Sunday, February 12, 2023

The Big Scary "S" Word: A Review (Review #1695)



It is a truth universally acknowledged that despite constant efforts, real socialism has never been tried. The Big Scary "S" Word does its best to convince the viewer that socialism (or Socialism) is not only the best thing in the world but as American as apple pie. It does not but bless its heart for trying.

Focusing on three figures, The Big Scary "S" Word makes its case on how socialism has both American roots and is still a viable, if not necessary, element in American life. Teacher Stephanie Price, overwhelmed by having to pay for her own supplies and lack of pay, joins the Oklahoma striking teachers. Delegate Lee J. Carter is proudly the only openly socialist member of the Virginia General Assembly. DiCarlo Johnson is one of many owners/workers of the Evergreen Cooperatives, a Cleveland laundry which is both operated and owned by the workers.

We also hear from a bevy of college professors, all of whom inform the viewer of such things as how the Republican Party started out as a socialist party, that five men own more wealth than 3 and a half billion people combined, how the Bank of North Dakota is a socialist success story and how "The biggest cost now that we confront with capitalism is, it might actually destroy the possibility of human life". 

As the year goes on, Ms. Price is elected Vice President of her union and Delegate Carter is reelected to the General Assembly.

The Big Scary "S" Word is quite interesting insofar as gives us a mix of original and archival footage. While director Yael Bridge touts interviews with such socialist figures as Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, they themselves were not specifically interviewed for the film. Like any person in love with the subject, The Big Scary "S" Word will not be critical of the subject. Instead, it will go out of its way to say how wonderful it all is.

Perhaps I should be open on how I am not a socialist or Socialist, nor sympathetic to this theology. I am among the last generation that remembers the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which Delegate Carter does not. "I was born in '87. I don't remember the Berlin Wall falling," he states. As such, the former Marine does not see socialism as a threat but as a promise of a better world.

This one line, curiously, reveals more about the state of the younger generation and its positive views on socialism than anything in The Big Scary "S" Word. Those born post-Cold War may not have experienced the hysteria of a potential Soviet takeover of the U.S. (such as the miniseries Amerika). However, they also cannot remember the bread lines, poor governance and the massive wealth and prosperity gap between the members of the ruling elite and the masses. 

The absence of memory and personal experience colors the views of both the filmmaker and the subjects. For people like Carter and Price, socialism equals equality financial and political. Socialism will give people better healthcare, better education and pay. The potential that it could expand inequality is simply not possible.

The various college professors will only support the socialist viewpoints. The Big Scary "S" Word, like all good (or bad) advocacy films that masquerade as documentaries, will not find anyone who disagrees. An exploration of socialism's faults and failings will not be explored here. 

I am surprised that The Big Scary "S" Word opted not to focus on more interesting topics. I would have loved to see and hear more about the Evergreen Cooperatives from the owner/workers. What do they think socialism is? Do they think their small-level socialism (something similar to a monastery) would work on a larger scale? Why has it not expanded to other communities? We also hear about the Bank of North Dakota, a state one would consider highly conservative (it has not cast an electoral vote for a Democrat since 1964). However, we do not hear how this socialist success story has melded with the overall conservative nature of the Roughrider State. 

We do see how some socialists can be a bit prickly. At one point, a fellow delegate is briefly shown to display a hammer & sickle behind Delegate Carter while the latter speaks. When he learns about it, Carter is highly upset to enraged, angrily stating how that is now part of the public record. Truth be told, I found it quite amusing. Not as amusing as referring to Karl Marx as a mere "philosopher", but there it is.

The Big Scary "S" Word will not convert anyone one way or the other. For those who embrace socialism, the film will reenforce their views. For those who do not, it will not convince them to take up the cause. Still, I think it is good to at least learn what others believe, right or wrong. The Big Scary "S" Word is brief, sincere but not convincing. 


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