Occupy the Multiplex: Class Warfare in This Summer’s Movies

What's behind this recent spate of movies that examine scenes of class struggle?

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Universal Pictures / Copyright: © 2013 Universal Studios. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Moviegoers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.

Doesn’t the movie theater seem a little Marx-ish lately? Tales of class struggle abound this summer. At the current multiplex, you might choose from The Purge (about a future dystopia where class warfare breaks out on the one night of the year when crime goes unpunished), The East (about an agent who infiltrates a group of anticorporate saboteurs and comes to sympathize with their cause), Now You See Me (a group of magicians who stage Robin Hood–style robberies), The Bling Ring (a true story in which the haves steal from the have-mores) and This Is the End (in which Seth Rogen, James Franco, and other pampered stars — playing more fatuous versions of themselves — discover that wealth and fame offer no protection from the apocalypse and the pits of hell). They’ll be joined in August by Elysium, a futuristic sci-fi tale in which the wealthy elite live in a space station orbiting the earth while the poor live on the ruined planet below.

Conservative critics will find such fare to be par for the course in liberal Hollywood, but they’re a rarity. It’s certainly not typical to find films that mean to make you think, even for a moment or two, about class issues that our discourse usually avoids, especially during a summer movie season that’s typically about superheroes, aliens and zombies. Besides, Hollywood movies are typically about consumption, making viewers covet the protagonist’s lifestyle and serving as a de facto commercial for his or her favorite consumer goods. (Man of Steel has more than 100 global retail partners who’ve ponied up $160 million for Superman’s implied endorsement.)

Why, then, the sudden minitrend of class-struggle movies? The timing may not be a coincidence. It takes about two years for a film to go from conception to release. And nearly two years ago, in September 2011, the birth of the Occupy movement caught America’s attention and forced a national conversation about income inequality. The East, shot shortly after the fall 2011 protests, borrows the most from them in terms of rhetoric and theatrics, while the other films mostly couch their class conflict in metaphorical or allegorical terms that, nonetheless, will have viewers thinking about the huge gap that separates the 1% from the 99%.

Viewers who don’t want overt class politics with their popcorn needn’t worry. They can go see The Great Gatsby, which fawns and lingers over the characters’ flaunted wealth even as it chides them for their shallowness. And Adam Sandler and his fellow childhood-pals-made-good will be back in July’s Grown Ups 2 to celebrate their own wealth and privilege while mocking the bitter townies who never made it big. So, business as usual.

14 comments
wws102
wws102

Now you see me - a movie about class?????  OH COME ON!  It's a heist movie, one in a long line of popular heist movies, and people love their heist movies.  Or was Ocean's Eleven really all about the oppression of the proletariat by the wicked bourgeoisie? 

(psst - you know why heist movies always have the robbers stealing from rich people?  because like Willy Sutton said, THAT'S WHERE THE MONEY IS.)

I think I know why the author wanted to include it - he wanted to name at lease one hit in a list of flops.

SteveS
SteveS

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! How fatuously self-important. I haven't had such a good laugh since reading that Obama gets his news from the newspapers. I absolutely LOVE that sign-off, that Conservatives needn't worry since a Hollywood interpretation of the Great Gatsby and Adam Sandler are there for us. Talk about out of touch! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

FacelessCommenter
FacelessCommenter

Holy god, what delusion. The "Occupy Movement" forced a conversation about income inequality? Yeah, and my cat forced a conversation about rodentia necropsy when she brought in a dead mouse.

TruthGun
TruthGun

Liberal Hollywood being....liberal. What a shocker. *yawn*

FishyLuvSite
FishyLuvSite

Only among the ivory tower and Marxist set did the Occupy movement force a  "national conversation about income inequality."  The rest of us saw the "rape-free" tents and the dudes defecating on police cars and weird drum circles with people repeating each other and saw something we wanted nothing to do with.

CouldntBRighter
CouldntBRighter

This is nonsense.  The Tea Party movement, which was a lot larger than the Occupy movement until the IRS started discriminating against it, was born in March of 2009.  Where are all the summer 2011 blockbusters complaining of big government, bloated bureaucracy and spending, unimaginable debt, and stifling regulations?  I'll make it easier for you than that:  Name me a single movie--one single movie--where the villain was a non-military government official who was misusing his power.  I'll wait.

ViralSurvivor
ViralSurvivor

The Purge is like if the Tea Party ran the US government. 

"Our new founding fathers, shortly after election..." The weak will be eliminated during the 12 hours of government time-out, leading to economic prosperity and a happier society. Let's hope you're not weak in any way.

