On Kyriarchy: Willy Wonka and Assumed Patriarchal Control of the Modes of Production
I have said before that “movies are magic.”
Our first instinct, for many of us when we sit down to watch a movie, is to tune out. But sometimes it might serve us better to explore the worlds we’re engaging with and ask how they could be different.
The franchises we engage with often reflect the condition of our society at the time they’re made. That’s why we can’t necessarily just ignore or bury controversial or racist films when we call them out. We are responsible for changing the world around us to better reflect the reality we want to see. That’s what the enduring message behind the medium that is Pure Imagination is all about.
So. Willy Wonka. It’s well loved. It’s a bit over-the top, but it’s not set in a world so far from reality we can’t recognize its problems. That’s actually why it makes such a great case study in feminism.
When it comes to the strange blend of tragedy, drama and comedy that makes a piece of Roald Dahl fiction, or a film based on the fiction–there’s usually one clear thread. Dominating, bossy women are almost always to be frowned upon. But if you’re nice, of course, you are a golden goddess who deserves the world.
But let’s continue to argue the case of Charlie. He’s got some self-control. So, he gets the factory. His transgression is overlooked in a way other transgressions can’t be, because he’s inherently redeemable. It would be nice if perhaps a woman’s transgression would be just as forgivable in this universe as well. It’s understandable to award the factory to the child who did not sell secrets to Slugworth, but when that child never seems to be female, we can get into problems in the category of representation.
Dahl got much better about this by the time he got to Matilda, even though there are still the obvious problems.
Oppression is inherent in the world of chocolate. It’s been called addictive. And it actually makes a lot of real people do a lot of terrible things beyond what the insidious icons of classist White feminism imply they’re capable of.
When we look at the toll that many indulgences have taken on the world throughout history, we can easily find the patterns of more developed nations taking advantage of those that do not yet have the technology.
Man has handed a unique kind inhumanity to man as far back as we can trace human history. It’s an unfortunate part of who and what many of us are. But that doesn’t mean we can’t examine it critically.
Perhaps it’s time to recognize the Oompa Loompas for what they really are, a displaced class of workers whose position as a diaspora housed in contemporary England somehow justifies their positioning as invisible slaves. They’re getting paid in cocoa beans. That’s neither a viable nor flexible currency.
Considering the fact that there are currently factories devoted to sourcing chocolate that use this world’s iconography as branding the irony should be apparent.
Perhaps, inhumanity is also human nature. Perhaps history also proves humans have ways of interacting with nature to change our circumstances. Measuring the cumulative effects of the Anthropocene (the age of man, and its material consequences) doesn’t all have to be focusing on doom and gloom.
When we look at the processes of decolonizing the world, we must.
If we look at Mr. Wonka as a reluctant industrialist or feudal lord who inherited control of a large unit of production, and all the players in the cast as subordinated, yet loving subjects–we get a better handle on why kyriarchy is so pervasive, and why it’s difficult to deconstruct.
None of us want to bite the hand that feeds us. Especially if somehow inheriting the control of a lot of scrumdiddlyumptious chocolate is involved. Under those circumstances the worst will come out in all of us as we try to race to the top. Maybe if we all worked together to change the way we interact with the modes of production, fewer of us would find the joy in stealing fizzy lifting drinks and succeeding while others of us fall down the “bad egg” chute.
We’ve all got ego problems. Such is the nature of humanity. We can all become overindulged blueberries in need of juicing when we ignore the facts being presented to us.
And now for a shout out:
I chose up to wrote some definitions in this framework because my Gene Wilder love is real, and I’m very sad he’s gone. But there are three more explorations to come, and there are many more worlds to explore. If you have any ideas about worlds in which we can explain explicitly Christian-themed intersecting and interlocking systems of oppression, let me know!
I chose Gene Wilder as a theme this week because he was an amazing actor. I also love him because he loved Gilda Radner. She’s someone whose biography affected my life. My mom gave one to me to read when I had a tough time with bullying in an era where it was considered inevitable.
If you’re in Dallas, you can get your Wilder love on at the Texas Theatre, this week, on Tues., Sept. 13. A Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory screening will be the kick off for many more Gene Wilder themed events to come!
If you’re curious about why I’ve chosen to explore the more controversial framework of kyriarchy when I’ve already come out in favor of using and engaging with the terminology related to Kimberle Crenshaw’s “intersectionality,” you can check out my upcoming piece at The Daily Brunch, a blog devoted to exploring many inspiring things!
Our Next Installment will explore Judith Butler’s ideas on “interpellation” and love from The Psychic Life of Power and Star Trek’s Prime Directive. Thanks for reading!