Saturday, January 26, 2013

Makers and Takers: an Afterthought

Makers and takers: you'd this was last year's meme, but I saw somebody take a jab at it as I watched the wall TV out of the corner of my eye at the gym this afternoon.  So maybe I will be permitted an afterthought.

So. You remember The Apartment, right?--Billy Wilder's "comedy" (ahem) about Shirley MacLaine as the comely young working girl at large in the great city?  Except that it wasn't a comedy, was it?  Look a little closer and you recognize that it is a bleak and unsettling appraisal of the slash-and-grab of modern commercial life.   There's Jack Lemmon as the warm-hearted schlub, of course.  But the centerpiece is Fred McMurray, playing against type as Jeff Sheldrake, the monster of arrogance and insolence who treats people they way he treats a paper hanky and will (it seems) keep on getting away with it until the end of time,.

But I wonder if you caught this little bit of give-and-take about the hateful Shelddrake, as between Bud (Lemmon) and Fran (MacLaine):

            It's just that I'm the kind of guy
            who can't say no -- I don't mean to
            girls -- I mean --

            You mean to someone like Mr.

            I guess so.

            I know so. He's a taker.

            A what?

            Some people take, some people get
            took -- and they know they're
            getting took -- and there's nothing
            they can do about it.

            I wouldn't say that -- 

Say what, Taker? Sheldrake? He's the boss. He uses people and throws them away. Not exactly the √úbermensch, but at least the √úbermensch's cheesy running dog.  Can we stipulate that this is just exactly the opposite of what the Republican's late presidential candidate had in mind? Or rather: can we assume (yes?) that the candidate, it was Lemmon and MacLaine who would have counted as the takers while Sheldrake might enter the spotlight as the essence of John Galt.

[This might be read as just an ironic trick of nomenclature.  The candidate and Sheldrake (and John Galt) would agree with Pareto's 80-20 principle: that it is the vital few who make the world turn while the rest of us poor sods just go along for the ride.  If the vital few are takers, why it is because they really deserve it as Sarpedon explains to Glaucus.]
Yet for most of the past 150 years, the prevailing conviction is that  it is the masses, poor devils--"the workers" in Marxist lore--who do the work of the world while their masters rip off the gain: the whole nine yards about surplus value, the means of production, the full panoply of devices by means of which the workers get took.

So Sheldrake is no doubt a taker in the classic Marxist sense.   And so far as I'm aware, not a living soul noticed the (shall we say) dialectical reversal in the hands of the candidate.  When did it happen, exactly?  And how?  And how come nobody noticed?


jed said...

I noticed, and I noticed a few ironic comments to that effect.

But the media today is mostly "takers" of the well-crafted message, and I guess that is what we have here.

It seems a special case of the Rovian pattern: "Accuse your opponent of your own most serious flaws." Works pretty well, if done with enough vigor and skill.

Jeff Dutky said...

It's been quite clear to me, for at least a decade, that the same folks that froth at the mouth about dirty socialists in the executive branch have, as their ideological pedigree, a bunch of people who stole Marxist rhetoric lock, stock and barrel, only exchanging the roles of owner and working in order to make the tale fit the prejudices of the ears that they planned to tell it to.

I was most struck by this phenomenon when watching a lecture by Francis Fukuyama on some public access cable channel back in the summer of 2003. The very title of his book, The End of History betrays his obsession with Marxist ideology, and the rest of the lecture seemed to support my epiphany: that Fukuyama was, in fact, a closet Marxist. That most of the rest of modern conservatives a similarly in thrall to a masqueraded version of Marxist thought comes as little surprise.