Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Beauty & the Beast: socialist state

Once in a while I get in the mood to revisit old favorite TV shows, a very simple proposition since so many of them are now on DVD. The most recently was all three seasons of Beauty & the Beast. It was my theory that when producers refused to show an online kiss between Catherine and Vincent it sparked the desire to rectify that mistake that spawned the current overwhelming amount of paranormal romances. Here was a beast who was not too ashamed of who and what he was -- scholar, philosopher, physician and man-beast -- and didn't regret being a beast since he had the love of a beautiful and intelligent woman. There was no endless whining or brooding because he was doomed to remain outside the human community, reviled and despised, because Vincent had a vast and supportive family underneath the streets of New York City. He was loved and respected. However (you knew there was a point here somewhere), it isn't Vincent and Catherine's relationship on my mind, but the underground community.

Here is community existing below New York City, living in and expanding the tunnels of the sewer, drainage and subway access tunnels (through which no sewer or water runs, so why they exist is a mystery) and the natural caverns beneath the isle of Manhattan. There is no doubt the inhabitants of this idyllic underground world work hard to make their world habitable, but they grow no food (underground = no sunlight = no plant growth but lots of tubers and mushrooms) and generate no electricity. There are no animals to provide fat to make candles and yet there are candles everywhere. (Maybe they render the fat of their dead since they cremate them with drip trays beneath the funeral pyre to catch the sizzling juices. After all, as Frank Herbert wrote about the Fremens' tradition of rendering the dead for their water, the dead don't need it any more.) And yet they have a good variety of food and books and clothing and furniture and chemicals and medicines and everything they need to continue living in their underground paradise. They don't steal it, as Mouse is frequently chastised by Father for doing. They live on the charity of helpers above ground, most of whom are poor.

In a way, Vincent's world is a socialist state. Everything is shared. Everyone works for the common good. Everyone underground depends on the working people above ground to give them everything they need to live and they provide nothing in return, except for sanctuary and housing for those who can no longer afford to live above ground. Unlike mushrooms, many of those who move underground do not flourish and return above ground to continue their poverty level subsistence. Like mushrooms, the people in Vincent's world -- as wonderful and generous and peaceful as they are -- are parasites. Yes, they build and expand their world, but they do it with the resources that come from the working poor -- and admittedly some very rich and powerful people with access to money and resources -- and really give nothing back, but an annual party called Winterfest. Each of their above ground helpers gets a candle all their own and a seat at the feast table and the underground dwellers share music and dancing with them. It must be enough or they wouldn't keep doing it -- would they?

The denizens of Vincent's underground world have fled society's ills and created a perfect world where envy and hatred and prejudice and intolerance no longer exist, a world that cannot exist without help from the very society they have fled. Instead of finding some mountain fastness or barren land to make bloom, they moved underground and accept charity. It's not really charity though. Vincent's world, as beautiful and peaceful as it is, is a feudal society and they the feudal lords taking the first fruits and a cut of the earnings and resources of those who live a much less idyllic life, many living in abandoned buildings or cold water flats in crumbling buildings ever on the verge of being knocked down to make room for high rise apartment buildings and marble edifices for big business. In the meantime, the denizens below NYC's streets are free to pursue their dreams and passions: music, art, technology, philosophy, literature, etc. At least Paracelsus, evil as he was, mined the caverns for gold and grew hallucinogenic mushrooms with addictive qualities to satisfy the most determined drug addict to make money. At least he made a product and sold it for what the market would bear like any good capitalist. He was productive.

In the end, it makes me wonder who was evil: Paracelsus because he created and sold addictive drugs while supporting himself and his followers without outside help or Father who lived off the generosity and tribute of their helpers. At first glance, I'd say Paracelsus was evil because he sold addictive drugs, but then again his customers bought his product of their own free choice and Paracelsus never claimed the drugs were without their dangerous side effects.

Okay, that's a very simplistic comparison. Of course, Paracelsus was evil for providing dangerous pharmaceuticals and preying on the poor weak souls who sought escape in oblivion, but is he any less wrong than Father who lives off tribute from his helpers? Sometimes the lines between good and evil are difficult to define and nearly impossible to see. A smile and a bit of literature or poetry or philosophy are not fair payment for tribute from people who have barely enough for themselves.

That is all. Disperse.

No comments: