“The Briefcase” and Class Warfare

CBS has launched a new “reality” show that involves giving two struggling families $100,000 and then giving them a choice to share part of it with the other family or keep it all. It is the sort of exploitive trash we’ve become accustomed to from the media industrial complex. If the class divisions in the United States were not already at Dickensian levels, The Briefcase wouldn’t exist at all. I joked on my Facebook feed that I hoped the season ended with the revelation that all the families had been secretly pooling their “gifts” in order to finance an armed revolution. While I don’t really think that’s a viable long term solution, the fact that the producers of the show didn’t conceive of this possibility demonstrates how little the poor in this country see themselves as a class that could engage in unified action for their collective benefit.

Let’s be clear: class warfare is not a choice. The oligarchs in charge of our economy and popular culture inflict varying degrees of suffering on the rest of us without restraint or even a sense that the individuals they are harming are people at all. We are “externalities” in their game. Collateral damage in their campaign to feed their bottomless hunger for wealth. The onslaught effects everyone outside of the plutocracy, not only those who recognize the situation or who feel outrage at the most egregious crimes.

Neo-liberalism has been a disaster for all but the wealthiest in our society. But, since the people who benefit from it are also in charge of the information and entertainment the majority of the population is exposed to, they are able to distort the situation to make it appear as if there is a way to “win” the rigged game they’ve set up for us and “make it.” As a result, the poor and middle classes don’t see themselves as a group, but as individuals who simply don’t have money. For all their talk of “individual responsibility,” the very wealthy act in the interests of the class they belong to far more often than those of lower socio-economic strata.

I’m not naïve. I realize the families involved with The Briefcase have pressures on them that make pooling their resources difficult. But, assuming a season of 8 shows, the contestants as a whole will receive $1.6 Million. Certainly a percentage of that could go toward some effort to undermine Corporate America’s stranglehold? You could buy a congressional representative’s vote with that, at the very least.

The Briefcase ultimately revolves around the dialogue of charity. It is “good” for one of the families to give part or all of their money to the other. It is “bad” for them to keep it. This even though both have the same amount, a fact that isn’t know to the contestants until the end of the installment. The families are being judged on “individual” virtue, which is a very nice semantic barrier to furthering their long term interests as members of a class.

Every successful social movement has recognized that its members are in the position they are because of their status. Black people are oppressed as Black people. LGBT people are oppressed because they are LGBT. Their movements for liberation appropriately focus on the thing they are mistreated on account of. When it comes to economics, Neo-liberalism has created such a broad group of differently disadvantaged groups that members of those groups are likely to see themselves as individuals existing within those subgroups, rather than members of the broader collective of those whom the oligarchs are screwing over.

This process is aided both by systemic factors, such as economic pressures and a media controlled by the ruling class, and the antagonisms that exist between subcultures. For instance, The Briefcase features a gay couple and a family of Bible thumping Republicans. The bigotry of the latter prevents collective action with the former. These barriers exist because the Right has encouraged them, and the beneficiary is the corporate system that leaves both families in the dust, until they are “rescued” by being made into a television carnival act.

The Briefcase, contrary to many opinions, represents not a new low, but a continuation of the process of class warfare that has always existed. It has simply gotten more extreme, because capitalism demands that everything increase at a greater rate.


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