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A wrecked ship being dragged into a drydock by prisoners drenched in rain and seawater serves at the spectacle to open the motion picture Les Miserable.  Themes of rebellion, justice and greed run through the entire film.  (And with greater force through the massive 5 volume novel from which the plot was extracted.)

As America allegedly teeters on the fiscal cliff today, I doubt many of the millions of American retain the capacity to understand what that opening scene means.  The movie seems to reduce the novel’s demand for justice and a new world to a quest for personal redemption and religious salvation.  Certainly the benighted graduates of the business schools of America, who quit the humanities after a handful of 101 courses to begin their study of “what is really important” are unlikely to get it.

Unless we grasp the issues raised in this film, which are the transformative themes of Dickens, Zola, Flaubert, Twain and Hugo we risk stumbling back to the world these visionaries saved us from.  They squandered their educations on the Iliad and Shakespere when they could have been studying management and accounting.  They knew what slums smelled like and the knowing fear of desperation.  They saw revolution, poverty, sickness and death.

And from Huck Finn’s decision to go to hell for his friend Jim to Tiny Tim’s crutch abandoned by the fire, these great storytellers rescued us from the hell of 19th century industrial plutocracy to a world where ordinary people could be educated, have health care, know leisure and have safe, warm homes.  In 75 years, their stories reshaped the world to one where the mechanic and the baker became the people in Norman Rockwell paintings and Better Home and Gardens advertisements.

When European fascism rose up from the ashes of the Plutocracy’s unsustainable speculative and real estate bubble economy in the 1920s, the children who’s grandparents sweated in factories like those described in those novels blasted state sponsored industrial military socialism back into it’s hole for at least two generations.

However today in Washington, the Repubublicans stand eager to serve the desires of the wealthy and the Democrats hope for the moment of popular distraction when they too can indulge in a long pull from the corporate teat.  Democracy, a decent standard of living, the freedom to think and the decency of arriving, not exhausted, to a PTA meeting after a dinner at home all hang in peril.  The “Fiscal Cliff” latest in a dozen year long series crises contrived to make the remaining wealth of the United States craw uphill is upon us.  Every solution proposed will mean most of our children will have less.  Our public institutions will be drained.  Our monuments and public improvements will continue to decay and rot.

The fallow mountains of wealth, connected by private jet flights through the strastosphere far above the heads of the damned will continue to rise until finally, some time in the future, as set out in the history described in these novels and recorded less memorably in faded newspapers and economic indexes, the determination of the universe to right itself will be reasserted.  

Wealth will be redistributed.  Progressive taxation, government regulation and making enterprise pay for its impacts on our society are intolerable to the right.  America may have to resort to the historic ways of making right: crime, revolution, death and economic collapse.  They often visit a society together.  When they do, those who held out against lesser depradtions may dream of the time when a slightly larger tax payment was an option.

That is what, generally Les Miserable, and most of the great 19th century social justice novels are about.  These lessons, and this film, are fully relevant to our time.
The opening scene of the movie depicts France itself, broken and smashed by over a decade of Napoleonic warfare, breaking the backs of its people in the brutality and want created by war.  France is the broken ship.  The convicts slaving in the rain are the French people.  The government officers and their brutality are the system.

It’s always about the next war.  Perhaps if we lined up 1000 WalMart Associates and forced them to drag the wreckage of the 600 million dollar Steal Bomber South Carolina across a runway that would be clear.  After a the cost of a massive security state and two wars, Americans are being asked to sacrifice security in their old age, their children’s educations and basic things like public transit so Herman Karzai can sleep at night and Halliburton can grow fat.

I listen, in vain, for any indication that our military establishment will be cut, even though we spend more on our military than the next ten nations on earth combined.  We’ll continue to subsidize large corporations, who are paying virtually no taxes, with government contracts, free infrastructure and endless tax breaks.

Hugo is too good a novelist and humanitarian to show us a poor who are always noble.  His poor are as sick as the wealthy with greed, they merely steal less with greater effort.  They take your teeth.  The government and factory owner take your entire life.

