Lately to alleviate the stress of being grossly underemployed and behind on all my obligations, the very first time I’ve had credit since 1980, I have been tuning into Turner Movie Classics. Some of the movies are a nice walk down memory lane. A time when I was optimistic about the future of my life and my country.
Last night I watched Grapes of Wrath, released in 1940 based upon John Steinbeck’s 1939 book with the same title, starring a very young Henry Fonda. For those who don’t remember the story in based during the Depression and revolved around the Joads, a sharecropper family pushed from their meager farm by then “big agriculture.” The entire extended family loads up the truck bound from Oklahoma to California where they believe is the opportunity for work that pays a living wage. Along the way the grandparents die while the family is subject to constant hate solely because they are poor and desperate. When they get to California they find nothing more than predatory capitalism taking advantage of their difficult plight.
The first and only time I’d watched this movie was a senior in high school for a humanities class that was required for college prep. Growing up as a kid from an upper middle class income the characters just came across as a bunch of down on their luck hillbillies. That was the Depression, never will happen again. How could I know that 40 years later I would have more in common with the Joad family than the Romey family I grew up in?
Watching The Grapes of Wrath for a second time so many years later I realize now the movie was really about was income inequality, lack of opportunity, predatory capitalism and the lack of dignity for older Americans and the young. Both were forced into the back breaking labor of the field for less than survival wages.
Here we are more than three quarters of a century later and the Joads are back. No longer sharecroppers but displaced from full employment nonetheless. Again, we have income inequality, lack of opportunity, unfair hiring practices, lack of respect for human beings in the workplace; all of what was exposed in the Grapes of Wrath.
It’s mindboggling indeed. In those more than 75 years the United States beat two super powers in a world war, built a massive transportation system, put men on the moon, sent millions and millions to college, created advanced and sophisticated technologies and communication systems, and vastly improved medicine. Yet somehow, someway, we are back to 1940 in a 2017 manner.
If this seems troubling to you, good. If you believe that our capitalistic system has lost all sense of human values, you are right. If you think we no longer respect the dignity of young Americans trying to start a new life and older Americans desiring to provide for a safe and secure retirement, you are correct.
What’s happen to us as a people? I think it’s time we do some serious soul searching. Ending back with the Joads is not where we should be.