Occupy Wall-E: A cinematic ode to the 99%

Mad as hell; gonna watch some movies.

When looking for movies that speak to the 99 percent you’ve got the obvious Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. But that film’s a bit blunt force (also it’s …meh). Or there’s Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A True Love Story, which is specific to our current sociopolitical plight. But for films to really get your proletariat blood boiling, I’ve compiled a list of more conventional entertainment for the masses that contain a Trojan horse of social consciousness, like how you wrap your dogs’ pills in cheese so they’ll take them. If you want to feel like you’re being politically active while remaining in the comfort of your own home, hit up your friend in the 1 percent with a digital projector and pick from the list. After that, you’ll understand why you might not be surprised to see Rowdy Roddy Piper or George Bailey at Zuccotti Park.

This is not based on real life. At all.

WALL-E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)
On luxury starship The Axiom, humans lucky (wealthy?) enough to escape Earth have atrophied over generations, melting into happy, passive morbidly obese blobs that are too pleasured and entertained to ever question who’s piloting the ship.

Proletariat Protagonist: Wall-E, a sentient and emotive robot saddled with cleaning the mess made by a civilization he was never a part of as humanity has turned its fat-rolled back on the whole Earth mess.

Bougie Villain: The schlubby captain of the Axiom, a symbol for supposed governmental authority, nominally in charge, but ultimately helpless and asleep at the wheel (in this case literally). The wheel itself, Auto, is really in control. It knows if people return to the Earth, start walking and doing things on their own, he and his titanic glittering shopping mall will become obsolete.

The moral: Comfort and decadence will enslave you, get off your fat ass and get back to the soil. Also being a cute robot helps.
Available on DVD and instant watch.

Who's got bubble gum?

THEY LIVE (John Carpenter, 1988)
John Carpenter was interviewed by a reporter who asked him “Come on, are you really trying to claim Reagan and his supporters were really evil aliens trying to enslave humanity?” to which he simply replied “Yes.” He later remarked “They Live was my ‘fuck you’ to Ronald Reagan and everyone in the ‘80s loving that old wrinkled piece of shit. He fucked up everything.”

Proletariat Protagonist: Nada, a hard-luck vagrant finds a pair of shades that allow him to peer through the veil of everyday life and see that the billboards, TV ads and nearly every printed material is in fact a subliminal message that simply reads in bold black letters “OBEY,” “CONSUME” and “MARRY AND REPRODUCE.” Upon discovering the clandestine coup, Nada delivers the classic line “I’m here to kick ass and chew bubblegum … and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

Bougie Villain: The wealthy elite, who are revealed to be ghoulish aliens disguised as humans, covertly controlling humanity. Their skeletal faces jut out from coiffed haircuts and fancy powersuits. Rolex watches serve as communicators and teleport devices.

The Moral: Advertising, religion, money and media are designed to keep regular human folks complacent and unaware of their oppressors. The minute you become wise to the trick, everything changes. Now it’s time to put on your magic sunglasses, spit out your bubblegum and put up your dukes.
Available on DVD and instant watch.

He is the Robotariat.

ROBOCOP (Paul Verehoven, 1987)
Set against a smoldering backdrop of dystopian Detroit, Robocop is a grizzly cautionary tale about privatizing public services. Released in 1987, Robocop projected the economic implosion and descent into poverty and desperation in formerly industrial cities (see Roger & Me, 1989.)

Proletariat Protagonist: An honest, hardworking cop who was brutally mutilated by a savage gang, only to be revived and rebuilt in cybernetic form. He becomes legal property of the corporation that built him and struggles to recover his humanity.

Bougie Villain: Omni Consumer Products, a monolithic corporate empire with plans to level Detroit entirely and build “Delta City,” a private utopia completely owned by the company. Coke-snorting CEOs and execs backstab their way to the top.

The Moral: Authoritarianism, autocracy, police brutality, violence and martial law can come about at the hands of the unregulated, unchecked private sector just as easily as it can come from totalitarian governments.
Available on DVD and instant watch.

This is what democracy tastes like.

SOCIETY (Brian Yunza, 1987)
Three of the films mentioned here were made at the height of the Regan era, a time when most popular horror films were extremely conservative, equating premarital sex and drug use with a ghastly death while the survivors tended to be the pure and good-looking. This obscure gem makes no bones about its allegory where the hoity-toity wealthy are literally feeding off the lower class.

Proletariat Protagonist: High school student Bill Whitney, a good-looking guy with a rich family living in blissful Beverly Hills. Bill feels out of place, he soon begins to unravel a conspiracy as it tries to unravel him and it all leads to a grotesque and unforgettable climax involving some of the best pre-CGI effects ever made.

Bougie Villain: Society. His parents and sister, his classmates, all the adults in his life, every one of them a tuxedoed elite. Bill learns, too late, that everything and everyone he’s ever known in his gated community is part of a sinister plot against him and regular Joes everywhere. “Don’t ya know, Billy boy?  The rich have always sucked off low class shit like you!”

The Moral: The rich will eat you. Literally. Even if you think you’re one of them.
Sadly, this film is out of print. You can watch it piecemeal on Youtube, or buy a region 1 DVD off Amazon UK. I’d of course never condone just looking for a torrent. Cough.

Occupy braaaaaains.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (George Romero, 1978)
As cheerful Muzak plays overhead, mindless zombies wander the halls and shops of the mall, not much less conscious than a drove of living mall shoppers, and every bit as bent on gobbling up everything in front of them.

