Would MoCo Liberals join Hands Across America before Untethering the Sunken Place?
If you haven’t seen both Jordan Peele films – “Get Out” and “Us” – stop reading this and go watch both of them. If you have, or if you are disinclined to watch psychological horror, read on.
While “Get Out” is set in what appears to be exurban New York State, and “Us” in Santa Cruz, California, both films could easily be set in Montgomery County (our lack of beach notwithstanding.)
Jordan Peele grasps the concept of racism, class consciousness and being complicit in structural inequities in a way that would make a nonprofit executive in Takoma Park uncomfortable. In fact, I hope Peele sets his next film in Takoma Park (disclosure: I live in Takoma Park), though Bethesda would work well in an ever-so-slightly different vein.
The Armitage family might live in Bethesda. They voted for Obama twice. They have a Love Trumps Have sticker on their Prius. They have a yard sight that says “All Are Welcome Here.” They’ve checked the right boxes and repeated the right slogans and donated to the right causes. They see themselves as far removed from the MAGA hat-wearing, Confederate flag-waving denizens of our state’s eastern and western extremities.
How far removed are they, though, from the racial biases of our law enforcement? How welcoming are they to immigrants, people of color, and children of low-income families in our public schools? More insidiously, to what extent does the Bethesda Armitage family use the county’s diversity as window dressing, or a prop to fill a suitable role, and not embrace immigrants and people of color as individuals with a diverse range of ideas, professions, and goals of their own?
I would not accuse your average white liberal Obama-voting family in Bethesda of a sinister underground brain-swapping practice. I would, however, caution against a latent tendency to comfortably pick and choose the ways to embrace diversity where convenient, and of the assumption that engaging in liberal punditry and fundraising absolves oneself of any responsibilities for structural inequality one might willfully ignore.
Which brings me to Peele’s second film, “Us.” Even if “Get Out” was the more critically acclaimed of the two, “Us” could apply even more directly to Montgomery County.
“Us” may as well feature an upper middle class family of color in Takoma Park. While the Wilsons don’t display the iconic progressivism of TKPK (they seem to be a fairly standard, American Dream-living suburban family fixated on their model homes and boats) the city’s embrace of feel-good progressive action (To be fair, some Takoma Park-style progressive endeavors do make real changes. But let’s not kid ourselves. Virtue signaling is a reality in MoCo, love it or hate it) speaks to some of the points the film addresses.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
“Us” turns feel-good charity on its side with its sinister take on the 1986 anti-poverty campaign “Hands Across America.” “Hands” raised $35 million, but less than half of that went to the charity after overhead costs, and as we can see, it made no dent in to the homeless problem.
Let’s examine the harsh truth. Montgomery County may be as a whole, progressive and well-intentioned, but we are sitting above the tunnels of the Tethered, and our wealthiest residents, who provide the tax base we acknowledge that we need, benefit from the structural inequalities that did the tethering.
The main difference between the film and reality is that the Tethered are not as hidden. We know they exist. They are children in cages at the border, drugged and force-fed. They are the urban working poor, who, rather than being paid a living wage, are told to learn a new skill to get a higher paying job, while balancing three jobs, moving from eviction to eviction and racking up medical bills. They are in rural West Virginia, addicted to opioids, and yes – some of them voted for Trump. After all, the Tethered are presented to us as villains, right?
They are Americans.
Perhaps the most poignant revelation at the end of the film was not the Adelaide/Red switcheroo twist itself, but what it really means about human nature at play with structural inequities.
Why has Red, who we found has been impersonating Adelaide for thirty years, solidly fought for Team Wilson, team Above Ground? Why is the real Adelaide fighting for the side of her captors? It is certainly not a story of Stockholm Syndrome. At all. It is the truth about human nature that throws a wrench in the proletarian revolution.
A prisoner of the underground tunnels, or a member of society’s underclasses gets a taste of freedom, prosperity, and privilege – and chooses not to look back.
It’s Adelaide, fallen from privilege, to the world of the Tethered that leads the revolution. She has full knowledge of both worlds.
Do Montgomery County residents have this knowledge, when our Tethered live visibly among us?