This is what happens when you teach the Marxist critical reading to a teen whose life revolves around TV shows. While I’m not as big a fan of Leverage as I am, say, Doctor Who, I still follow the show like a bloodhound (which is ironic because I don’t like dogs).
It was a simply task, given by one of my English teachers a couple of weeks ago: apply a Marxist critical reading on any text you choose. I chose a TV show. Frankly, I’m quite proud of it. Read it below and judge for yourself.
Applying a Marxist critical reading on TNT’s Leverage, focusing on the show’s opening introductions: The rich and powerful, they take what they want. We steal it back for you. “Sometimes, bad guys make the best good guys.” We provide… leverage.
One of the main arguments of Marxism is that the consciousness of men does not “determine their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” This is easily applied to the group of five thieves working as ‘good guys’ in the American television series Leverage, primarily on the hacker Alec Hardison, thief Parker and mastermind Nathan Ford. It is a modern spin on the venerable Robin Hood tradition – to steal from the rich and give to the poor.
Alec Hardison is a science fiction fan, a self-proclaimed geek and is readily equipped with a dry sense of humour. Raised by a foster parent, Hardison has honed the exceptional skills needed to hack into any type of electronics and will very rarely get caught. He has led the life of selfish crime until he agreed to work with Nathan Ford, an ex-insurance fraud investigator, and several other members, one of which is the socially awkward Parker.
From a Marxist perspective, it is seems that the lives that Hardison, Parker and Nathan lead are “largely conditioned” by the economy. Hardison’s passion for all things technological undoubtedly paved the way for his interest in hacking security systems, bank accounts and the like. An African American foster child such as Hardison could not have grown up the way most children did – he may not have lived in poverty, but money and the need for worldly possessions would have been a great factor when he became a hacker.
Arguably, Hardison did not necessarily choose the life of a hacker inasmuch as the life of a hacker chose him, as Marxism states, “your social circumstances determine much, if not all, of your life.” You will not see a hardworking, middle class adolescent with a strong, healthy family relationship get arrested for identity theft. No matter what opportunities Hardison was given growing up, he had considered the life of crime as the best option available, which is very similar to Parker’s situation. She experienced an abusive childhood and has lived in several foster homes before finally becoming a professional thief, boasting the ability to pick locks and pockets, crack safes and utilize acrobatics in order to navigate around laser trip wire security systems.
Leverage is based on our current society, meaning our economy is their economy. We live in a capitalist economy, meaning the untitled individual and those who are not in the government can impact our society. Bill Gates, for example, is in the Top 5 of Forbes World’s Most Powerful People of 2012, while Mark Zuckerberg is in the Top 10. It is very rare to find in a first-world country such as America who does not know how to work in a Microsoft OS or run an active Facebook account. It is culturally accepted to know how to use the computer and the Internet, and so people learn to use them. They cannot run away from it: “minds aren’t free at all, they only think they are.”
The concept of the TV show is not to glorify crime by featuring talented criminals as protagonists. On the contrary, it exposes the shortcomings of the law by humanizing the ‘bad guys’ and uncovering the corruption in the ‘good guys’. The rich may take from the weak, but the likes of Hardison, Parker and Nathan steal them back. As the mastermind, it is Nathan’s job to think two steps ahead of the target. With the experience accumulated for being an ex-insurance fraud investigator, Nathan is familiar with all the ploys, cons and scams in the book. He is the only character in the show that did not begin on the wrong side of the law; instead, he was forced to become the leader of a band of thieves due to the circumstances surrounding his young son’s death. The insurance company he used to work for has backed him into a corner where he believed the only way to exact justice was though a con.
Nathan believed it was his choice to turn into a criminal, but because of his situation, the decision was already made for him. The bad guys might make the best good guys (there is nothing like getting to know your enemy by becoming like them), the fact remains that Nathan and his team are still breaking rules. Hardison, Parker and Nathan will constantly be known as the hacker, the thief and the mastermind, no matter the complexity of their characters and personalities. They have been objectified by the society there are set in.