Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.” That scene where the workers are reporting to work conveyer belt style. Every time I watch that scene I can’t help but hear the Dead Kennedys’ “At My Job” in my head. “I’m working at my job/I’m so happy/More boring by the day/But they pay me.”
“On the Waterfront.” Excellent social commentary that gave us one of Hollywood’s great lines. You know the one. It was about being a “contender.” The film, which has many different levels to it, means different things to different people. You’ve got family, the exploited working class, politics, betrayal. It’s a classic for a reason.
Then there’s “Good Will Hunting.” Say what you want about the stars, but this was a smart movie (and the only mainstream one I can think of that mentioned Noam Chomsky) carried by working class characters who fit the stereotypes while at the same time defying them.
There are other films that focus on the working class and the social mores that come with it. Some are good. Some bad. Some get it right. Others don’t even come close. It’s like anything else that Hollywood does. You have to sift through a lot of crap to find a corn kernel.
I’ve always liked the messages of good movies about the working class, movies that reinforce those values while at the same time examining them. After all, it’s the working class that keeps this country moving, and every once in a while there needs to be a movie to showcase that. Usually those messages are hidden in the film, but you can find them pretty easily if you look. In the case of “Good Will Hunting” it was more of a character study than a class study, but those usually make the best stories anyway. After all, the working class is composed of people, and their stories deserve to be highlighted.
If there’s one thing I talk about a lot, it’s the power of film. I hope that when people see these films about working class people — the ones that address their place in the social ladder — that they come away from the film with a better understanding of what motivates this group of people and what’s important to them. Those are things I think people are forgetting about because the working class is disappearing. It’s now the service class. Factory work is going the way of the dinosaur, and those people who were multigenerational laborers are looking at unemployment forms and wondering what went wrong. It was telling that after the latest mining disaster a friend said, “I didn’t know they even had mines anymore.”
Let’s hope the screenwriters never forget about those mines, both literally and figuratively. It’s history, Sometimes it’s a history our government would rather have us forget. (Look at how many people don’t even know how we got eight hour work days and things like vacations. Look at how many people know nothing about the National Guard being used against striking workers in Colorado.)
Remember all of this the next time you’re busy at your job, and then go watch “On the Waterfront” one more time. It may give you some insight on what it’s like to have values other than greed and dominance-at-any-cost. Then again, maybe those are the only values that exist anymore. If that’s the case, at least we still have some films to show us how it used to be. And to those miners: Some of us will never forget. The rest of us never knew. Ignorance isn’t only bliss. For some people it’s mandatory. And for some filmmakers, it’s the stuff of great stories.