By Sherry Linkon
Working Class Perspectives
Emagazine represented the coming together of labor and environmental activists as the marriage of “blue” and “green.” Environmental journalist Ethan Goffman chronicled the new alliances being made between the two (previously opposed) camps, such as the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club’s BlueGreen Alliance.
Two recent Bullfrog titles that address issues of class include The American Ruling Class (2007) and What’s the Economy for Anyway? (2010) The American Ruling Class is a quirky genre all its own: a “documentary musical.” In fact it is a kind of inverted reality show, in which the characters are fictional but the circumstances are real. The film was written by (and stars) the real life former Harpers Magazine editor Lewis Lapham as he tries to help two fictional Yale graduates. Jack, from a wealthy family, accepts an offer to work for Goldman Sachs after graduation. The other Yale man, Mike from a more modest background, works as a waiter and wants to be a writer. Mike is the character we are rooting for to save the world, and most of the film consists of Mike’s tour of the ruling class, from Wall Street to Hollywood to Mexico.
Along the way the two young men meet an astonishing number of actual members of the ruling class, including Bill Bradley, James A. Baker III, Lawrence H. Summers, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., most of whom deny the existence of their own kind. Mike also meets some of the great progressive intellectuals and artists, too, including Barbara Eherenreich, Kurt Vonnegut, and Robert Altman. At the end of the film, one of our country’s greatest living treasures, Pete Seeger, plays the banjo while walking Mike down the path to either his job interview at Goldman Sachs or something more noble. We’re not entirely sure. What we are sure of, however, is that Lewis Lapham has an impressive rolodex. To see James A. Baker III placidly deny the existence of a ruling class is to see something rather extraordinary indeed.
Watching Batker’s film, I learned a lot. Is the US really the only Western country that doesn’t have a law guaranteeing paid vacation time? Yes. Is the US really one of four nations in the world that has no federally mandated paid maternity leave? Yes. Are Americans more likely to be depressed and/or suicidal than Europeans? Yes.
Batker’s profession of “ecological economist” is new to me, but it seems like a good idea. It is high time Blue and Green to came together, in the political arena as well as on film. It is also heartening to see an ecologically oriented film company that does not focus narrowly on butterflies, bees, water, and plastic. Instead Bullfrog Films, like Gifford Pinchot himself, is interested in the greatest good—the idea that quality of life for ordinary workers must be conserved if we want the ultimate in sustainable living.
Kathy M. Newman is professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon University. She was involved in the effort to unionize Teaching Assistants at Yale University in the 1990s and she is currently finishing a book, Blacklisted and Bluecollared: How Americans Saw Class in the 1950s.