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Capitalism through Hollywood’s Lens
On the big screen, every businessman is a criminal.

Brad Pitt in his latest anti-American film, Killing Them Softly.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jack Andraka, a 15-year-old kid from Maryland, just won the world’s largest high-school science competition by creating a new test for pancreatic cancer, one of the nastiest and most lethal forms of the disease.

According to various news reports, the winning submission at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is “28 times cheaper” than existing tests and far, far more accurate. Andraka received $75,000 for his efforts, and he’s applied for a patent as well. That will probably earn him far more in the years to come.

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This comes on the heels of another teen wunderkind. In December, Angela Zhang, 17, won the Siemens Science Competition for inventing a new way of finding and attacking cancer cells. Some people think it might actually lead to a cure for cancer someday.

Zhang and Andraka can probably spend the rest of their high-school careers playing video games in the basement, given that their college search is going to be pretty stress-free from here on out.

But that’s the real world for you. Impressive kids — or grown-ups — invent fantastic things, potentially benefitting millions of people, if not all of mankind. The inventors are rewarded, consumers benefit, and the economy grows. Woo-hoo!

Of course, the real world isn’t the world many people imagine it to be. In the Hollywood version of this tale, Zhang would have disappeared when rumors of her invention hit the boardrooms and star chambers of Big Pharma. Bruce Willis would have to come out of retirement as the rogue agent willing to put his life on the line to keep Andraka safe from the goon-squad ninjas of Bristol-Myers Squibb or the Wetworks teams from Pfizer.

After all, cures and cheaper tests hurt the bottom line of those evil corporations, and we all know profit is all they care about. I mean, haven’t you read or seen The Constant Gardener, the John le Carré book and movie about evil corporations testing drugs on Africans and offing the whistle-blowers at every turn?

That’s what corporations do, right? At least that’s what my kid is taught. In Beethoven, the evil munitions industry shoots Saint Bernards to test bullets. In The Lorax, businesses hate trees. In The Muppets, they hate Muppets (and love oil). I think that in nearly every movie involving cute woodland creatures (Furry Vengeance, Yogi Bear, et al.), businesses are always the bad guys.

When kids get older, they learn from John Grisham movies that big businesses kill people in order to get what they want. In Aliens, the company wants to smuggle space critters that will likely wipe out all humanity, in the slim hope they’ll eke out a bit more profit. In Avatar, the Halliburton of the future slaughters intelligent aliens and rapes their planet just to make a buck.

At Cannes, where anti-capitalist movies are always a hit, Brad Pitt’s newest venture, Killing Them Softly, is touted as a seething indictment of the American system. “America isn’t a country — it’s a business” is apparently the film’s central insight. Set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, the film was reportedly financed by Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire businessman Larry Ellison.

No wonder that when these kids grow up, some of them make documentaries about how vast conspiracies keep the electric car and, no doubt, the Everlasting Gobstopper off the market. Even more of them uncritically accept this stuff. After all, everyone knows big businessmen are evil.

So the ones getting involved in politics, at least Republican politics, must be the sorts of bad guys we’ve all seen in the movies.

Warren Buffett and George Soros can’t be greedy; after all, they’re simply trying to “give something back.”

Now, truth be told, I’m no lover of big corporations, but not because I think they want to poison their customers or shoot my dog for target practice. My problem isn’t that they’re too rapaciously capitalistic.

Rather, it’s that they’re too opportunistic, too eager to abandon the free market and work with the government under the false flag of the greater good.

In a free market, businesses are in a relentless competition to improve products and satisfy the needs of the consumer. “A new test for pancreatic cancer? Great! Let’s be the first to get it to market.”

In the cozy world of government-business collusion, the state counts on the status quo existing far out into the future, for that’s the only way to preserve and plan out “the system.”

There’s got to be a good movie plot in there somewhere.

 — Jonah Goldberg is the author of the new book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him by e-mail at [email protected], or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2012 Tribune Media Services.



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