Your Ticket Out of Here

snowpiercerThe middle class is stagnating. 2015 was the first year when the middle-class didn’t make up the largest economic demographic in America. It was a big part of the campaign for both sides, with Trump wanting to “bring back the jobs” and Bernie Sanders advocating for a minimum wage of $15. It is more and more difficult to climb that ladder and more and more expensive to buy a piece of the American Dream.

Snowpiercer, the movie, is about a train in a post-apocalyptic ice-world. The passengers’ stations in life are designated by their ticket. There is no advancement. There is no moving between train cars.

Mason, the frigid mouthpiece for Conductor says: “In the beginning, order was proscribed by your ticket: First Class, Economy, and freeloaders like you… Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail.”

One of the biggest ideas in America is the ability to move up in the class system. It’s not Jacobian Europe, where someone has to be born into the middle class. And yet, it’s obviously not a perfect system either. Money buys good schools and good schools mean more money. Those without the advantage of a private school or a very good public school have to work a little harder. That’s the basic essence of privilege, a term I’m sure we’re all familiar with. This doesn’t mean that life is easy for those who go to a good public school or private school, because life is always hard. But it’s a way to acknowledge that certain chances are statistically more likely to happen to those of a certain income bracket. They can afford intangible things like gap years or second chances. Not necessarily an easy ride, but a ride with safety nets and airbags.

Snowpiercer is more than a story about class, it’s about class mobility. The protagonists have to literally fight their way to the front of the train, dying off one by one until only one man remains to meet the conductor. It’s not even as if the people closer to the engine of the train believed the people towards the back deserved to suffer and starve. They simply believe those in the back of the train are freeloaders, and are lucky to get what they have. They eat bug-jelly made in vats that the “middle-carriage” people supply the poor. The “last carriage” people live by the grace of others. Resources are scarce. The train can only support so many people.

In the end, the protagonist who reaches the end of the train manages to destroy it. He judges that society doesn’t deserve to perpetuate itself if others must suffer under such circumstances. Talking to other people who had watched the movie, some were confused and angry. The characters were presumably the last people on Earth, so surely such suffering was necessary? Though the fact that the system needed to be destroyed and be rebuilt I imagine the writers and director intended this as a metaphor

I think this is a very absolute view of a very nuanced problem. It’s not a simple matter of “haves” and “haves-nots,” it’s also a matter of “wants” and “shoulds” and “needs.” The fact that the middle class is stagnating is a very disturbing problem, but it’s one we need to approach with a flexible mindset. The story of Snowpiercer is, after all, pure fiction.