Charlie and the Chocolate Factory & The Global Marketing of New Liberalism, by Fatin Morris Guirguis

 

Describing literature as the mirror of the society oversimplifies and trivializes the role of literature as it interacts, reflects and responds to its political, socio-economic and cultural context. Literature contributes to the formation and change of public opinion and hence of all of the elements that form its context be they economic, political or social. A work of literature provides an opportunity for discourse about its context. It also plays a role in changing this context. The dialectic continues as it is changed and as it changes its surroundings.

 

Literature can be an element of education and reform through criticism. It can also be the mouth piece and the mask of corrupt ideas. It can reflect victimization and can victimize because writers are men and women who themselves are an integral part of their time. They are economic, political and social agents.

 

Modern politicians and activists have discovered the power inherent in Literature and in particular children's literature. They have learnt the power that a certain group may have if they unleash the forces of altering a child's vision through manipulating what a child reads. Activists of different group have realized that if they produce literature that promotes their ideas and if they manage to teach this literature in schools, they have successfully passed on the message and will develop a generation less resistant if not acceptable to their causes. They will be able to prepare a generation that takes some new beliefs for granted. To change these beliefs, the society has to re-eduacte its people to question what they have learnt to take for granted and to change the literature of its period to put in the hands of the young the new ideas they would like to pass.

 

Debates about the content of the literature taught to children in schools in regard to creation theories, race and sexual orientation bear testimony to its power. However, some of this literature may not be consciously designed as propaganda literature

Noting that education and the curriculum is usually controlled by the State, the power of the State is behind what is taught to the children and hence literature usually reflects the beliefs of the State at the time.

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a very popular children's story written by British author Roald Dahl was first published in the US in 1964 and then in the UK in 1967 by George Allen and Unwin. It was adapted to the motion pictures twice. The first production was in 1971 starring Gene Wilder. The second rendition was released on July 15th, 2005 by Warner Bros, Pictures and became another hit. There is a line of candies in the US that uses the book's characters and imagery for its marketing. A video game for the story was released in the same month by the major video game companies. Warner Bros a big US global corporation that has presence in Europe and Japan and markets its products and movies world wide had a schedule to release the movie in forty four countries worldwide. A few months later, in November of 2005 the film became available for home viewing on DVD. The film also has a number of web sites many of which are purposely for school exercises. The film did not raise any eye brows and did not start any controversies except a comparison with the old version and whether the remake was better or worse than the first production which points to the fact that laissez faire capitalism has come to exist with such strong presence that neither its writer, its producers nor its viewers world-wide posed to question it or to see the movie as propaganda for capitalism.

Simply told the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its production as a Warner Bros movie demonstrates the global hegemony of US new liberalism which is supported by the UK.

 

The story narrates the relationship between an industrialist, a capitalist man named Willy Wonka and the grandson of one of his former workers, Mr. Joe Bucket. Mr. Bucket is now above ninety years of age. He is too old to work and is now supported along with his very old wife by their son who is also a factory worker.

Like every story, this one starts with an exposition of its characters and their situation. Seidman (1994) argues that industrialization produces severely in egalitarian societies. This is apparent in the exposition where Charlie's family lives in poverty whereas Mr. Wonka lives in plenty. The gap between the capitalist and the workers can't be abridged. They belong to different classes.

Charlie's family has a distinct class identity. The men of the family are factory workers. As the story unfolds, we know that Mr. Joe, the grandfather, worked in the chocolate factory of Mr. Wonka many years before and that his son, Charlie's father, works for a toothpaste factory. They were always poor. The parents are used to living with empty stomachs and Mrs. Bucket is well versed in managing the cabbage soup. They are all comrades in these dire conditions. There are no complaints. Life is very hard but it is taken for granted. There is no objection to the class difference and no criticism of the Capitalist Mr. Wonka although he has fired Grandpa Joe after many years of service. That wasn't due to a performance issue on the part of Mr. Joe. It was just Mr. Wonka's ungrounded fears and insecurities that all his workers were spies that led to the dismissal of all of his employees.

