English 495 ESM
11 May 2012
The Promise of Capitalism
The American dream has been a glimmering light at the end of a long tunnel to millions of Americans and immigrants for decades. It is a part of the ideology our country was built upon, an idea included in the Declaration of Independence, the notion that “all men are created equal” and as such they have certain freedoms among them the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This founding ideology, this right to freedom and the pursuit of happiness, has led many to believe that America is the land where if you work hard enough all of your dreams can come true. Randy Martin explores the ideas of a better tomorrow and how Capitalism distorts this dream for its own gain in his essay “Where did the Future Go?” In this essay Martin explains “Once upon a time, capital had a dream of the future …Needless to say, most of the world’s peoples…never got to live the dream. (Martin) For Martin, the dream of a better tomorrow in the realm of a capitalist society was realistically a dream that would only come true for the lucky few and it was a dream that the many would have to pay for. As the world becomes increasingly globalized, through technological growths and a world economy America’s dream of a better tomorrow spreads right along with it. The spread of capitalist ideologies and those ideologies themselves are explored in the 2008 movie Slumdog Millionaire written by Simone Beaufoy and directed by Danny Boyle. In the East meets West movie, Slumdog Millionaire, the seedy underbelly of Capitalism is exposed to the audience through the many trials faced by the protagonist Jamal and his companions but in the end the determination of the individual triumphs and the audiences is pacified as the American dream is achieved.
The first way Slumdog Millionaire reveals the seedy underbelly of a Capitalist regime is through the exploitation of the laborer. This exploitation is referenced indirectly many times throughout the movie through the use of child labor, and prostitution rings in the criminal underground which demonstrate a mimicry of the capitalist ideology of disciplining of labor. David Harvey in his book, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, uses the Chinese example to illustrate the exploitation of labor caused by the free market practices of Capitalism. Harvey writes about the vulnerability of the displaced rural residents now forced to immigrate into urban regions saying that “this labour force is vulnerable to super-exploitation and puts downward pressure on the wages of urban residents” (Harvey 127). In this model, which is repeated in all the countries where capitalist ideals of a free market are adopted, workers are forced to compete for jobs at lower and lower wages which allows for company owners to increase their profit margins. Slumdog Millionaire extends this exploitation by illustrating it through the gang leader Maman’s treatment of his child labor force, in particular Arvind. In the movie Maman maximizes his begging profits by crippling his best singer Arvind, blinding him by pouring boiling liquid into his eyes. In the movie Jamal explains that “blind beggars earn double” (Slumdog Millionaire). Maman also uses Jamal’s brother, Salim, to discipline his labor giving Salim the illusion of power and drawing attention away himself so that when the workers revolt they take out their aggressions on Salim instead of rising up against their true enemy Maman. The child workers, instead of seeing Maman for what he truly is, think of him as a savior who is rescuing them from squalor and delivering them to a better tomorrow.
The effects of the spread of capitalism are not only seen in the exploitation of the worker, but also in the concentration of wealth, the displacement of the poor and the emergence of the transnational culture which engulfs the cultures of old. Using the Chinese example again Harvey writes :
though China may have one of the world’s fastest growing economies it has also become one of its most unequal societies…the income divide between the urban rich and the rural poor has widened so sharply that some studies now compare China’s social cleavage unfavorably with Africa’s poorest nations. (Harvey 142)
In Slumdog Millionaire this dispossession and the concentration of wealth along with the spread of the transnational culture that goes along with it are brought to light through a mantra scene showing our young protagonist, Jamal, and his brother riding the rails from town to town trying to make money in any way possible and being constantly kicked out or cast aside. Finally, after being divided for a period of time the brothers meet in their old slum which has been transformed by high rise buildings side by side (Slumdog Millionaire). Their own home has been seized to make room for the technological future the promise of capitalism, only it seems the poor inhabitants of the slum were not a part of the dream and they have been left to the peripheral as the audience can just make out along the edges the shanty villages that surround this Capitalist utopia.
Still the dream must be kept intact, and the audience, which wants its happy ending, gets exactly what they have been waiting for. The greedy Salim, arguably just a victim of the capitalist environment he was raised in, finally helps his brother Jamal who has been fighting from the beginning for his dream girl Latika. Salim does this by helping Latika escape from his new crime boss Javhed. For all his troubles Salim is killed in a tub of the money he so desperately sought. In the end Latika is reunited with Jamal, the hero who never gave up, who worked hard and in the end achieved his dream. By giving the audience this unrealistic ending all of the problems or capitalism seen throughout the movie including the dispossession of the poor, the concentration of wealth, and the disciplining of labor can be forgiven because Jamal through his hard work and determination was able to rise up from his humble beginnings and achieve the dream and the woman he had been working so hard for his whole life. Thus the American dream can be achieved, even in India.
Harvey, David. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford, 2005. Web. 16 April 2012.
Martin, Randy. “Where did the Future Go?” Logos: Logosonline 5.1 (2006). n. pag. Web. 16
Slumdog Millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Perf. Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Saurabh Shulka. Fox
Searchlight Pictures, 2008. DVD.