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Movie Review: The One Percent

My first movie review is, naturally, not going to be a positive one. I’m critical by nature, being more drawn towards the details than the whole. But even then, I don’t think looking at the whole can excuse the all encompassing privilege of…

The One Percent

It’s a 2006 documentary about socioeconomic class inequality and how the already enormous income disparity between the poorest (or the poor, or the middle class) and the richest has been deliberately and intentionally encouraged by the richest. Jamie Johnson, the creator of the film, actually went and interviewed upper-class businessmen, usually property magnates, and explained the methods they used to do this. Deliberately.

The good is that, because Jamie Johnson is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune—yes, of the Johnson & Johnson company, though perhaps better known as “those fucking animal-torturing motherfuckers who say they’re doing it for kids“—you, the viewer, get an inside look at The World of Rich People.

Because it is literally a different world—of multigenerational wealth and modern-day Western aristocracy, where the meaning of wealth is beaten into you as not something you have, but as something you swim in. One of the most shocking things, actually, is realizing just how isolated and inbred these people are—it’s like looking into a time machine projecting the image of 1800s aristocracy. The rest of the world has moved on, but these people, by virtue of such overwhelming privilege and money that it breaks my brain to think about it, haven’t changed at all. Some of the women even have British accents—and I seriously doubt it’s because they’re British.

So, aside from how completely fucking insane that is, he takes us into the incestuous financial world of the people who control 38% of the U.S.’s wealth. (I’m not kidding—they actually have a book about familial wealth calling Keeping It In The Family, for the love of sweet potatoes.) No one else would have been able to, and for that alone I’m grateful. The financial advisors check your pedigree, for serious. They will not allow you into their top-secret financial meetings without a good pedigree.

Um, yeah. I can’t even articulate these feelings more than, “um, holy fuck, this is crazy”—despite Jamie Johnson’s overwhelming privilege, I’m glad he did this, because there wouldn’t have been any other way to see these things. The emotional abuse of his family’s financial counselor is really blatant, and the fact that the financial counselor is more invested in seeing Jamie adhere to the ultra-capitalist ideology of his family is… interesting. He was more like a twisted, brainwashing family therapist than a financial advisor as such.

Outside of The World of Rich People, though, the movie covers a lot of good ground—particularly with housing issues and the Projects of Detroit and how they are being slowly and malevolently gentrified, although this is still being hailed in news articles as a “renewal” of the city, much like with Denver and the Bronx. I was interested in the coverage of the sugar plantations and how they’re basically 21st century China Towns, foreign imported slave labor and all—it’s an important subject, but JJ went too much in-depth with it and ended up shortchanging both that subject and the overall subject of the film. He could have simply stopped at the U.S. government gives subsidies to people who are already outrageously rich, and makes laws specifically so that they can get richer at the expense of poor foreign workers, and it would have served the film better.

The bad, though, can be listed in a couple of ways. First, and most basic, was that I had a serious problem with the coherence of the film—it jumps from subject to subject without any clear delineation of why the massive subject change is necessary, and without properly covering the preceding one. The film’s progression goes basically like this, with interspersed interviews of various rich people and used-to-be-rich people (the poor people aren’t actually important enough to be interviewed):

1. Jamie Johnson’s family is super-duper rich and inbred, yo.
2. The World of Rich People and the many, many meetings with finances people they have.
3. Discussion of rich peoples’ tactics and statistics.
4. Family therapy session with emotionally abusive Johnson financial advisor.
5. A good amount of coverage of poor Black people in Detroit.
6. Incomplete segue into sugar cane plantations and their massive fucked-upness.

And that, there at the end—I’m not joking. He literally does this: the movie is wrapped up with him making amends with his family and being welcomed back into the fold. It feels like a fucking betrayal. It feels like he punched me in the gut.

Because at the end, it was just about Jamie Johnson and his stupid daddy issues, and as soon as those were resolved, there wasn’t any more conflict. The movie was over. For Jamie Johnson, I got the distinct impression that Jamie Johnson’s passion for social justice ends once Jamie Johnson is comfortable and secure.

None of it mattered, at least not to Jamie Johnson. Now that Daddy wasn’t mad at him anymore, everyone could all go home—nevermind that many people don’t have one to go home to, and many others can’t go home for fear of losing it or their safety and well-being. And that pisses me off. This fucking ultra-rich fucking white boy gets to prance about telling us how awful and horrible it is, and he gets to have his fun rebelling, but at the end of it he still gets to have his cake and eat mine, too. Everyone’s cake.

Ultimately, Jamie Johnson is never going to question why we even have capitalism. Because he won. He got entrance into the Lucky Spooge Club so he doesn’t have to consider the implications of allowing a system to continue that not only allows but actively encourages everything he documented to happen.

And that just pretty much killed the film for me.

Go ahead and watch it, but about 3/4 of the way through the film basically becomes useless. At least, it did for me.

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