Kardashian Kapture: Where Can We Find Stories of Ordinary People Facing Real Problems?
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After the banking crisis in 2008 and the resulting Great Recession, a number of industry-coined “ credit crunch movies” appeared on the big screen—films like Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, Up in the Air starring George Clooney and The Company Men with Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones . The publishing world was buzzing about “recession lit”—social issues novels that dealt specifically with the Great Recession. The most notable example is American Rust by Philip Meyer, a novel “evoking John Steinbeck’s novels of restless lives during the Great Depression.”
The era of credit crunch films and recession lit had begun, many people predicted. Proof of this seemed evident to me during the final scene of Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story. Taping off Wall Street as a crime scene, Moore rallies the audience to step up and take action.
"We live in the richest country in the world,” Moore says. “We all deserve a decent job, healthcare, a good education, a home to call our own. We all deserve FDR's dream.” He goes on to say: “You know, I can't really do this anymore ... unless those of you who are watching this want to join me. I hope you will. And please—speed it up."
As a writer, I took this to mean writing stories about what had been done to our nation and what it meant to people like my friends, my family and me. I envisioned other writers doing the same. I thought I would be reading new novels featuring main characters dealing with foreclosed homes, lost jobs, no healthcare, and bleak futures. And coming soon to a theater near me? Movies based on the heroic efforts of union workers a la Norma Rae and Silkwood, but with a modern spin, such as a minimum-wage employee at a chain store behemoth demanding better pay for herself and her fellow workers, no matter what the cost, financially or otherwise.
Michael Moore lost money on Capitalism. Even with its roster of stars, The Company Men tanked at the box office. Up In The Air fared better with six Oscar nominations and a gross of over $160 million worldwide, yet the cynic in me thinks its popularity had more to do with George Clooney than the storyline. American Rust proved popular when published, yet has since faded into the background.
It has been nearly five years since the fall of Lehman Brothers, and there have been only a handful of films and books with plots focusing on America’s ongoing financial crisis and the devastating consequences it has had on the American people. So who is to blame for the near absence of stories with such timely and important themes?
Some blame the audience. In an article in The Week published in 2008, Katey Rich from Cinema Blend said that credit crunch films “may become the equivalent of Iraq war movies—timely and important, but too depressing and reminiscent of audiences’ actual troubles at home.” In the same article Guy Bennett from Wealth Creation Tips stated that history proves “when the economy falls the demand for escapist entertainment rises” and that during the Great Depression “25 percent of American families had no income and 40 percent of factory workers were unemployed,” however, box office sales “soared 22 percent. ”
Enter Gossip Girls, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey—just a few examples of modern-day American television shows, books and films that persistently focus on the lives of the 1 percent and relate in no shape or form to the real issues facing ordinary Americans. Follow Rich and Bennett’s argument alone and it would be easy to surmise why stories like these are so popular in our culture.