Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Grapes of Wrath

The imagined traffic jam of Godard’s Weekend, the imagined dispossession of Empire of the Sun, the Spielberg classic derived from the novel by J.G. Ballard—we have become the repository of these two images. In a massive traffic jam filled with cars loaded with goods from foreclosed homes, where will the traffic go when it’s finally gotten off the highway? Steinbeck imagined the refugees of the Dust Bowl traveling from Oklahoma to California in The Grapes of Wrath, but now the ground is shifting under our feet, and there are whole populations that have become unseated from their once familiar worlds. What will be the fate of Floridians who have left acres of deserted condos? What will become of itinerant Katrina victims, whose lives were turned upside down by nature just in time to meet up with an economy that is as unresponsive to stimulus as a patient suffering from flesh-eating bacteria is to the most potent intravenous antibiotics? California, under constant threat of defaulting on its borrowing, has its own problems, and no longer holds out the hope it did during the Depression. Meanwhile, a new tax package that will add over $900 billion to the debt over the next two years competes with a federal judge’s rule about the unconstitutionality of compulsory insurance. The safety net of social security is under siege, and what will be the fate of Medicare and Medicaid in our deficit economy? The Joads were Steinbeck’s archetypical family. Who will rescue their contemporary counterparts? Who will make a place for them at the table? 

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