That may leave American audiences confused.  Our capacity for analysis has been so reduced that we may no longer be able to recognize impersonal oppression.  

The news about the fiscal cliff baffles even me.  The layers of dishonesty involved are impossible to unravel.  However, I recognize that the peace and prosperity we had at the Millennium has been smashed.  I remember that hopeful celebration well and the better world we hoped for when we stood together, joyfully signing in the night twelve years ago at the Customs House in Charleston, SC.  I refuse to forgive the greedy and primitive men who sat in both caves and boardrooms conspiring to destroy it.

This New Years, let us prepare for a better world, remembering the miseries and suffering depicted in these old novels and the world our Great Great Grandparents escaped.  We should not let purchased lies and betrayal return us to them.

Originally posted to wjhamilton29464 on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 07:41 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (28+ / 0-)

    William Hamilton practices Law and is a writer and community activist in the Charleston, SC area. He can reached through www.wjhamilton.com

    by wjhamilton29464 on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 07:41:22 AM PST

  •  Great Diary wj (6+ / 0-)

    you are exactly right. Dickens, Hugo and Twain would be outraged...but not surprised... by what is going on today.

    "Fascism is attracting the dregs of humanity- people with a slovenly biography - sadists, mental freaks, traitors." - ILYA EHRENBURG

    by durrati on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 08:00:38 AM PST

    •  Turner Classic Movies (5+ / 0-)

      One does not even have to go back a century to the classic progressive novelists to find evidence of the conservative drift.  Mainstream movies of the 1940s and even the conservative 1950s have a strong bias towards social justice.  Greed is disfavored.  Even silly black and white musicals often side with the poor and oppressed.

      Watch a few of the old movies, not just the Frank Capra stuff, but the ordinary things and compare it to bulk of what has come out in the last decade.

      What looks like rebellion and struggling for social justice now, like Greenday, often works out to be pointless, discouragement.

      William Hamilton practices Law and is a writer and community activist in the Charleston, SC area. He can reached through www.wjhamilton.com

      by wjhamilton29464 on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 09:28:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Neither would Sinclair, or Steinbeck. (0+ / 0-)

      Great diary, sorry I'm late to the party.

      History repeats, but it doesn't have to rhyme, is a quote that makes me still laugh, but is sadly true.

      "The road may be longer, but we travel it together." -- BHO

      by BusyinCA on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 07:40:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you for this beautifully written piece, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    third Party please, frostbite

    even though I found its reality depressing enough to want to cry.  Dickens and Twain are two of my favorite authors.  I would have loved to hang out with Mark Twain on a regular basis, he had quite a mind and superior knack for a witty and ingenious turn of phrase.  Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

    "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." - John F. Kennedy -7.8., -6.6

    by helpImdrowning on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 02:22:37 PM PST

    •  Certainly is a beautifully written diary (0+ / 0-)

      "Our capacity for analysis has been so reduced that we may no longer be able to recognize impersonal oppression."

      That phrase captures the problem with our militaristic culture. Most of us now get all of out news and opinion from TV. Passively watching MSM TV spin doctors who are in love with wars is not a great way to develop analytical thinking.

      War is costly. Peace is priceless!

      by frostbite on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 01:15:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  to me, Les Miz has progressive themes (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    frostbite

    about income inequality, an unjust criminal justice system, oppressed middle class students, powerless women, etc.

    And then there's this alternate reality review at Breitbart's site, in which Valjean is a heroic job creator fighting against massive federal government overreach. Gahhh.

    It's time to unfrack California before it gets fracked. @RL_Miller

    by RLMiller on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 02:58:07 PM PST

    •  Money (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RLMiller

      Money's greatest evil, as shown over and over again in Les Mis, is it's capacity to distort the human spirt.  People who think for money, as Breitbart does, can't think at all any longer.  If you can reconcile turning your silver candlesticks over to the homeless man who robbed you as an act of Capitalist self interest, only the fact that your clothing is clean and you took a shower in the morning distinguishes you from the raving lunatic on the street corner.

