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Saturday, October 22, 2016

The world is a ghetto.

That is, yes, the title of an old song by War. It is also the reality presented by Elysium, the new film by director Neill Blomkamp. It posits a ruined Earth in the year 2154, overcome by overcrowding, disease and environmental and economic collapse. Los Angeles is a dusty brown shantytown where people live on top of one another like some favela in Rio.

Then the camera takes you up to the orbiting habitat to which the wealthy have decamped, Elysium. It’s Latin for paradise, and that’s what this is, assuming your idea of paradise is a McMansion with a manicured lawn the size of a city park where you live a life of vaguely sterile luxury.

Blomkamp has given us a tale perfect for these political times. It is an allegory of income disparity, a cautionary saga of what happens when more and more resources are concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

One of those resources is adequate health care. On Earth, if you get sick, you fill out a form and try not to die in the waiting room before the doctor gets around to you. On Elysium, they have this device that can instantly cure anything from lymphoma to radiation poisoning. Our hero, Max, afflicted with the latter and given just days to live, resolves to somehow make his way up there so that he can be healed.

The movie’s political implications have not escaped the conservative punditocracy. Rush Limbaugh pronounced it “anti-capitalist, pro-socialism.” But some in the liberal punditocracy have also been displeased. Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress scored the movie for failing to “speak truth to power” in its silence on the causes of the inequities it depicts.

There are elements of truth in both arguments. But the movie actually seems determined to make another point altogether, albeit one that probably flies under the radar because of its very simplicity: We’re all in this thing together.

So the space station is not just a space station. It is the science-fiction equivalent of the gated community. Or of America as viewed from some Mexican hovel.

And Max is not just a guy with a gun who storms the space station. He is the man standing outside the gate, the poor woman fording the Rio Grande.

We have been conditioned by years of conservative dogma to view such people with scorn, as too stupid, too lazy or too lacking in foresight to rise above their circumstances — “takers” to use some Fox “News” terminology. Crippled by an “entitlement mentality” to use some more. By the inverse of that logic we, because we live north of the border, within the gate or on the space station, were obviously far-sighted, energetic and smart enough to steer the proper course.

  • disqus_ivSI3ByGmh

    Sort of like the dystopian “Delta City” in the Robo-Cop movies and series. The wealthy moved out of “Old Detroit” and left it to rot, while building their gleaming monument to narcissism.

  • progressiveandproud

    Black racism played a part in people moving out of Detroit (as I’m sure you know). The exporting of jobs played a part as well.

  • Allan Richardson

    A great two part episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine illustrated the same point with Cisco (the station commander) beaming down to San Francisco and being carried back in time to the early 21st century (2012 or 2013), landing in a sealed, lawless ghetto with no electric or water service where the “gimmes” (people who could use financial help or health care) and the “dummies” (people considered too stupid to hold good jobs) are locked up. As a result, Earth never developed warp travel and the ship, in the future, finds itself with no Starfleet to contact (and the Klingons in the Alpha Centauri system).

    If that episode had gotten more air time, as in frequent reruns, some of our recent elections may have turned out for the better.