is a line dividing parts of the hallway - Kevin follows Mrs. Park up and promptly steps to the other side of the line.
I could go on for days with this but I encourage you to watch some of the amazing videos and read the articles that further explain this genius and seriously, if you haven’t watched it yet then you are truly missing out.
Media from this week's episode:
Snowpiercer (2013) Director: Bong Joon Ho
In a future where a failed climate-change experiment has killed all life except for the lucky few who boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, a new class system emerges.
Parasite(2019) Director: Bong Joon Ho
A poor family, the Kims, con their way into becoming the servants of a rich family, the Parks. But their easy life gets complicated when their deception is threatened with exposure.