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Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness

yea, i totally dug this movie. And not just because I love Will Smith, which I do. No, I loved it because it was so real and such an amazing story. It didn't feel contrived and at a time in America where it just seems the rich get richer and then run for office to protect their other rich buddies, it was a much needed rags to riches story. Not to mention Will Smith's son is adorable.


Blogger beth said...

its hard to make a theatre audience gasp when everyone knows the ending going in...kind of an unbelievable movie.

12:03 PM  
Blogger beth said...


just for you, my dear.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

Okay, so I am jumping on this bandwagon a little late, but this is my first nothing-to-do day at work in a few weeks.

I haven't seen the movie, but I definitely will at some point, and I will probably cry and love it as much as Christina did. But the osciologist in me has a thing against this movie because it perpetuates the rags-to-riches story that is so prevelant and yet so mythical in American society.

Will Smith (I will use his name because I can't remember the name of the guy in real life) is being used an example of how an impoverished African-American male can overcome tons of odds and get granted a well-paying job in an upper-class, white profession such as the stock market. If this guy can do it, anybody can, right? WRONG!

That's the whole problem with movies like these. It reinforces the public's silly belief in the American Dream, which isn't inherently a problem as the idea of a meritocracy should be motivating, but in American society the idea of meritocracy often masks structural inequalities. For example, Will Smith is one of the few (if not he only) black men to get a position as a stock broker. Does this mean that other black men don't want to be stock brokers, or does it mean that other black men don't have the resources available to them to even consider stock broker as a viable carer option. In addition, Will Smith has to overcome many obstacles in order to obtain his high-paying job. Does this highlight the social situations and hardships that often plague single parents, or does it lend itself to blaming other single parents who cannot or have not overcome the same obstacles?

The overall problem with a society that believes that hard work is directly proportional to rewards often cites a lack of hard work as a reason for lack of rewards. Although a linear equation may work for some societies, I think the rewards equation in American society is much more complicated than one input variable can account for.

Make a movie about a black single mother who tries her hardest to make it and still fails because certain avenues aren't open to her due to structural inequality, and the sociologist in me will be happy. But, I doubt that would be a heart-warming Christmas box-office hit.

Oh, and I love the worst commercials link that Beth posted!

And one more thing, since Beth has already made this an off-topic location, that French restaurant that we saw that crazy Troll Wedding band at closed! Zeph and I ate there on their second-to-last day in business (12/30). So sad...

1:50 PM  
Blogger christina said...

Just to play devils advocate lets say that the fact that it is a true story negates most of your argument. Are you suggesting that we go back in time and say to Chris Gardner, hey pal, its all well and good that you are going to succeed but um, hey you are making the rest of us look bad so could you um, cut it out...

12:29 PM  
Blogger christina said...

and they never claim that he isn't a special case, the guy is obviously really intelligent, the rubix cube doing and all and if you have the brains and the motivation I think you can overcome most of the obstacles put in your way.

I have no doubt that it will take three times the work for a black man to achieve the same position as a white man and perhpas 5 times more for a woman, but even still, that doesn't mean you can't do it.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

So, just to completely misconstrue what you said, if minorities don't succeed in life it is because they are dumb? Even those who are extremely intelligent never have a chance to prove it. Sure, the guy could do a rubix cube, but could he have scored a 1600 on the SAT given that the test is known to be biased? It's not just intelligence in America that counts, it's the right kind of intelligence. Hackers are geniuses, but nobody really appreciates them.

I don't think that we should ask the guy not to succeed, but making it into a movie is only helping to support those in power in society. The "American Dream" can only continue to exist as an ideology (albeit a mythical one) if there are examples of it happening. Stories like this can be waved in front of the public in an effort to renew the belief that America is a meritocracy.

Yes, I think that effort plays a part in any success, but as you said yourself the level of effort needed varies based on the individual who is trying to succeed. What I think this movie does (again, having not even seen it yet) is lull the public into some sense of belief that the same amount of effort=the same amount of success. And, even if some people see it like you did, and recognize that the level of effort varies based on race, class, gender, and sexuality, the movie still offers a level of catharsis. You walked out of the theater thinking that even if it takes a little more work, minorities can succeed in America. Does this make you more inclind to fight against inequality, or more inclined to support the status quo? Where are the stories of the people who try to succeed but never do, not through any fault of their own, but due to the structural inequalities that exist in our society? That is a film that would actually shake-up the myth of meritocracy.

One day I'll make a movie like that, and call it "The Knapsack", after my favorite sociological metaphor about power and privilege.

1:30 PM  
Blogger christina said...

Yes that is completely misconstruing what I said but yea I'm sure there are some minorities as well as white guys from middle class backgrounds who don't succeed because they are dumb. I never said every intelligent person succeeds. But the truth is that lots of dumb people don't succeed, people of all races, men and women, short, tall, etc, plenty of people fail because they are dumb. This guy never went to college, probably for all the reasons you mentioned but he found another way in, he found a way to show his intelligence. There comes a point when you have to stop codling people you sociologist you and admit that the world isn't fair, tough luck, but if you are willing to go the extra extra mile, people like Chris Garnder, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama PROVE that you can succeed. Not that you will, but that it IS possible. How can you say its just a myth when there are many real people who have done it? It is possible. Yes it took more work, and yes it was harder, but it IS possible.

In the movie he says he has to do the same amount of work that they do in 9 hours in 6 so that he can get in line at Glide to get a room. The movie addresses all the things you worry about. Its clear that this was not an easy road for him. Its clear that it was a lot more work. Its clear that not everyone could have done this. Hell the 20 other white boys who didn't get the job even with a full knapsack apparently couldn't even do it.