Charlie's family is subject to the mechanism of peripheralization. They live on the periphery of the city and on the periphery of the economy.

    “The whole of this family - the six grownups .. and little Charlie Bucket-live together in a small wooden house on the edge of a great town”( Dahl 1964:5)

It is interesting to note in this quote two things that they lived on “the edge” and that the “great town” is nameless. It is nameless because it shows a universal aspect of industrial towns all over the world. Industrialism and Capitalism has spawned cities identical in their landscape and spatial division. In Manufacturing Militance, Gay W. Seidman observes the similarity in the living conditions of the working class i.e. the proletariat globally and notes the spatial segregation between classes and the living on the urban periphery. The rich live down town and the poor live on the edge. He describes “the tendency of the poorer residents to move to the edge of the city” and he explains this as a result of “the economic processes that directs individuals to particular neighborhoods” (1994: 211).With the advent of industrialization, the prices of land soared and became outside the reach of the workers..

According to Seidman residents unfortunately,

 

generally understand their circumstances as the result of poverty (1994: 210)

 

and therefore blame poverty rather than the in egalitarian capitalist system they live in which permits the few to “over accumulate” by underpaying the majority. This is exactly what happens with Charlie's family. They realize that their misery is only the result of their poverty but not of the system that spawns this condition.

Living on the edge of a nameless “town” as a family that belongs to the global class known as the proletariat creates the main theme of Charlie and Chocolate Factory. As noted by its global success as a children's movie, the story has a global universal appeal because of its global theme.

The audience world wide can relate to this spatial class-segregated city which replicates the conditions in almost all industrial towns world wide even in the third world countries whether in New York, Cairo, Sao Paolo or Cape Town.

Poverty and living on the periphery is explained by the social changes that took place in history. The emergence of a peripheralized urban worker's class worldwide took place as depeasantization started. Araghi notes that,

    Peasant dispossession through displacement at the global level has resulted in an increasing concentration of masses of people in the urban centers of the Third World. Between 1950 and 1990, the urban populations of most countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America increased by 300 percent... Today close to a billion people do not have adequate shelter. One hundred million people have no shelter at all and an increasing mass of people..live in urban slums and shantytowns. The majority of the population in many third world cities lives in squatter settlements” (1995:153)

This is not a problem that is peculiar to Third World countries but is prevalent in Europe and the US. The same conditions are visible in the United States with the hike in the prices of real estate. Recently, the situation became worse with granting local state governments the right to take away the property of individuals in favor of companies that plan projects under the label of development. . On 23 June 2005, the New York Times reported that,

    A divided Supreme Court ruled Thursday that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will for private development.

Although the owners of these lands receive fair market price for their properties, they will never be able to afford the same housing again. These displaced owners will have one of two options: replace their property with one in a similar location but with a much higher price to cover the price inflation and pay hiked up real estate taxes, usually beyond their means or relocate to the periphery of the city with others of lower income.. Ehrenreich in Nickel & Dimed says,

    The problem of rents is easy for a noneconomist, even a sparsely educated low-wage worker to grasp it: it's the market stupid. When the rich and the poor compete for housing on the open market, the poor don't stand a chance. The rich can always outbid them, buy up their tenements or trailer parks and replace them with condos, McMansions, golf courses or whatever they like (2002:199)

In South Africa, the Zulu tribes who are by modern measures a primitive society, force the old and the sick to leave the tribe and go to the periphery which is usually the forest where living conditions become impossible and where most of them perish. The analogy shows the similarity between the law of the jungle and the law of the Capitalist society under the pretext of development.

The Warner Bros movie starts with a bent broken house on the periphery of the city whose centre is the factory but inadequate housing is just one element of this class's suffering saga. Low pay is another. Mr. Bucket is described as,

    poor Mr. Bucket, however, hard he worked, and however fast he screwed on the caps, was never able to make enough to buy one-half of the things that so large a family needed” (Dahl, 1964:7)

 

 


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