Most film noir protagonists are driven by anger. Anger grown of frustration and resentment at a society that excludes them from comfort and a decent life. Some are simply lazy and greedy and see crime as a fast lane to riches, many are driven by poverty and degradation to crime, also as a kind of revenge against ‘those’ who have taken everything and left nothing, and all share the widely held delusion that money buys happiness.
In the female prison noir, Caged (1950), a powerful critique of a society that breeds such anger, a young woman is jailed after she is an unwitting accomplice in a gas-station robbery with her husband, who is killed during the heist. The sheltered girl on admittance to a women’s prison discovers she is pregnant, but her condition does not protect her from the humiliation and brutalisation of prison life. Melodramatic but with a strong social conscience that targets corrupt authorities, the movie is downbeat and pessimistic. By the end of the film, the girl is hard-bitten beyond her years and ready to hit the streets as a prostitute, after her recruitment by a glamorous older inmate, who manages to run her racket from inside the prison. The prison warden tries hard to help such girls but money is in short supply and the politicians aren’t interested. The girl’s decision to go bad is triggered by the resentment that erupts when from her cell she is confronted with the site of a gaggle of socialites dressed to the nines in a philanthropic tour of the prison. We appreciate her anger and resentment as an understandable response to her treatment by ‘the system’.
Hollywood doesn’t make movies likes that anymore thanks to the HUAC purges of the 1950s and the comfortable cowardice of contemporary film-makers.
I get angry at injustice and inequality, very angry. What intrigues me is why Americans don’t get angry at the injustice and inequality in their midst. For the record I am not American nor do I live in America, and for many Americans that disqualifies me from having a view, but I don’t care. If you personally have a problem with this, write to your member of Congress.
A sobering article was published today by my local newspaper.
- A taxation system emaciated by political opportunism has left the US with tax rates so low as to undermine the work of government, strangling revenue and magnifying inequality. Each year, the IRS constructs figures for the top 400 income earners in the country. In 2008, when the great recession was biting hardest, the top 400 earned on average $US270.5 million each – 20 times what they made in 1955 (which was $US13.3 million, in 2008 dollars). The mind-blowing reality beyond that growth is that the 400 highest-earning Americans in 1955, after exploiting all possible deductions, paid 51.2 per cent of their total earnings in federal income tax. Fifty years later, in 2008, the top 400 paid just 18.1 per cent in tax. So pronounced is the disparity that the top 1 per cent of American taxpayers now takes almost a quarter of all income – double their share of 25 years ago. And they control about 40 per cent of America’s wealth, compared to 33 per cent then.
- In the days of the postwar president Dwight Eisenhower, America’s top income tax bracket hovered around 90 per cent. It was eased to 70 per cent in the mid-1960s and remained there until the advent of ”Reaganomics” when the top marginal tax rate was slashed to 50 per cent, then to 28 per cent. Reagan’s successors – George Bush snr and Bill Clinton – pushed the rates back up, citing fiscal necessity, but George W. Bush cut again, lowering the top marginal rate to 35 per cent, while reducing the tax on capital gains to 15 per cent for assets held for more than a year, accelerating the accumulation of wealth at the summit, because the rich, increasingly, were deriving their income from capital gains – by trading shares, bonds and other assets.
Get angry America!