May 12, 2011

Where is the literature of the unemployed?


At the BBC, Michael Goldfarb wonders why novels and films fail to address the economic realities of our current age.

Read much about the unemployed, lately? Did you even know there was an employment crisis? You’d be forgiven if you didn’t.

Journalists report the numbers, but what about the individual lives the figures represent? You would have thought that a few of those stories might entice writers/film-makers/artists. You would be wrong.

About the numbers first. In Britain and America the employment situation is worse than at any time since the Great Depression. Yet the monthly headline figures on employment are the only ones you read about.

Goldfarb wonders where the Steinbecks of the current crisis are. While there is much discussion of the economy, the focus remains on those at the top, the bankers and executives and politicians.

The closest anyone has come in this downturn to dealing with the crisis of losing one’s job is the film Up in the Air, a romance about a consultant (George Clooney) brought in to do the dirty work of laying people off.

The film invites more sympathy for Clooney, when his married girlfriend dumps him, than for the folks he has fired.

Is Goldfarb right? Has art lost touch with the basic economic reality of the age? He wonders why Hollywood has not produced the equivalent of John Ford‘s film version of The Grapes of Wrath. While mainstream Hollywood is certainly not interested in poverty and/or reality, I would argue that two of 2010’s indie darlings, Blue Valentine and, more explicitly, Winter’s Bone, dealt with the economic plight. But as for fiction, I’m drawing a momentary blank. What is the recent, great novel to look directly at the economic situation?