Monday, December 13, 2010

World Text Essay

Janeth Vega-Barraza
English 495

The Two Faces of Capitalism

            "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone" states John Maynard Keynes, one of our most renowned economic thinkers. This seems to be the view held by many: from the day-to-day laborer trying to make ends meet, to the powerful executive chief wielding his wand, magically creating billions of dollars more in the coffers of a few. The dichotomy that exists in capitalism as a force that can give in abundance but can also exploit and destroy is one of the themes prevalent in A Slumdog Millionaire. The movie present us with the two faces of Capitalism: one face is destructive in its obsession to take it all without consideration for humanity, morals, ethics, or even love. The other side of this force is altruistic because it gives, it thrives on risk and reaps the rewards from it and, most importantly, it offers the opportunity of equality. Both of these sides are embodied by two brothers, Salim and Jamal. Weather Capitalism is good or bad is a question that the movie doesn't care to answer. However, what this story does is confront the viewer with modern day capitalism and its complexity.
            Before we can discuss capitalism in a Slumdog Millionaire, it is necessary to discuss both sides of this economic force. We can start by discussing the negative aspect of this system. Capitalism is rooted in the exchange of goods and services between individuals and between nations. This is the simplistic way to look at this highly complex system. Although, it is true it might have started this simplistically, the truth is that capitalism has evolved throughout the years and, with today's advancement in communications and technology, capitalism has changed dramatically into a new form of capitalism that operates through financial means - a capitalism that lends billions of dollars with no real collateral to back it up. This new capitalism is also global. This might mean that other countries might have the same opportunity to develop. However, the criticism is that capitalism and globalization have done nothing but further plunge Third World Countries into even more poverty. Capitalism has been accused of exploiting, creating inequalities, creating injustices, and destroying basic human rights. Many believe it "is a deeply entrenched ideology that has survived and benefitted from slavery, immigrant labor, and other forms of exploitation" (Machado 723).  Because capitalism is a system with the only purpose of creating wealth, human rights and justice are not elements with which it deals. Most notably, these elements work against the very nature of capitalism as we know it today. As M.D. Litonjua states, it is "sweeping across the one world in the making, commodifying and commercializing human life and everything it touches - without moral mooring, without human values and considerations, without humane intentions and aspirations. It is a revived Social Darwinism (115)". In this sense, capitalism is a beast without conscience, preying on the downtrodden by the use of power and force and by implementing policies that only promote the benefit of that developed part of the world; it is a sponge that absorbs everything it comes into contact with of which benefits only trickle down to the few.  This results in a system that "enable perhaps twenty percent of the world's population to reap the fruits of globalization, leaving eighty percent losers and victims of the unfettered global capitalist economy" (Litonjua 116 ). Thus, it is a force that seems golden but, beneath that sheen, is destructive.
            The other side of capitalism is the one that promotes opportunity for equality. Because capitalism is unhindered by personal beliefs, politics, and prejudice, it offers the opportunity for success to anyone. Capitalism's impersonality promotes an equal opportunity for anyone willing to work hard and take risks. Thus, it is not a system constructed only for the rich but, it is a system invented for the creation of wealth which means that anybody is free to reach for a dream of luxury and wealth provided they have the ambition and risk-taking qualities necessary to climb up this golden ladder of prosperity.  Like Skidelsky points out:

"In both capitalism and science, mankind discovers and proves a new power - the power to change his natural and social environment according to his will. Realms of life that previously lay under the ban of custom or religion are suddenly opened up to manipulation. We might regret this discovered power, but we can no more renounce it than we can return to childhood" (Skidelsky).

Again, we see that the importance in capitalism lies in its power to offer hope - real hope that can change living conditions. Thus, the American Dream has now become global in the sense that now everyone is offered access to this transformation.
            Consequently, Slumdog Millionaire juxtaposes these two sides of capitalism in the characters of the two brothers, Salim and Jamal, which grow into symbolic representations of this dichotomy as India is transformed from a backward country into a westernized capitalistic society and, Salim is the representation of the threat inherent in capitalistic values and norms. One of the characteristics we notice in Salim from the beginning of the movie is his love for money. Salim likes wealth and is savvy in the way he pursues it. We see this when he takes his brother's autographed picture and sells it for a couple rupees. This moment in the film highlights what is important for Salim: wealth. Besides his apparent love for money, Salim's action is very telling of his lack of consideration and respect for his brother. This instance in the film is one of many actions in which Salim exhibits capitalistic traits. With the exception of saving his brother from being blinded by Mamman and with the exception of the ending, Salim consistently abuses his brother and earns his living through unfair practices and means. When he works for Mamman, his aggressive personality calls the attention of his boss who decides to put him in charge of the rest of the beggar children. Salim fits perfectly into this position of task master, yelling at the kids to work harder and threatening Lakita of dropping the baby if she didn't take care of it. He helps exploit them and becomes abusive with the rest of the children. This can be symbolic of capitalism's effective use of exploitation - the powerful, in this case Salim is given the power, exploiting the vulnerable, in this case the children who are at the mercy of Mamman. Another symbolic representation of this is seen when Salim and Jamal go to the Taj Mahal. Salim is the first to jump into a pair of sneakers left by some of the tourists visiting India. The sneakers are a manufactured product sold globally. They stand for business, money, American Culture, Western Society, and Capitalism. Salim wearing them is an indication of the path he is taking. Another symbolic event that captures capitalism at its best is Salim's use of a gun to rescue and, at the same time, abuse his brother Jamal. The Simon Colt, which is the brand of the gun, stands for western society. When Salim uses it to rescue Latika from prostitution and help his brother Jamal, it can be seen as capitalism's attempt to rescue those underdeveloped countries that have decided to adopt it as an economic system. However, he rescues them violently which can also be noted when we mention the many times Western nations, specifically the U.S., have interfered in other countries' wars, looking to implement their own ideals of democracy and capitalism. For example, the U.S. intervention in the Salvadorian Civil war which, in conclusion only opened the doors for Americanization and, with Americanization, it opened the doors to capitalism. However, when Salim wants Latika for himself, he cares little for his brother's feelings and, he takes by pointing this symbol of capitalism right on Jamal's head. Again, we see this event as symbolic of the many times Capitalism has imposed itself by force on those who are most vulnerable. Although Salim dies helping his brother reach his dreams, he dies inside a bathtub - a manufactured western product - and beneath hundreds of rupees. He becomes self-destructive and, this is the self-destructive quality of Capitalism when it is unchecked by any morals or ethics. In Salim's case, the love he had for God and his brother held a permanent check over his destruction and those of others.
            On the other hand, Jamal represents the golden side of Capitalism. This is the side that has a dream and a goal to pursue. Jamal's dream is to find his beloved Latika. Although this is romantic, it is his risk-taking quality and his tenacity to achieve his goal that encompasses the whole film. Jamal embodies the good qualities promoted by capitalism. He is the poor, orphan boy with no future who, because of his sheer perseverance and his risky choices, becomes a rich man with the girl that he loves. He is Cinderella. He is the poor man, going from rags to riches. However, unlike his brother, he gets there by noble means. When Jamal jumps into the zest pool to meet his favorite actor, the viewer can see the tenacity in the character. He will stop at nothing to achieve his goal and, he is rewarded for it when the actor signs an autograph for him. He is also giving. When he meets his friend who was blinded by Mamman, he gives him a hundred dollar bill to help him. Life rewards him again, when in the show he is asked who the man in the one hundred dollar bill is. Similarly, capitalism has given transformation and opportunity to certain regions and, India - the setting of this story- is one of the beneficiaries of this. The transformation of Mumbai from a slum village to a cosmopolitan city is evident as the two brothers grow up.  Finally, Jamal shows his risk-taking quality when he risks all the rupees he has won on the show to answer a question he doesn't know the answer to. This is gambling with the unknown but, what is capitalism based on? Capitalism is based on the risky choices of many individuals when they partake in the exchange of services and goods or, when a new business is opened. Jamal gambles everything he has and is rewarded with the correct answer. The show itself, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, is a product of capitalism and it rewards Jamal with money and with the woman he loves. Capitalism gives him equality but, Jamal earned his equality through the chances he took.
            A Slumdog Millionaire does not pronounce a judgment against capitalism. Rather, it shows us both sides of the coin. Capitalism provides an opportunity to anybody who wants to move up the ladder of prosperity. This system also provides this same opportunity to other countries that are underdeveloped. In some cases, this has worked and countries like India have seen the results of embracing capitalistic views. The call center featured in the film is important because forms part of India's new step into the capitalistic world we live in. However, capitalism also takes and, as India is transformed, another side emerges which is darker. Mafias become prevalent and Salim becomes a part of this as well as a symbol of capitalist brutality. Thus, this film puts forth the dichotomy of the economic system that has now taken over the country and how it can be used to exploit its potentiality but, aware of the dangers that lurk within it.

