News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: On Millionaire Bullies and Outsiders

Friday, January 13, 2006

On Millionaire Bullies and Outsiders

I watched Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders last night. The movie's a microcosm of class warfare in the US. There's a lot here if you look beneath the somewhat hokey plot and story. What struck me most is the way that the film depicts the clique-struggle between the rich kid "socs" and the working class kid "greasers." This conflict between social groups in high school certainly reflects my own experience.

The film moves to a crisis when the socs and greasers have a rumble. This depiction of the American scene as one where competing groups duke it out for dominance probably speaks more volumes about the American experience than any number of egg-head volumes of sociology, philosophy, or any other reified academic exercise in mental wankology. ...

Now, in the film the greasers kick the socs ass in the final rumble. But what does this prove? As one scene between the greaser "Ponyboy" and a soc shows, no matter who wins the rumble, the dominance of the socs real power will not change. The rich will still dominate and the greasers will still wallow in their resentments and relegation to boozing, whoring, and killing each other.

The film's "resolution" of this situation is the sentimnetal notion that Ponyboy learns from the death-bed letter of his friend Johnny and it isn't much better. Here Ponyboy learns that his appreciation of the beauty of sunrises and sunsets is something that not only sets him off from his greaser buddies but also (somehow) is supposed to redeem him (and us?) and provide a way out of the resentment trap. The film ends on the edifying image of Ponyboy beginning to "write"--no boubt a way to exorcize the demons of class warfare and reveal the truth about what...? Life as it's really lived in America?

Whatever the intended meaning of this ending is supposed to lead us to feel, I think its depiction of the soc/greaser rumble doesn't go far enough. I think that the socs, unable to kick greaser ass, continue to harbor the realization that they are not physically superior. But they still want to kick ass. Leaving aside for the moment the rather obvious social and economic means at their disposal to do this, I want to simply present one example of this continuing desire on the socs part to prove their physical prowess.

A millionaire was recenly charged with bullying and beating up homeless people. The case of the "millionaire bully" shows the basis of real power of the ruling structures. It is based on brute force--while it can take the form of political and economic oppression, it's real basis is just as simple as the fact that the rich kids can't kick the prole's asses and in repressed retaliation take every effort to make up for that fact.

The millionaire bully is just playing out every fantasy a rich man harbors in his heart.

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