- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2020

The campaign has been going on for months and on a cold night in early February, the winner will finally be selected. There is great discontent with the leading contenders — some deemed too left-wing, some too right-wing, and worst of all in an increasingly ethnically diverse country, all of them far too white. But finally, this overdetermined event that has been pored over, reported on, argued about and even wagered on, is finally almost here.

I refer, of course, to the Academy Awards.

On Feb. 9, the Oscars will air. Films centered on class conflict top the nominations, and will likely clean up when the awards are finally distributed in Los Angeles.

Just a few days earlier, that other heated contest, the Democratic Party’s Iowa caucus, will occur. And the winner there, too, will likely be the candidate of class struggle. America 2020 is a society riven by political division and vast income inequality. It’s little wonder, of course, that both our political and entertainment industries reflect that fact. Which is to say, Sen. Bernard Sanders, the socialist Iowa front-runner from Vermont, hasn’t just taken the heartland by storm. He’s conquered the multiplex as well.

Take “Parasite,” the astonishing South Korean drama detailing the steady infiltration of a rich family by a poor one — one that literally lives underground. The brilliantly wrought film ends in a garish spasm of violence, one that suggests that class conflict is inevitable — and bound to end bloodily. There will be no bridging of divides between upstairs and downstairs, says “Parasite.” “Parasite,” deservedly lauded, could very well win Best Picture.

Then there’s “Joker,” the box office smash that begins as a portrait of a single, lonely, mentally disturbed man, and ends with a mass revolt of Gotham City’s underclass. For some reason, “Joker” — middling, overlong, and at times tedious — was coded as “right wing” by many in the media. Yet “Joker’s” politics are, if anything, crudely Marxist.

“Joker’s” Gotham City is a place where the rich oppress the poor, who have no way to escape or better their situation. Violence is their only recourse. “Joker” has the most Oscar nominations, and, having cleaned up at the Venice Film Festival, is the favorite to win Best Picture.

It’s no secret that popular entertainment reflects economic, cultural, and political trends. And indeed, the contrast with the 1990s is instructive. The 1990s were a relatively placid, even optimistic, decade for the United States. The Soviet threat had been extinguished. The economy was booming. The great political fights of the day centered around so much minutiae — V-Chips? School uniforms? Midnight basketball? The president lying under oath? (OK, that was a serious one — though a transgression, at least according to the Senate of the day, that was just fine.) Class conflict had largely faded as a political issue and would not reemerge as major political force until the 2008 economic crisis.

The Oscar winners reflect that happy time. 1997’s “Titanic” certainly had a strong class element — yet it was fundamentally optimistic, demonstrating that love could overcome even the widest class division. 1994’s “Forrest Gump” was a soft-focus run through American history with a strong emphasis on racial reconciliation. Even the downer winner of the decade — 1999’s “American Beauty” — was about what a drag it is to be upper-middle class. Yet somehow suburban ennui feels less urgent these days.

2020 belongs to “Parasite” and “Joker.” And to Mr. Sanders, too.

• Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.

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