Works Cited

Litonjua, M.D.. "Third World/Global South: From Development to Globalization to Imperial Project." Journal of Third World Studies vol. 27 (2010). 12 Dec. 2010 <>.
Machado, Daisy L.. "Capitalism, Immigration, and the Prosperity Gospel." Anglican Theological Review vol. 92 (2010). 11 Dec. 2010 <>.
Skidelsky, Edward. "The Wealth of Nations, Capitalism, Far From Being Natural and Inevitable, Can Only be Created through Political Intervention." New Statesman (2010). 11 Dec. 2010 <>.
Slumdog Millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures, 2008.

A Look at Destiny in the Film Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire claims that we all have a destiny. Jamal's experiences served the pupose of fulfilling his destiny to be with the woman he loves. There is something about this that sounds romantic.Can something be destined or do we write our own destiny? I guess this is more philosophical but it is a question many have dealt with. The movie posits that it is written. If our fate is written, there is nothing that can be done to avoid it. Discussing this is almost like discussing Oedipus' fate. In a sense Jamal made choices that took him down the road that led him to reunite with Latika. We can say he wrote his own destiny and that his experiences served as a knowledge base from which to draw upon. We can also say the same thing about our lives. Every experience we have teaches us something about ourselves and our world. Eventually, we will encounter situations in which we will need to draw upon our prior experiences in order to make choices about our future. Thus, we write our own destiny as we breathe. However, the notion that destiny can be written down is a romantic one but, one that  means that your choices are not really yours. Did Jamal really have freedom or was he born with all the skills and qualities necessary to pursue this task? Are we like Jamal, born with certain qualities that will ultimately give us our fate?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

PowerPoint Presentation From One of the Groups

I really appreciated the presentation that was made by one of the groups working on this media project. I think that appealing to students with things they are familiar with is a good way to teach. I loved their PowerPoint Lesson Plan. Having the students create a PowerPoint dedicated to an artist they admire is an intelligent way to get the student excited about working with PowerPoint. Students might love using Youtube or blogs but, PowerPoint presentations can become something dull when compared to all the other venues open in technlogy. By having them create a PowerPoint like this, students will a lot more engaged. In addition, this is also  a good way to gauge the student's grasp and understanding of PowerPoint. I wouldn't hesitate to use this activity as a way to introduce students to any of the projects I might have for them that involves the use of PowerPoint.