Proletariat Protagonists: A rag tag group of survivors locked in a mall. With no law and no one to stop them, they raid the shops, reaping endless material bounty. They are happy, nestled in security and plenty, until they realize their cornucopia of pleasure has become a prison, they’re trapped in a giant zombie lunchbox and it is only a matter of time before the doors give and the undead flood in.

Bougie Villain: Zombies (as stand ins for consumerism, at least)

The Moral: The palaces of conspicuous consumption will fall and take you down with them.
Available on DVD and instant watch.

If only Fox News were around.

NETWORK (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
In the politically volatile 1970s, when American cinema was at its peak of creative freedom and social awareness, Lumet turned a sharp satirical scalpel to events that were specific to the time, but resonate today stronger than ever.

Proletariat protagonist: Max Shumaker, division president of the fictional UBS network emerges as the voice of reason, though he doesn’t quite qualify as proletariat. He’s the only one who sees the raving Howard Beale as a human and tries to no avail to stop the network from exploiting his old friend.

Bougie Villain: When Howard Beale, TV network veteran loses it, (because he’s being laid off, of course,) rather than do the responsible thing and seek help for the man, the ruthless network executives decide to give him his own show, seeking high ratings and profits. The network allows the deranged, desperate, cornered man to spout out directionless rage to the impressionable masses, indifferent to whatever his message is so long as they can make money off it. Sound familiar?

The Moral: Reality TV is a PT Barnum freak show on a national scale, exploiting human frailty for profit and it works because we allow it, or worse, crave it.
Available on DVD and instant watch.

The film follows a group of rich socialites as they try to arrange a dinner and are continuously interrupted by a series of bizarre and ludicrous events including a drug bust, a military skirmish, and a restaurant whose owner is dead and embalmed in the dining room. This is probably the most directly anti-bourgeoisie film on the list, but is also the most obtuse, and least accessible, being that Buñel is notoriously baffling and surreal.

Proletariat Protagonist: The director.

Bougie Villain: Nearly every single character is bourgeoise.

The Moral: While the world falls apart the rich will continue to sip champagne and chit chat about nothing. Their mansions and gated communities insulate them from the chaos.
Available on DVD and instant watch. 

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (Frank Capra, 1946)
By most accounts this is a saccharine Christian movie about angels and Christmas and about how awesome white families are. In fact, Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra were both fairly conservative. Capra commented that It’s a Wonderful Life was made to combat atheism. It goes to show how far to the right things have gone, when a squeaky clean Hallmark greeting card kinda movie like this suddenly seems leftist.

Proletariat Protagonist: George Bailey, the self-sacrificial everyman, a Rockwellian portrait of a perfect American: polite, good-looking and conservative. Yes I just used the C-word.

Bougie Villain: Mr. Potter, the sneering and loathsome Dick Cheney lookalike who aims to own the entire town of Bedford Falls, crushing anyone in his path, referring to the residents of the town as a “discontented lazy rabble.”

The Moral: Is it a coincidence that the Move Your Money Project has co-opted the story of It’s A Wonderful Life?  Their viral video directly uses the message of the film to make its point. Even George Bailey is the 99 percent. Just try calling Jimmy Stewart a hippie.
Available on DVD.

Look at these farming hipsters

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (John Ford, 1940)
As per John Steinbeck’s classic novel, a group of Okies, lives wrecked by the dust bowl grudgingly move out to California, upon hearing the flimsy and dubious rumor of plentiful work. They instead find a bewildering road to nowhere and are trapped with countless other destitute, Depression-forsaken souls.

Proletariat Protagonist: Tom Joad, an Oakie with a troubled past and a fighting spirit, leads his family in search of not a better life, but sheer survival. He repeatedly refuses to take crap from his bosses, the police or anyone. His feisty attitude causes him trouble as he’s constantly asked to relinquish his dignity.

Bougie Villain: There isn’t so much a singular villain, just a hostile environment, or rather an indifferent one. This is mainly a Man Vs. Nature type of conflict wherein nature is a world that has completely turned its back on the poor, and desperate folks are left to fight over the scraps.

The Moral: Taking government aid out of the picture and leaving poor folks to make it on their own leads to a whole lot of people fighting each other with no one to protect them.
Available on DVD and instant watch.

hey, at least you guys have jobs.

METROPOLIS (Fritz Lang 1927)
This film is straight up Marxist. It engages the plight of the working class pinned down by wealthy capitalists in a shiny, angular future utopia. Unseen by the privileged occupants above, the workers all remain underground, in toiling in stifling, dreary caves and work in dangerous conditions. The message of the film is ultimately a plea for understanding and cooperation between the haves and the have-nots.

Proletariat Protagonist: Maria, a working-class prophet seeks to unite the workers with the ruling class, bringing peace and balance to all. There is also Freder, the main character who is born into a life of luxury in the ruling class. He is horrified by the working conditions of the lower class and desires to improve their lives.

Bougie Villain: The ruling class, which wants no part of Maria’s ideas of balance and equality. They replace her with an evil robotic doppelgänger in order to quell the working-class revolution.

The Moral: “The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart!”
Available on DVD.


Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin 1936)
Phantom of Liberty (Luis Buñel 1974)
Brazil (Terry Gilliam 1985)
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (Terry Gilliam/Terry Jones 1983)
Blue Collar (Paul Schrader 1978)
District 9 (Neill Blomkamp 2009)
Alien (Ridley Scott 1979)
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott 1982)
The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir 1939)
Weekend (Jean-Luc Goddard 1967)

Bigger Than Life (Nicholas Ray 1956)

Follow Brad: @B_Rad_Pearson.

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