JjMontague
JjMontague

Really?  The Tea Party momvent, in it's origianl form was about tax reform, as in a less complex, more equitable tax system that would remove power from the abusive IRS.  On the other hand, we have a (liberal) politician who sends his daughters to private schools while opposing a voucher program that would allow inner city DC children to do the same?  Who has a have vs. have not mentality here?

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

...What?

The Tea Party in no way represents a 'survival of the fittest'/Darwinian mentality.  It in no way advocates murder of unwanted citizens.

Without further evidence/clarification, you're setting up a false analogy by comparing the group to the movie.

ViralSurvivor
ViralSurvivor

@JjMontague The Tea Party in its original form was created by Fox News and the Koch Brothers for corporate interests under the guise of a tax protest. Now it has included anyone with a complaint about the government not just abusive IRS. It even includes people who basically want to eliminate government, which is the comparison I see in The Purge. One night without government, without law.

So Tea Party has become basically anti-government. Occupy, on the other hand, is anti-corporation and sees government and collectivism as the answer. I see that message more in the part of the Purge where the officials above level 10 get protection, the inequality of the haves and have-nots, and how we need government to settle these inequalities in human rights. Shows you both what can happen with an elite government out of control, and what things are like without a government for one night.

You want evidence and a conversation, you got it. I am just getting started.

A tax authority cannot be fair, I am sorry that angers you and its unfair. But taxing is taking from some and giving to others. Plain as that. Without taxes there would be absolutely no government because the world runs on money. For your Tea Party perspective, that means no national defense, no border enforcement, no police, no roads, no fire department... I'll stop there, and everything around you take for granted. The only way you would be safe is to live on a compound with your own security, let alone have anything to live from.

Yes there are haves and have-nots, but the difference in you and me is where we put the blame. Government for you, corporations for me.

The Tea Party is a pawn in a corporate agenda to lower their own corporate taxes, like GE paying nothing on $ billions of income. So they get you angry hard workers to side with their own greed and privilege. They are the ones winning the rewards, not you. Their taxes are already virtually zero and they want to keep it that way.

CouldntBRighter, you see what you want to see. Hunger Games is a movie where the nation's leader abused her power to keep her subjects have-nots oppressed and separate from the elite. That is a multi-part blockbuster that is still having parts released, and books sold best sellers.

By the way, the masks in the Purge do look a lot like the Guy Fawkes mask in Vendetta and Occupy. That cannot be a coincidence. Except in The Purge they were not agitators, they were a vandal mob. But again, instead I think they represent what the Tea Party would do without government for one night.

JjMontague
JjMontague

@ViralSurvivor@JjMontague Okay, first off, the Tea Party movement was conceived by Rick Santelli in 2009. Look it up.  I am quite certain that he worked for neither Fox nor the Koch Brothers.  I agree that taxes are a necessary evil,  and I have no issues paying taxes to support infrastructure. I do however have issues paying taxes to support Big Bird, Planned Parenthood, Free Cell phones, General Motors, Perpetual salaries for "retired" representatives,  IRS Conventions, etc.  I will also point out that, personal income taxes are not necessary, they are simply convenient and a lucrative pot to pilfer.  There are sales taxes, import and export tarriffs and other options that would be far more equitable to everyone involved..   

While Corporations and their campaign contributions have indeed co opted our government, this idea of Government   Collectivism is dangerous. You seem to like fictional movies, did you never see Animal Farm?  That's a rather pointed example of collectivism. I want no part of it.  Beyond that, I didn't follow most of your references as I don't watch movies all that often. I have a family to provide for....and that's hard work considering that the government intends to take a rather large chunk of that product and "distribute" it to someone else.

ViralSurvivor
ViralSurvivor

@FrankGrayson I didn't mean it so literally or directly the Tea Party would do those crimes, but they're asking for a world where that would be allowed. Just let the mob have them once government is out of the way. It was a little symbolic too the masked mob were preppy spoiled rich kids having cruel fun chasing and killing a homeless man just because he is a have-not and they can. A black homeless man. The symbolism is everywhere.

FrankGrayson
FrankGrayson

@ViralSurvivor Good Lord, are you delusional!

So what you are saying is that the Tea Party people would "explode in violent acts" without government, is that what you are really saying???

Oh yes, because those Tea Party protests were sooooooooo rowdy and had so much violence, unlike the occupy protests, which were soooooooo peaceful and nice, with everybody sitting around singing "kumbayah", right? /s

  It is the other way around.  Quit getting your "news" from MSNBC and you may witness the truth for once.