I loves the old movies too, and this is a good observation by this weekend’s Steve Benen stunt stand-in. She misses the fly in the chardonnay, though: the fact that Amity Shlaes’ contrarian pro-austerity manifest, “The Forgotten Man”, gets so much play from Very Serious People.
[I] recently attended a screening of one of my favorite films, Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1933. It’s one of the masterpieces of the classic Hollywood era, and trust me, it’s not until you see it on the big screen that you can fully appreciate the force of the Busby Berkeley’s demented genius. The “We’re in the Money” production number that opens the movie, with that gloriously lunatic moment in which Ginger Rogers start singing the lyrics in pig Latin, has long been referenced as an iconic moment of pure Hollywood escapism. But even that song had lyrics that acknowledge an economic reality principle: “And when we see the landlord/We’ll look that guy right in the eye.”
Most striking of all is the song that culminates the film, the “Remember My Forgotten Man” number. Smack dab at the tail end of this fizzy, fruit cocktail of a movie comes an unexpectedly powerful, achingly earnest, ballad urging the audience to remember the “forgotten man” — all those hard-working, once proud veterans, farmers, and laborers who have fallen on economic hard times. It’s social consciousness in the best Warner Brothers 1930s style, a moment of genuine, we’re-all-in-this-together solidarity. There’s even a smidgeon of racial diversity, when an African-American woman sings a verse of the song.
Take a moment like that, and contrast it with the way contemporary pop culture by and large erases and marginalizes the huge number of unemployed, underemployed, or otherwise economically struggling Americans. It speaks volumes about the insularity and out-of-touchness of our contemporary cultural elites.