Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Can Empathy Solve Class Conflict? A Brief Analysis of Houston Coley's Review of Parasite


About a month ago, rising YouTube star, writer, and filmmaker Houston Coley penned a piece reviewing the movie Parasite. His conclusions were essentially that the movie forces us to be empathetic towards both rich and poor, and that, in the end, violence isn't the solution to solving wealth and class inequality. Coley's implication seems to be that change cannot occur from the bottom-up—instead it must flow from the top-down. He states as much when he concludes with the following:

"I think many of us, including those who belong to the middle-class, probably have a level of self-inflicted ignorance toward the margins, too. When you start to feel empathy for the have-nots, it often demands action, and that’s scary. But if Parasite does anything in the lives of the middle and high-class people who see it, I hope it shines a light on those margins, creating empathy and demanding action."

While I had other problems with the review—primarily how it side-steps the role that race and ethnicity play in creating class division in South Korea—I'll focus the bulk of this article on analyzing the claim that we should rely on the empathy of the middle and upper classes to create positive change in society.

It is true that change is nearly impossible without the backing of some who are well-off. But it's dangerous to say that the poor should relinquish themselves to the fact they they will never be able to do anything without the assistance of the middle and upper classes. In fact, to use history as an example, it seems to me that in most cases where change occurs, it's first lobbied for by the lowest of the low, who's persistence and action over the years slowly attracts enough of the upper classes to their cause, which finally creates a tipping point in public opinion, whereupon permanent change (albeit usually less radical than what was initially intended) is wrought.

A prime example of this can be seen with both abolitionism and the civil rights movement. For the former, it required violent and non-violent resistance on the part of slaves against enslavers to create a political opening for antislavery ideology. For the latter, it required the blood, sweat, and tears of black radicals in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to make civil rights so pressing of an issue that mainstream politicians were forced to do something about it in the 60s.

And so, to contest what Coley states when claiming that Parasite "reinforces the idea that violence is ultimately futile, and may further cement [class] divide[s]," I would argue that the moral of the story is that such drastic measures (which don't always have to include violence) are often a necessity in jolting the rich from their "obliviousness to the problems of the have-nots." The fact that these violent measures led to negative outcomes for the poor family in the movie is not an indictment of the acts themselves, or of the role that the poor play in enacting the change they desire to see, but an indictment of a system that forces them into such situations to extricate themselves from their subservient position in society.

If the poor did nothing at all, and instead relied on the empathy of the middle and upper classes, we'd probably go nowhere in terms of societal progress with regard to eliminating wealth and class inequality. I understand, I think, where Coley is coming from with his closing remarks, that hopefully viewing Parasite—and not being subjected to actual class warfare—serves as the impetus to getting the middle and upper classes to take inequality seriously.

While an optimistic sentiment, and one I would like to subscribe to, I doubt that cinematic brilliance alone can save us from our tendency to take advantage of those who require the most assistance. Real change requires action, not passivity, and that action isn't always pretty to look at.
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Monday, December 30, 2019

Rise of Skywalker Review - A New Chosen One


It's been twenty years since the first time I stepped into a theater to watch Star Wars. As with most kids, I left in amazement, and immediately asked my parents for a toy lightsaber so that I could pretend I was Obi-Wan or Qui-Gon. Soon after that I discovered that there was a whole universe of Star Wars stories beyond Episode I, which I voraciously consumed via old VHS copies of A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. This led to me consuming Star Wars through other forms of media, like books and video games, with my favorite of the latter being the Knights of the Old Republic games.

By the time Revenge of the Sith came out, I was a certified Star Wars fanatic. That movie, while it has its problems, is still my favorite Star Wars film to date (something that is probably true of the majority of my generation). The lightsaber battles, the characters, seeing the fall of Anakin Skywalker happen before my eyes—all of these combined to create an experience I would never forget. Even to this day I make sure to watch Revenge of the Sith at least once a year.

When Disney announced the creation of a new Star Wars trilogy, I was very excited. While I was a bit concerned that it would ruin the conclusion of Episode VI, I went into watching Episode VII with an open mind, and was mostly pleased with the result. Episode VIII certainly subverted my expectations, as it did for most people, but at the time I left the theater feeling fairly satisfied, albeit slightly perturbed by the lack of lightsaber duels.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Big Brother 19 Cast in Retrospect

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Two years ago I went over why Big Brother 19 was hard to watch, and why, as a result, I thought that Cody should win America's Favorite Player. With Big Brother 21 wrapping up in a week, I figured now might be a good time to take a look back at what was (before BB21) perhaps the most controversial cast in Big Brother history. 

For the purpose of this article I will only be analyzing the Big Brother 19 cast members who I thought were particularly controversial, close to Paul, and made it to jury. 

With that said, let's begin with everyone's favorite...

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

iPhone 6S Plus 2019 Review

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With the world abuzz about the soon-to-be-released iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro, I thought that it would be prudent to write an article about iPhones (something I haven't done since I compared iPhones and Androids several years ago).

In particular, I want to take a look at what it's like to use an "old" iPhone like the 6S Plus in 2019, since it's what I and many other people currently use, despite multiple generations of iPhones separating it from the devices being released on September 20th. 

The short answer is this: the 6S Plus is still pretty good. However, it's starting to become just bad enough to where I'm considering upgrading to the iPhone 11. With all that said, let's jump right into talking about the pros and cons of owning an iPhone 6S Plus in 2019. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Super Rich Problem

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It has become trendy within the past few years to blame all of the country's problems on the "super rich," roughly defined (by me) as those making more than a couple million dollars per year. And yet, while I would agree that they are in large part responsible for today's lack of social mobility, worsening income inequality, and more, I would argue that blaming them for everything risks misdirecting from another problem. 

What am I referring to? The apathy of the so-called "upper-middle class." Personally, I would define this as individuals making around $100,000 a year, or families making a combined income upwards of $200,000 a year (depending on where you live of course, adjust the numbers upwards if you are living somewhere like San Francisco).

While it is true that these people don't have as much power and influence individually as the super rich, I think that, as a collective, they pretty much shape the direction of politics in the United States via their combined purchasing power and influence over those of us who are less fortunate than they are.

And I think the problem here is that this class of folks too often uses the "super rich" as a scapegoat to excuse their own political inaction. They take the stance that, because they aren't Jeff Bezos, they aren't going to affect change to the same extent. This results in them bowing out of the political game, choosing to sit on the sidelines rather than to take steps to ensure that society moves forward.