Another thing I would like to say is that these presentations we have conducted in class are a good way to encourage collaboration. As prospective teachers, I believe that teachers should work together for the benefit of the students. When we presented our lesson plan for mythological studies, we got to hear from other groups' ideas. The same thing happened when we presented our media projects. The classroom served as forum in which ideas could be exhanged. This should be implemented by teachers to help those who are starting in their profession and to help students learn.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Media Project

One of the things I learned from this project is how hard it can be to brainstorm creative ideas to teach media to students. When it comes to literature, I can imagine various ways in which this can work but the idea of teaching media itself had not ocurred to me. I never thought about how to teach students to create PowerPoint Presentations, or how to make the most of Youtube, or the web. I really didn't think that as an English teacher I would have to deal with any of this except to create presentations or have students do projects in literature. However, the possibility that there might be students that are not literate with this new media is plausible. This pushes me to think that I ned to learn as much as possible about the media and technology that we have in order to exploit it to its maximum potential. By doing this, I would be better prepared, not only to teach literature but Media as well. Having a small presentation on how to upload a video in Youtube or, how to film videos and make creations out of them, would be a nice way to spark some interest in the students and it will also  prepare them to do some of the projects I might have for them. However, most importantly, it will make them literate in the world of media which is the world of today.

Teaching Students with Media

As an English Single-Subject Major, I am always thinking about how I would try to make literature come alive to students. Wether we like it or not, we live in a fast paced world ruled by the constant incoming waves of technological innovation and, literature seems to fade like the words written on sand, eroded bit by bit by this new alternative in entertainment. However, I do believe words are powerful and can take anything that comes its way. Will this new world of technology diminish the influence words have in our lives? I am a firm believer that it wont!
Words have an intrinsic power that is not tied to anything tangible. Words bring our imagination to life and, by doing so, it can transport us anywhere at any time. Words also have the power to destroy, to give birth, and to grow. Something so powerful can't be forgotten. At least, I believe that as teachers, besides the arduous task of molding minds for this new incoming world, we are also responsible to pass on this love of words to students and technology can be an aid in this respect.
Technology can bring words alive in ways we could only imagine some 20 years ago. Students can now use digital cameras, blogs, web sites, and powerpoint to create and so can the teacher. This exchange of technological creations can be exchanged between students and teachers. Teachers will be amazed at student's ingenuity and students will have a greater grasp of what they read. Here is an example:

This is one of the many examples of the potential that lies in using media technology to teach literature.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Media and Education

I am happy that we are covering this topic in class. We live in a completely different world and it's frightening to see how rapidly its changing. The media is reflecting this change and it's important that we learn more about it.
 Interestingly, print changed the world by creating a forum in which people could share ideas. The invention of the printing press revolutionized the world by spreading information. Similarly, technology is changing the world by revolutionizing the media. If we look at our world, it is now not only possible to consume ideas and knowledge; we can also contribute our knowledge to the world. The great of us has access to this. This site is an example of it. We can come here and post our feelings and points of view. We can also share ideas and information. Since this access has been facilitated to us, it is only natural that technology and media is going to play a great role in our live and education. As a prospective teacher, I feel this is knowledge I need to gain in order to connect with students. Being illiterate nowadays does not exclude technology. Being illiterate means not being able to analyze and understand information in all its formats. Teachers need to learn this in order to help prepare their students for a rapidly changing world.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Working on a Lesson!

Working on this lesson was a lot of fun! I enjoyed coming up with ideas and, I liked the fact that I was pushed to get a little creative with this. However, I also learned some things I hadn't considered. I never stopped to consider the labor and time it takes to come up with a good lesson for a class. I also never thought that it would mean confronting some obstacles along the way. Another thing I learned about giving a lesson is the importance of time.
First of all, working on a presentation and making a powerpoint was fun. However, it also became a travail. I encountered some many problems in trying to create a unique powerpoint presentation. I was having trouble inserting a clip, inserting sound, and saving it to my computer. Technology was a big headache during this process. Yet, I can see how helpful it can be to have a firm knowledge of technology becasue we are definately in the 21st century and, technology is playing an important role in classrooms today. Therefore, as I was complaining with my computer, I also wished I could take a good class that would sharpen my skills in technology. I can see how limiting it can be for a teacher not to have a firm grasp of this.
Time is something else we didnt consider. We only have 30 minutes to present and it doesnt seem like enough. Consequently, I found myself trying to think of ways to get creative in such a short time period. This is something teachers have to confront on a daily basis. This whole exercise has ben enlightening in certain respects. I am learning from it.