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The Emperor's New Clothes - Film Review

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by Emu Byron (subscribe)
writer in English, French and Spanish with published credits available in government publications, local and ethnic media. I live in Sydney.
Published July 1st 2015
movie review, film review, the emporer's new clothes, russell brand, political, financial
All images © Revolution Films

There is a tendency amongst contemporary British cultural commentators to employ fairy-tale metaphors when referring to critiques of the modern economy; for example: "The Goldilocks Economy" (Larry Eliot and Dan Atkinson; 2008; 2012).

Perhaps this is to do with the British sense of humour, in which case Russell Brand is eminently qualified to contribute, or perhaps it is do with the urbane recognition that it is a good idea to inject a good dose of humour into an all too serious subject. Heaven forbid that it should have anything to do with encouraging a sense of disbelief and/or scepticism.

Whatever you may think of Russell Brand, political activism as entertainment, faux revolutionary/pop culture icon-whilst-remaining a member of the elite and millionaire humourist (not to mention the Che Guevara-cum-Christ-Saviour look), there is no doubt that this 101 minute movie (directed by Michael Winterbottom of "Road to Saravejo" – "Road to Guantamo" fame), about the Global Financial Crisis and the historic precedents leading up to it, proves a complete political education, perhaps not for me or for you, but certainly as intended for the audiences that go to see the movie (and for me, a reevaluation of Russell Brand as a political activist).

The analogy with Hans Christian Andersen seems a bit condescending but the question of what happened to the tailors who fooled the emperor and pocketed the gold is all important, and the whole point of the movie, since the answer is "nothing".

With Russell as presenter, now jester asking rhetorical questions, now declamatory judge stoking the ambers of popular resentment, the film is organised into well researched sequences outlining the rise and growth of the Single Thought, from Milton Friedman and the new orthodoxy (Chicago School of Economics) under Thatcher and Reagan, to the breaking up of the unions in the UK, deregulation of financial markets all over the world, transformation of building societies and banks into competing Hedge Funds, colossal salary increases for bosses and CEOs, shifting of the tax burden to government and the social sector, introduction of austerity, privatisation of public housing, proliferation of capital evasion and tax havens in the manner of capital flights and family funds (the Prime Minister, David Cameron's, being amongst them). And of course, the obscenely repulsive spectacle of public officials who aided these changes being raised to the ranks of Lords and Ladies, instead of being publicly flayed on the pillory of public opinion, whilst all the while, the full force of the law bears down on rioters and protestors.

The use of school children to test for genuinely altruistic responses to this state of affairs is brilliant, and in line with the overall analogy of the title. At one point, Russell elaborates a striking analogy of his own when he compares the spoliation of the social commons and growing monopolies of wealth concentration to "a group of kids in the playground, grabbing all the toys, with the connivance and participation of the teachers". You hear the howls of protest from the kids and know that the truth comes out of the mouths of children – The emperor is naked indeed!

The film ends with a very funny sequence of politicians' speeches (David Cameron et al), cut and pasted to reverse the normal order of Orwell-newspeak, and played in Rap to reveal the kernels of what they really mean:

"We take every penny/from the very many/and give to the rich/who keep getting richer/and richer forever"…

"…All of the money/Going offshore/I am the Man/who keeps open the door"…

In short, the movie is a brilliant collage with genuinely radical content.

The statistics, however, no matter how familiar, remain staggering. They concern the explosion in global trade (in money terms) after deregulation from the 1980's, the contrast in the numbers of official jailed for financial fraud prior to and after deregulation, the staggering amounts of capital syphoned-off by corporations to Tax Heavens, the turning of the tax system on its head so that the rich, once forced to work by restrictive rates, are now paying risible rates, and the even more amazing trillions of dollars lying unused in the United States, while some of its working people have to rely on welfare supplements to survive at barely living standards.

No wonder the Brits like to caption these historic transformations under the rubric of fairy tales!

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