Monday, January 09, 2017

The Tyranny of the Elite: Movie Edition

Over the past month, I've seen two movies that feature tyrannical elites imposing their decisions on those they consider lesser creatures. They are Tomorrowland and Still Alice.

In Tomorrowland, Hugh Laurie plays David, the leader of a group of global elites who have created utopia in a parallel dimension. It's unclear to me if the point was to eventually bring all humanity there or to showcase to humanity what is possible to encourage them to turn their existing dimension into something better than it is. Nevertheless, the elites never come out and tell humanity what is happening, and David eventually decides to sever the project from the irredeemable world and instead take refuge there. Maybe it's just my anti-elite bias talking here, but I think the film doesn't cast the elite in a positive light. They constantly make decisions on behalf of others and those decisions are self-serving. Just like real elites.

In Still Alice the elite/pleb distinction is between newly-diagnosed Alice and severe-dementia Alice. (Bee tee dubs, spoilers ahead, but I'm probably the last person in America to see this movie, so I don't think I'm going to spoil anything for anyone.) Newly-diagnosed Alice (as an Ivy-League professor she's as elite as they come) misleads a doctor to get a large number of potent sleeping pills, then leaves an instructional video for severe-dementia Alice to kill herself with them. ND Alice never asks if SD Alice is going to want to die; when it actually comes time for SD Alice to implement the plan, she appears to still enjoy her human connections. "Never mind," says ND Alice. "Because she isn't going to enjoy her human connections the way that I do right now, I'm not going to allow her to enjoy them at all."

It's disturbing the way ND Alice knows she is tricking SD Alice into her death. She explains in tones one would use with a child, "There are a lot of pills, but it's very important that you take them all." If she had begun the video with, "Hey, SD Alice, do you want to die right now? If so, here's what you do," I think SD Alice would have answered, "No." ND Alice's elitism leads her to plot the death of a non-elite. Because it appears to be herself, most viewers are probably sympathetic instead of properly horrified. (Killing herself would have been coming home with the pills and taking them all right then. She instead plots to kill someone else, someone whose cognitive ability isn't up to scratch.) The title conveys the dignity of all individuals (despite the dementia she is still Alice), but ND Alice's actions are based on the notion that those with more insight get to make important decisions, including life-and-death decisions, on behalf of the benighted, and the elite are justified in using trickery to bring about the results.

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