Les Miz comes to North Carolina. In more ways than one.
The movie opened here over Christmas and is truly well done. But in North Carolina today, the truly miserable are North Carolina’s Democrats and liberals; miserable in concern over what the now Republican government of our state is going to do to the ones we love; education through public schools and universities, mental health care, environment protections, clean air standards, and the list goes on.
Watching the movie, whose sets depict a landscape totally devoid of any ‘safety net’ for the poor, one cannot help but see the future as envisioned by the starker conservative theories on governing. A future without unemployment benefits, medicare, social security or mental health services.
When I look at the portrayal of Paris in the time frame of Les Miz, I see the world liberals fear conservatives want. The unredeemable poor, living in squalor, useable to society only as a source of cheap, easily dispensable labor, and otherwise to be ignored. Unemployment insurance? Meh. The rich pay a meager wage and have no responsibility for their fellow man. More CEO bonuses, fewer workers. Les Mis clearly shows us the perils of unfettered capitalism.
I’m no scholar. I was not trained to deconstruct great literature. But I can see parallels between past and present in attitudes about people. Especially, poor people. Javert, let’s call him the story’s Republican, worked hard to get where he is in life, and his rise is shown in the symbols of ever advancing rank on his uniform. Unable to see that Jean Valjean has also worked hard and risen, becoming a mayor, Javert tells Valjean that he knows, just knows, that ‘people like you never change.’ Some conservatives today look at the poor, and know, just know, that they will always be beyond redemption, incapable of change. Javert, born in jail of a gypsy mother and slave father, has himself changed, but will not allow that others can do the same. He would not believe in what we call a social safety net.
There was no safety net for Fantine. It is too late for her. Perhaps she was doomed from the start. And, sadly, there are not enough Jean Valjeans in this world to save every Cosette in need. There are not enough non-profit organizations, church groups and fairy godmothers to go around. The only entity large enough to provide real help across a geographic area is government, and Republicans say they hate government in all it’s forms. Let us hope that Fantine’s descendants, who surely live amongst us, are not condemned to the same fate as she due to lack of health insurance, safe working conditions, unemployment benefits and free public education.
As Jean Val Jean lays dying, the image of Fantine sings to him:
“And remember The truth that once was spoken: To love another person is to see the face of God.”
I don’t want to believe that conservatives want a world like Les Miz, but it remains to be seen if Raleigh Republicans can learn to love, or if they will leave us miserable.