Protecting the “Dots”

Is it the free market, or big government, that is most likely to treat individual human beings as expendible “dots”?

One of the best conspiracy movies ever made is the perfect British classic, “The Third Man.” In the most haunting scene, the villain, played adroitly by Orson Welles, takes Joseph Cotten, the good guy, up in a Ferris wheel. The villain, named Harry Lime, has been selling adulterated penicillin in postwar Vienna, making a fortune and causing children to become paralyzed and die.
Mr. Cotten’s character, a pulp fiction writer named Holly Martins, asks him how he could do such an evil thing for money. The two men are at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the people below them look like tiny dots. Mr. Welles’s villain looks down and says, “Tell me, would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?”

BEN STEIN. “Everybody’s Business; When You Fly in First Class, It’s Easy to Forget the Dots.” The New York Times, Section 3 (Sunday, January 29, 2006): 3.

Real Heroes in King Kong

My favorite lines from the new King Kong movie are spoken by the preening B-movie action actor Baxtor.

The fictional screenwriter says:  "I just never figured you for a coward."

To which Baxtor replies:  "Hey pal; hey, wake up!  Heroes don’t look like me; not in the real world. 

In the real world they got bad teeth; a bald spot; and a beer gut."

"I’m just an actor with a gun; who’s lost his motivation."

(Entry revised/corrected on July 5, 2006)

Dobby’s Absence Tarnishes Goblet of Fire

Source of image: Warner Brothers photo posted at: http://www.newsday.com/features/booksmags/sns-potter-movie-jpg,0,7776280.photogallery?coll=ny-homepage-bigpix2005
You can’t make a long and complex novel into a movie, even a long movie, without cutting and simplifying. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a good movie, but not as good as the book. Much has been said of the movie’s dark side. The book had a dark side too, but what is missing from the movie is a key element of the book’s light side: Dobby, the rascally, loyal, house-elf with the mismatched socks. For those who have seen the movie, without having read the book, here is one of my favorite (albeit serious) Dobby passages:

“Dobby has traveled the country for two whole years, sir, trying to find work!” Dobby squeaked. “But Dobby hasn’t found work, sir, because Dobby wants paying now!”
The house-elves all around the kitchen, who had been listening and watching with interest, all looked away at these words, as though Dobby had said something rude and embarrassing. Hermione, however, said, “Good for you, Dobby!”
“Thank you, miss!” said Dobby, grinning toothily at her. “But most wizards doesn’t want a house-elf who wants paying, miss. ‘That’s not the point of a house-elf,’ they says, and they slammed the door in Dobby’s face! Dobby likes work, but he wants to wear clothes and he wants to be paid, Harry Potter. . . . Dobby likes being free!” (p. 378; ellipsis in original)

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4). New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000.

Tom Cruise as Joseph Schumpeter?

After the film “A Beautiful MInd” on economist John Nash, The Economist suggests that there might be a market for movies about Keynes and Schumpeter. Here are there comments on the Schumpeter project:

Joseph Schumpeter. He said he wanted to be the world’s “greatest horseman, greatest lover and greatest economist”, and later claimed two of three—he and horses just didn’t get along. A perfect role, surely, for Tom Cruise, who was first choice to play Mr Nash. Schumpeter’s best-known theory even sounds like a Hollywood thriller: “Creative Destruction”. Now how would they merchandise that?

“Economists on film: Keynes the movie?” (Dec. 20th 2001), downloaded online from: http://www.economist.com/finance/displayStory.cfm?Story_ID=917413

Creative Destruction in “The Man in the White Suit”

Source: Amason.com
From David Thomson’s Amazon.com review of the movie “The Man in the White Suit”:

The Man in the White Suit focusses on the destructive aspects of all new inventions. Although Joseph Schumpeter’s name is never mentioned, his creative destruction concept pervades the story line. Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness ) a non-credentialled and eccentric scientist who creates a new cloth that apparently will not wear out nor get dirty. The overall human community will enormously benefit—but what about those people who earn a living in the impacted industry?

Read the whole review, and others, at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00006FMAV/104-8533764-5015948?v=glance&n=130&n=507846&s=dvd&v=glance

Enterprise and Government in Harry Potter

A long time ago (30 or 35 years) I attended some sessions on film and ideology at a week summer conference sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. At one session they screened Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and then the faculty panelists, with help from the audience, proceeded to thoroughly trash Capra for left-wing, anti-capitalist, populist bias. I sat and frowned and fumed, but the session ended without me having the courage to defend Capra. What I wish I had said was that Capra may have been a left-leaning populist; his economics may have been all wrong; but if that’s all you say, you miss the main point. The main point of Capra is loyalty, and persistence, and courage and good-humor. One can reject Capra’s implied economics and still love his movies.
Well on the night of Friday, July 15, 2005, with my wife and daughter, I hung out at the local Border’s book store with a huge crowd of other fans, waiting until the stroke of midnight to be allowed to purchase Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Similar scenes played out all over the country, and in other countries as well. Apparently the book, like its predecessor, is setting all kinds of sales records.
And analyses have begun to appear about Harry Potter’s economics and politics. (The July 15, 2005 Wall Street Journal ran a piece suggesting that Dumbledore is Winston Churchill and Voldemort is Adolph Hitler.) They too miss the main point.
The main point is that the leading heroes of the Potter books display loyalty, and persistence, and courage, and good-humor. And the characters are constructed as real people who we come to care about. And the books are well-written. And plot matters too–you need to find out what’s going to happen next.
Still, if you want to play the socio-political-economic interpretation game with the Potter books, I suggest the following facts might be relevant. Two of the minor heroes of the books, Fred and George Weasley, are successful entrepreneurs. The heads of the governmental Ministry of Magic are at best ineffectual, dishonest, pompous buffoons. And the seed money for Fred and George’s successful enterprise is provided by that most famous of venture capitalists: Harry Potter.
[Details on WSJ article: Jonathan V. Last. “History According to Harry: Appeasement Fails with Warlocks Too.” Wall Street Journal (Friday, July 15, 2005)]