20 March 2020

Let’s start with the credits, shall we?

‘Bambi meets Godzilla’ is an animated short film, less than two minutes long in fact, made by Marc Newland. The story is simple. Bambi is happily grazing while the opening credits roll and ‘Call to the Dairy Cows’ from Rossini’s opera ‘William Tell’ is playing in the background. After the credits Bambi looks up to see Godzilla’s foot coming down and squashing him. The closing credits, apart from acknowledging the city of Tokyo for helping Newland obtain Godzilla for the film, consist entirely of all the roles filled by the film-maker himself.

Typically, movies begin by listing the producers, directors and sometimes the main actors and actresses. The end-credits acknowledge the dozens who have contributed one way or another. Rarely do viewers hang around theaters to make note. If it was watched on a laptop, ‘The End’ is cue for closing the window.

Years ago a professor at Cornell University spoke about two interesting concepts, the global steer and the global automobile. Then the Chair, Department of Development Sociology, Phil McMichael, explained the width and breadth of production processes, how so many countries and peoples contribute to ‘putting the beef pattie in a hamburger, just as they put together a car. The process is extensive. It involves all kinds of parts and players.

What’s interesting is that all these people are invisible or rather they are made invisible. So we see commodities. They even come with tags saying made in this country or that. It’s a lie, that. People of multiple nationalities have their labour congealed in the products that are on sale. The second lie is actually a half-truth. Sure, something is, say, assembled in Sri Lanka. Why don’t they say anything about who made the particular product? Made in, yes, that’s allowed, but ‘made by’ is passed by. Why?

It’s the credits, isn’t it? In a film at least they roll it all out at the end and if you have nothing better to do you might catch them all. In other things, there’s no mention at all.

Of course it’s not really practical to write down the names of each and every person who contributed to making a sofa, a blender, a train, a computer or anything else for that matter. However, there’s labor there.

A friend, again from Cornell University, titled her master’s thesis ‘Time is a coat,’ a neat capture of Marx’s Labor Theory of Value. Check a random garment in any clothes’ shop and you’ll get the size, the country it was made and perhaps laundry directions. No mention of labor time.

Films are made by (get this!) film-makers. They know and they are probably not averse to acknowledging the contributions of hundreds of other, but we forget them. We are not interested in the credits.

My wife’s grandfather, a farmer, instilled ‘credit-recognition’ in her mind at a very early stage. He insisted that the rice on the plate had to be consumed: ‘every grain contains 100 drops of my sweat.’

Take out the credits and we get a ‘History of the World’ that is labor-less. An insult.  Add the credits in one way or another and we get the full picture of blood, sweat and tears, the pathos, the vulnerability, the resilience and the sporadic victories amid countless defeats. Of real people. And we don’t have to go far. Just ask yourself, ‘when and where was I credited for this, that or the other?’

We are, for the most part, left out of the story. Our lives are footnoted at best or erased altogether. The world, then, is a book with a title and perhaps a back-cover blurb. Empty pages, for the most part.

It’s about credits. Credits being left out.

This article was first published in the DAILY NEWS [March 20, 2020]

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News' on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week]

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