“The Founder” – Hollywood’s split personality over capitalism

After seeing the trailer for this film, I was, once again, uncertain that I would want to see it.  It was clear that the main protagonist was not going to be a terribly sympathetic character, so what would be my motivation?

I’m sensitive to how capitalists are portrayed in film, having been a history teacher and an investment advisor.  In American schools, today’s students are being told that capitalism is evil, that rich people don’t pay “their fair share” of taxes.  The history of America as taught in today’s classrooms is of a country that has become wealthy by raping the land, profiting from slavery, and taking advantage of poor uneducated immigrants.  It’s a tale of slave owners and rich “robber barons” who “stole” their way to the top of the wealth pyramid.  There are plenty of facts that can be used to support this and it is a main thrust of one of the more popular “alternative” history books today:  Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.”  But this is a “stacked” series of facts that fail to show how much capitalism has also blessed this nation, and by it’s success, this nation’s wealth has benefitted the world.

As a former US History teacher, I was a great believer in informing students of the various aspects of our history, warts and all.  But, where I differ from the “it’s all our fault” version of US history, is that this nation has repeatedly involved itself in great waves of reform throughout our first 300 years(I include the decades leading to independence).  When talking about the colonization of the continent by English settlers (because it is as English colonies that true American government, culture, law, and language was formed.  We she should ask ourselves what was the incentive was for those settlers to leave their life in England and strike out for the uncertainty of the New World?   The average life-span was significantly shorter in the Americas than if they had stayed in the Mother Country.  In other words, why did they risk it?  The most common reason, for almost ALL Europeans who would emigrate to the New World (to this day) remains the promise of individual achievement through CAPITALISM.

As an advocate of capitalism, I am painfully aware of Hollywood’s schizophrenia toward the subject.  As popular as it is to portray almost every villain ever used in films as motivated by money (or the power money will give), it’s curious that I don’t see anyone in Hollywood advocating GIVING AWAY TICKETS FOR THEIR MOVIES.   (Michael “Capitalism: a love story” Moore, I’m looking at YOU, big boy).  All the Bond villains, most super hero villains, even Star Lord from Guardians of the Galaxy, are all about money.

Now we have Ray Kroc, modern “founder” of McDonalds as the driven “capitalist” who will stop at nothing to fulfill his dream.  After failing to succeed as a salesman for milk shake machines, he spots two guys at a hamburger stand in California who have hit on a system that will revolutionize the drive-in concept to our familiar “fast food” modern American world.  He’s part salesman, part con-man, part visionary, and all-American capitalist.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot.  For the most part, director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side) stays fairly faithful to the actual narrative of this true story.  Writer Robert Siegel gives Kroc’s character plenty of juicy cutthroat lines on his way to the top like “If I saw a competitor drowning, I’d shove a hose down his throat.” Michael Keaton inhabits the character of Kroc so well, I forgot who was portraying the entrepreneur.  What is it about the ability of men who get their start in comedy and then show great talent in serious drama?  The list is long:  Keaton, Hanks, Nicholson…

Perhaps I’m overly sensitive being the son of a longtime corporate executive.  I saw people like my father portrayed as heartless souls who were all about winning, success, and money.  While my dad succeeded in all of those ways, I never met a man who was more honest and when he passed many years ago, everyone who worked with him described him as a man of towering integrity.

I think “The Founder” is worthy of being shown and discussed in an class on economics and entrepreneurialism, even if simply as a point for debating the good, bad, and ugly parts of capitalism.  But I do still believe that portrayals like this are a bit hypocritical coming from Hollywood.  If you want to know what I am talking about, go rent/stream/whatever both “The Player” and “S.O.B.” if you want to see how Hollywood, when talking about capitalism, speaks with forked tongue.

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