Richie Rich Makes Movies

Fuck do I hate not being able to sleep.  I suppose one of the perks to being single is that as opposed to tossing and turning and getting anxious about waking the X up, I can just get up, turn on the lights, grab my laptop, hop back into bed and work.  Sure, the cat gets irritated…but she’s a cat.

I finished all my school work last night and as a reward decided to watch a movie.  It was late and I was kind of tired so I was looking for something short-ish.  I found a short film documentary called “The One Percent” by filmmaker Jamie Johnson.  Being that I spend a fair amount of time ranting about the privileged class and this was only 80 minutes, I queued it up.

About four years ago, I tried watching a documentary called “Born Rich” about a bunch of rich twats in NYC.  Not just rich twats, but heirs to massive fortunes, Ivanka Trump, S.I. Newhouse IV, Georgina Bloomberg, etc.  I got about 15 minutes in before I had to turn it off.  I was not then and am not now, in the mood to listen to the trials and tribulations of being born into an extraordinarily monied class.  Interestingly enough, the film was made by one of their own, Jamie Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune.

So, “The One Percent” queues up and I see it is directed by Jamie Johnson.  I don’t put the two together and thought I was going to be watching some sort of Gen Y Michael Moore documentary.  Nope.  Same guy.  The film opens with him crashing his fathers croquet game and his father repeatedly telling him he can’t film there in hushed tones.  It was kind of funny especially when he tells one of the old ladies, with one of those fake pretentious British/aristocratic voices, that he is making a documentary about the class chasm in the United States.  She literally goes dead silent.  I was hooked, but I didn’t piece it together that it was the same guy until I saw a scene titled “Johnson Family Meeting” and I thought, “Jesus what kinda dick films his family meeting?”  Then I looked at the room in which the meeting was taking place and thought “Whoa, who the fuck are these people and where is this meeting?”  Then he announced through VO who he was.  I almost shut it off, but I was intrigued enough.

Full disclosure, I am not sure how it ends up because I got too tired and had to go to bed…apparently so I could get up at 4:30 to write this.

Nonetheless, I got to watching this documentary and am flummoxed as to how I feel about it.  One the one hand, Johnson admits to using his name to gain access to certain people and things.  Christ, who else but a Johnson heir could interview Milton Friedman.  For those playing the home version, this is the guy almost solely responsible for the growing chasm, he is the architect behind “Trickle Down Economics”.  Or as I like to call it “Butt Rape of the Middle and Lower Class Economics”.  And they actually have a very spirited debate.  He also interviews Steve Forbes and Forbes actually shows off some off some personality.  He gains access into a seminar on family wealth where lectures are given on how to sustain wealth from generation to generation.  Apparently, the norm is three generations, but one guy was pitching the idea of five generations.

Anyway, on the other hand, do I really need to be exposed to this sort of shit?  It’s infuriating.  Here I am just receiving my lease renewal and I have to dig up my last lease renewal to make sure the numbers match and the increase is what it is “supposed to be”.  Then I need to determine what I need to sacrifice in order to stay in my apartment.  Meanwhile I am watching some wealthy Chicago Investment Banking douchebag drive around in a Lamborghini and talk about how he saw his condo, called his dad and bought it 30 days later.  I suppose it’s kind of funny he had to call his dad.  Johnson very nicely intercuts this with the local projects and their tenants who are being displaced in order to make room for douchebags like this guy to move in.

One of the main unwritten edicts of gentrification is to shut down schools.  Close schools.  In this one area on the South Side of Chicago, a local describes how the city closed three schools and when asked “Why?” by Johnson, he thinks about it and says “I have no idea.”  Well sir, neither do I.  Shut down schools?!  And then I kept asking myself, where exactly are these people from the South Side of Chicago being displaced TO?  I mean, can we really shut down schools, kick poor people out of public housing to make way for rich people?  Yes, I understand we can, but can we afford to?  Is this really good for our society?  No.  It’s not.  And, even as one interviewer points out, it is not a question of “if” anymore, it is really a question of “when” the poor, underprivileged and middle class take up arms against the sort of financial tyranny.  The revolutions of late have come about as a result of similar financial strife and the gap between rich and poor was not nearly as wide in those countries as it is here in the United States.  Yes, I want a revolution.

I can see that Johnson, while not necessarily wrestling with his wealth, he doesn’t shy away from it or suffer from the “rich guilt” syndrome.  I am not sure what exactly he is trying to sort out, but it’s clear that he is wrestling with something.  He tries to interview his father about the class disparity and his father gets irritated and says “I’m not an expert on this sort of thing.” and walks off.  Johnson then tells the story of how his father had made a film about Apartheid in South Africa and was raked over the coals by the family and he never made another film.  Imagine, an American aristocrat making a documentary critical of Apartheid around the late 1960’s?  After the Johnson family lashing, his father went on to live the life of an heir.  But what is Jamie Johnson’s angle?

To say that the kid is not engaging would be to lie.  To say that it’s not a seemingly clever film would be to lie.  To say that he doesn’t hold some people to task would be to lie.  But what is his purpose?  Is he going to give up his wealth?  No, I doubt that very much.  Is he trying to show us how the other half live?  Not really.  Is he trying to poke fun at the wealthy?  A little.  There is a serious cheeky undertone in some of the interviews and the way it is cut together, but I can’t quite wrap my head around what his point is.

Sometimes the best thing an artist does is to hold a mirror up to their society and maybe ultimately that is what Jamie Johnson is trying to do.  Hold a mirror up and say “look at how ridiculous we are being rich while others struggle and even suffer.”  I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that is his message.  He doesn’t hide from his wealth through his creativity (I’m talking to you Spike Jonze), he embraces it.  An interesting perspective.

It was mentioned to me recently that writers tend to focus their craft on the first thing that has a profound impact on them.  For me, I write about relationships, not exclusively, but predominantly, and I want to show both the humanity and complexity of them.  And apparently, being a Johnson & Johnson heir has had a profound impact on Jamie Johnson, and maybe that’s a good thing for us.  We can get a peak inside the hornet’s nest.  I see the complexity in the wealthy, but I see very little humanity.

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