You haven’t seen the last of my “Parasite” themed posts. There’s a reason that film won “Best Foreign Language Picture” at the Golden Globes, and why (I would argue) it ought to be considered Best Picture AND Best Foreign Picture this year, though it is not a likely double nomination, and Oscar noms are not out yet. This post assumes you have seen Parasite, and contains copious spoilers.)
A friend posted an excerpt from motivational speaker Kerwin Rae’s podcast interview with magician Vinh Giang. The excerpt starts here and was billed as “An interesting story of breaking free from cultural expectations.” Watch for a couple of minutes…
The excerpt is, indeed, interesting, but it is not only about “breaking free from cultural expectations…”
It’s an amazing story about the potential freed — the genius unleashed, the blossoming creative growth possible — when one has a financial and familial safety net. It is a story about the power of the privilege of CHOICE — options available, because one has an economic buffer against failure. What does it mean to have the financial wherewithal to absorb an unexpected blow — an accident, a storm, a medical diagnosis?
What do you have available when a setback washes you out, if you don’t have “choice?”
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In Parasite, when the rainstorm hits, the Parks (who have the luxury of choosing to pretend to live outdoors, “camping”) are able to return home to perfect safety and a warm meal prepared for them by others. The rain waters funnel gently into their expensive and well-maintained drainage system, while the Kims are washed back down the hill, down stairs and levels, into a neglected, sewage filled horror. They must focus only on survival.
What choices are available? The Kims ride out the (literal) shit-storm, stay in a gymnasium with other storm refugees, and pick through used clothing to survive another day. The Parks wake up and throw an impromptu party to celebrate their son’s birthday, and to get him over his “trauma,” (he saw a poor person while eating birthday cake!). They call in the entire Kim family’s labor to make it possible.
How different would the story be if there were the simple “safety net” of equally functional and maintained drainage systems? No… the Kims have no choice but to live in the worst conditions and then are derided for the stink upon them, as if it is their choice to live like that. As if the Parks’ choices — willful superiority, blissful ignorance of what inhabited their basement and nation’s past, nouveau-riche pursuit of status through luxury items, and their symbiotic dependence on the Kims’ services — hadn’t contributed to that situation.
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This Kerwin Rae/Vinh Giang video is an interesting story about a guy who had a safety net, and who admits he used it repeatedly before succeeding. He gets rich travelling the world telling poorer people, who pay to hear him speak, that rising up is a simple matter of choices, presentation, and effort.
Because, really, how many tickets could he sell telling people “The Key to my success is being born into an entrepreneurial family, that got me a good education, and volunteered to back my pursuit of whatever career I chose, even if I failed repeatedly in trying.”
We see similar systemic imbalances fobbed off as a failure of character, when a person is turned down for a job for lacking experience. The person given the job may have taken an unpaid internship for two years, gaining intensely valuable skills. How does a person afford a two-year, unpaid internship? By having enough wealth to support that privileged choice and, most often generationally-delivered wealth. As Texas Governor Ann Richards said of George Herbert Walker Bush: “Poor George, he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”
It’s not that the person who did not get the job is not smart, capable, energetic, or potentially brilliant for the role. She is deprived because she did not have the financial option to “go camping” for two years as an unpaid intern. But will the wealthy outlaw unpaid internships, for this inherently discriminatory nature? No. Preserving the advantage of choice for themselves is more important.
Giang exemplifies the Parks of the world, peddling the myth of blissful, self-made wealth while refusing to acknowledge their privilege of choice. Refusing to establish and maintain a societal safety net like the one from which he benefited, or in some cases, even actively dismantling it — removing choice — pulling up the ladder by which one climbed to success.
It is the destroyers of choice who seek out the Ki woo/Kevin’s of the world, dreamers and planners who can’t see that, no matter how clever they are, or how hard they try, the game is rigged in advance by fate (and by people actively limiting choice) — as much if not more than by effort or merit. Pretending this is not true is the crime of these “self-made” prophets of “will to success.”
Giang is lauded in this video for his daring, instead of — as might happen for a poorer person — being castigated for taking stupid risks and failing, or being too lazy or scared
Pretending that success is a matter of effort only, in a world where the poorest are forced to live with no choices and no safety net, while opportunities are handed out to those with privileges and luxuries, is cruel and inhumane. To point a finger their direction, pinch one’s nose at the stink, and label them “parasites” is unconscionable.
To systematically deprive others of choice, while pretending that choice is NOT what most often determines a person’s ability to survive life’s slings and arrows, is immoral.
If we could respect and value the power of choice, the power of creating a reasonable safety net to free more people to achieve great things, wow… imagine that world!
I would love to see the “successful” (aka “lucky”) of the world turn their efforts (and hoards of self-protecting cash) toward establishing societal structure that recognizes the symbiotic organism that human societies are. That establishes and promotes policies allowing everyone the opportunity to have some choices, and not simply reward the lucky for being born into houses at the top of the hill.
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In the concluding scenes, Kevin watches news reports of what happened that fateful day. We hear a newscaster say (or we read, in the “One inch high obstacle of subtitles” as Bong Joon Ho mocked, while accepting his Golden Globe) something to the effect of “Such violent murders are rare, and inexplicable in the wealthy neighborhoods. Police continue the search for the identity of the homeless man who sparked the incident…”
Indeed, the fruits of this exploitative symbiosis rarely come home to roost in the backyards of the wealthy. They erect security barriers, and other buffers of privilege, preventing it. When it does happen, the media is shocked. It’s not supposed to happen in “the good” neighborhoods. Must be something “bad” got in there, infesting, defiling the house. The blame is placed immediately on the poor person as instigator.
Perhaps next time we’ll get into the power to name. The power of words. The power of being the labeler. Who is parasite? Who is host?
“In the beginning was The Word.”