      William Hamilton practices Law and is a writer and community activist in the Charleston, SC area. He can reached through www.wjhamilton.com

      by wjhamilton29464 on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 07:35:51 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  You have more faith (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    third Party please

    than I have ever been able to muster.  May you be proven justified, amen.

  •  One day more (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    latts, third Party please

    Watch 'em run amok,
    Catch 'em as they fall,
    Never know your luck
    When there's a free for all

    Here a little dip
    There a little touch
    Most of them are goners
    So they won't miss much!

    (Seems fitting after a day of Congress "working")

  •  Solid peice of wirting (0+ / 0-)

    One minor nit... I think you meant to type "Stealth Bomber South Carolina".

    cheers,

    Mitch Gore

    Want to end too big to fail banks? Then move your money and they will no longer be too big.

    by Lestatdelc on Mon Dec 31, 2012 at 04:39:53 PM PST

  •  Very good diary (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53, frostbite

    I've been beside myself these last few weeks with waiting to hear who is going to be on the chopping block.  They didn't get some of us this time, but they'll be back in a couple of months reinacting this horrible show in Washington and creating fear of who's going to get it now.  I shake my head when the President grants 11 billion in raises to the Congress and Senate while we wait to get whacked.  And how is that 11 billion going to get paid, oh yea, in two months from now they will be coming for your social security and medicare.  And isn't it funny that the tax cut off covers their salaries with the new raises, so they will be paying less in taxes than the rest of us, how cool is that?

    Dickens couldn't have better material if he were alive today, especially since in everyone of his novels the legal system is always shown being run by the children of the wealthy and/or the selfish elite where nothing gets done or they use up everyone's money until there is nothing left for anyone else, like Bleak House where the legal system was a joke.  Welcome to Bleak House where people go insane and into poverty or die of diseases from living in horrible conditions.  I'm feeling so Little Dorrit tonight.

    "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolution­ary act. " George Orwell

    by zaka1 on Tue Jan 01, 2013 at 12:40:39 AM PST

  •  This diary is what hope for our country (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wjhamilton29464

    looks like.  I saw Les Miz and it was a stupendous catalog of wrongs to human beings, our brothers and sisters, poor people in particular with a roaring sense of  the force of our history to right the ship of our humanity when it is thrashed by the winds of greed and oppression.  The story is sung to us in full screen head shots.  I marveled at the ability of these singers at once so huge on the screen and yet full of their own vulnerability to convey the painful truths embedded in our nature and I could barely contain my horror at the many pitiful displays of human misery caused by  human beings at their callous, monstrous worst and having the guts to call it "the Law".  So every time I read a post like this or try to write my heart out in response I stand with that force in history which excoriates us to do justice writ large on the canvass of human hope.

  •  Singing a song of angry men? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wjhamilton29464

    Do you hear the people sing?
    Singing a song of angry men?
    It is the music of a people
    Who will not be slaves again!
    When the beating of your heart
    Echoes the beating of the drums
    There is a life about to start
    When tomorrow comes!

    Will you give all you can give
    So that our banner may advance
    Some will fall and some will live
    Will you stand up and take your chance?
    The blood of the martyrs
    Will water the meadows of France!

    Might apply to the US.  The Plutocracy starting in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, Kansas, South Carolina, etc. is the start of the disease. Workers, the poor and the lower middle class will start this fight.  Who will follow?

    Conservatives say if you don't give the rich more money, they will lose their incentive to invest. As for the poor, they tell us they've lost all incentive because we've given them too much money. -GC

    by cobaltbay on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 06:42:24 AM PST

    •  Singing (0+ / 0-)

      The Germans dismiss America as "The Land Without Music" because we sign and play so little.  They're right.  I tried, with limited success to get this song sung at our local Occupy Camp last fall, but they were too timid.  I challenged them that if they dared not sign, how could they hope to find that courage which saves the world?  Those few still on the line of struggle with us now, understand that question a year later.  Those who didn't are now in front of their televisions and computer screens again.

      William Hamilton practices Law and is a writer and community activist in the Charleston, SC area. He can reached through www.wjhamilton.com

      by wjhamilton29464 on Wed Jan 02, 2013 at 07:39:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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