I'm all for trying to level the playing field and even out the workload for those of us without white male privilege but what I am not for is making excuses or bemoaning my lack of male power. I was born a woman, that was the hand I was dealt and I prefer to see it as I have to do X amount of work to get here, NOT well if I were a man I would only have to do Y. I'm not saying its right that I have to do X and he has to do Y to get the same things and I'm not saying that we shouldn't try as a nation to fix that gap, but refusing to even try until it is fixed is like refusing to take your AIDS cocktail until they find a cure. In the end you only hurt yourself and you could be fighting and getting somewhere or you could die anyway. You'll never know til you try.

Lastly, I would be insulted if I were a minority, and a college educated white woman stood up and said you can't succeed. Its not your fault, but you just can't. I would be pissed. I would probably throw things at you.

2:15 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Okay, I am going to watch the movie tonight, and then we'll see what I have to say...

2:22 PM  
Blogger christina said...

Now, you want to talk illogical, probably bad for society movies...how bout pretty woman...

2:47 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

That's funny because when I was doing my research for my previous post I found an essay about movies that depict the American Dream, and Pretty Woman is one of the four movies the author talks about.

2:53 PM  
Blogger christina said...

okay pretty woman, not a real story and I would completely agree, not realistic and bad for society, there is quite the difference between glorifying hard work and struggle and glorifying prostitution.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Okay, so having watched the movie, I feel better discussing it. I am pleased with the attention they paid to some of the hardships Gardner faced, specifically being a single parent, being poor, and not having a formal education beyong high school level. That having been said, race was not mentioned once in the course of the entire movie, and I find it hard to believe that in the early 70s he didn't receive at least one racial comment.

And, yeah, race obviously didn't prevent him from getting the job of his dreams, but I am sure that it made it harder for him. The movie even subtley references race because Gardner has to be the lackey for the manager in charge of all the interns and is constantly sent to fetch him coffee and such. I just wished the movie would have once said, "And it was hard for me because I was a black man in a white man's world."

It has been argued (by Ms. Siegfried herself in a personal communication with me) that all people have to do is look at Gardner to know that he had hardships because he was black. But, if one does a google search on the title of the movie and the word race, the top results are all individuals praising the movie for not bringing up race. Why is that? Because this guy thinks that racism doesn't exist in the workplace, and this guy thinks that it makes the movie more relatable.

So, we're back to the original reason I had a problem with this movie in the first place. Here is a perfect example of a black man who had to play by the rules of white, upper-class, straight, male society (as we all do), and yet he managed to break through. Race should have been mentioned because it is a factor that means something in the workplace. This movie is a perfect chance for hollywood to stop pussy-footing around race and actually deal with it for once (well, for a second time if you consider Crash), and they totally blow it. No mention of race whatsoever.

And, for the record, I am not saying that minorities can't make it in society, but I wish that somebody would publicly acknowledge that it is harder for them to do so. Furthermore, I wish that the people who have it easier in society would acknowledge that things were easier for them. If George Bush ever got up and said that he got to be President because of hard work and dedication, I would want to throw something at him. Sure, he did work hard, but he had to work a lot less than Barack will.

So, I stand by my position that this movie had a good chance to expose some of the injustices in society, and yet it failed. Hollywood once again just reinforced the hegemonic ideals of the broken society in which we live.

P.S. I don't even want to get into how awful it is to say that we need to take blackness out of films to make them more relatable. Black people are supposed to relate to the white actors/actresses who are prevalent on the silver screen (the "normal" or unmarked category), but ask a white person to relate or at least sympathize to the struggles of a black man and suddenly the movie isn't "relatable"?

1:46 PM  
Blogger christina said...

Its 1970s San Francisco, not 1950's Georgia and I think the absence of the topic of race was to make the story more inclusive, and more relatable to a wider audience.

The movie wasn't about exposing racial injustice. The movie was about hope and I think it kept to that theme rather well.

Yes you can empathize and see the character and enjoy the movie but I will never know or struggle the same way that he did because he was black. When you make it about him being black rather than being poor or a single parent you narrow the character and race is such a hefty topic that it does in the end swallow the other hardships that he faces.

Everybody knows people are egocentric. Whether or not hollywood expects you to relate to a rich white guy character doesn't mean you will. I know I won't. I still might enjoy the movie and empathize and understand his plight but I do not connect to him on a personal level the way I would a single college educated young woman from a middle class background. Just because hollywood doesn't make characters that a black man can relate to doesn't mean that they turn around and relate to the white ones out of lack of options. So you can't blame the makers of this movie for trying to remove an element that does narrow the audience a bit. Seeing yourself IN a character and empathizing WITH a character are two different things and I think you are confusing the two.

In the end this movie, as much as you would like it to be, is not about race, its about the American Dream, its about coming up from nothing and making something of yourself and its about not listening to anyone, including a well meaning sociology student, when they tell you that you can't do something.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Okay, now we are just beating a dead horse. So, without a lot of in depth explanation, I would like to restate my two main points. Consider this my closing argument. :-)

1) The idea that American is a meritocracy is a myth. This myth is perpetuated by those in power (through the use of movies such as this) in order to hide/negate the structural inequalities that exist in American society.

2) Nothing in society is impossible, but it is markedly harder for some individuals to achieve success than it is for others.

The prosecution rests...

11:45 AM  

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