Marxism + Leverage = an interesting essay topic

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.


Are You A Harry Potter Fan?

Philippines’ OK! magazine had a Harry Potter exclusive this month, which is understandable since the 8th and last installment of the movie series is being released this month. If you didn’t know that, then you must have been living under a rock or something. (How you could you not know?)

I read the articles as meticulously as I could, scanning the pictures and trying to commit them to memory. Since my memory and I aren’t on the best of terms, I failed on that particular endeavor. Nevertheless, my fun was not diminished in any way because of this prompt:

I couldn't resist it. I had to answer.

It took the better part of my night, but I managed to email them and though I know that there’s a small chance of ever printing what I wrote them, there’s still a small part of me hoping they would. Yes, it would be cool to have my name printed, but that was not the reason why I wrote them. I wrote — well, emailed –them because I wanted to express how much Harry Potter meant to me as a fan. That, and I’ve always wanted to write to them but I’ve never gotten around to it until now.

I guess all I needed was a nudge in the right direction, and Harry Potter did that for me. ^__^

Hello, my name is Luigi and I’m sixteen years old. I became a fan of all-things Harry Potter after watching the GOBLET OF FIRE when I was younger. I was in my tween years, living in England with my family, and a friend of my mother’s saw how enthralled I was by the movie that she suggested that I should read the books. Back then, I was only budding reader. My “repertoire” only included a select few titles from the British author Roald Dahl, and the prospect of reading something as thick as the ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, the book I have decided to read first because it followed on from GOBLET, was simply daunting. But I trudged on: my mother bought me the book and I was hooked. I remember exclaiming at the dinner table one day that “I would love to be Cho Chang.” When my mother asked why, I just smiled coyly and continued eating my dinner. I didn’t want to tell her that I wanted to be Cho because she gets to kiss Harry. (Don’t tell her that now, either ;D) what can I say, I was just a young girl then.

As for the rest of the books, I rallied back and forth from the library to my house to my school and read them. I didn’t care if I read them in order or not (which I certainly didn’t — it doesn’t make me less of a fan). And I didn’t care that I stayed up late telling myself that “after this chapter, I’ll go to sleep.” I remember reading PRISONER OF AZKABAN in just one day. I remember squealing with joy when my mother presented me my own copy of CHAMBER OF SECRETS and HALF-BLOOD PRINCE years later. And I also remember my fondest memory, which is of my best friend gifting me the DEATHLY HALLOWS when it came out on 2007. We also went to the cinema together and watched ORDER OF THE PHOENIX with her mother and sister. It’s one of my dearest memories because I was preparing to leave England then.

Moving back to the Philippines was difficult. The culture shock, though not overwhelming, just changed me from the kid that I was then to the (slightly rebellious) teen I am now. The biggest shock? The fact that the Harry Potter books weren’t allowed in my new school and that my new classmates didn’t care much for the boy wizard. I guess maybe that’s why I’ve held on to the series — the books, the movies and the fan fiction — so much was because they were one of the ties I had to England.

Harry Potter is not just a story for me. It’s not just a bunch of movies either. They’ve influenced me in ways I can’t even find words to explain.

Because of the books, I’ve branched out into other genres and became an avid bookworm, and somewhere along the way I began writing. Just small fan fictions at first, but then I moved on to my own original works. (Still, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing fan fiction… I doubt I ever will.)

Because of the movies, I’ve been introduced to the frenetic world of the movie industry. I now follow the works of legendary British actors such as Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, Maggie Smith, Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter. And let’s not forget Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliffe. It was because of Radcliffe that I had jokingly announced one day that I’d “make a Filipino movie script so wonderful and cast him a part he can’t refuse” after reading an interview about it. And you know what? I plan on making that lighthearted comment a reality. I’m a very ambitious girl — that could be the Slytherin in me.

I know that there are a lot of people who adore Rowling’s fictional world, and I do understand that I am not its biggest fan.. I didn’t go out of my way to buy the books the moment they were released. In fact, I only own four out of the seven books, and THE TALES OF BEEDLE THE BARD. I didn’t grow up with the books like some people, nor did I do the same with the movies — frankly, I still have a lot of growing up to do.

What the books are to me are not my childhood, they are my guidelines… in the loosest sense of the word, of course. I won’t be enrolling myself into a boarding school anytime soon, but I will keep in mind whenever I come across a situation in which I have to choose between what is right and what is easy, Harry did not choose the easy path. Neither did Dumbledore, nor did Snape, the Weasleys, the Order of the Phoenix and Dumbeldore’s Army. They fought for what they believed in. They fought against great evil, discrimination and corruption. They fought for their loved ones, for justice and fairness to all Wizarding folk.

The Harry Potter series are not just about its titular character, and it’s not just about his family and friends, either. Rowling tackles every facet of life: from education to romance to politics, she has depicted our lives in one way or another. I suppose that’s why she has managed to enthrall us all with her creation, for it relates to many different people in many different levels. It might just be about a fantasy world for one person and about an orphaned boy for another, but it can also be a satire of a corrupt government, racial prejudice and social discrimination.

I’m sorry for going on and on about this, but once I get started about Harry Potter, I won’t stop until I run out of steam. Or if someone forcibly shuts me up. Yes, I’m a fan of Harry Potter. I’m a fan of the books, I’m a fan of the movies and I’m a fan of the person. Harry is not just a fictional character for me; he might have been at first, but he’s not that anymore. That goes for all the other characters as well. Rowling wrote them so well they just jumped off the page and began strutting around like real people, like they really existed.. And I admire Rowling for that. I really, really do. I aspire to be as good a writer as her one day.

Yes, it is indeed saddening (and slightly depressing, too) that the entire franchise is coming to a close. We might have been able to ignore that empty feeling when the DEATHLY HALLOWS came out on 2007 since the movie franchise was still going strong, but with the eighth and last movie installment being released on the 15th (or 14th in some parts of the world), you can’t ignore it anymore. To some fans, the emptiness might just last a few days or weeks. To some it could even last for months. There’s no denying that something monumental has just finished and it hurts for it to do so. It certainly does for me. I’m tearing up as I write this now.

But you know what? To quote what a wise woman once said: “…The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.” See? It’s not the end of the world. There’s still more of Harry Potter to pass around. Personally, I’m waiting for a theater or TV adaptation, though I’m not holding my breath. Meanwhile, I’m gonna read up on some fan fiction, maybe write some more if I have the time. You’ll never know: just like the many novels out there that continue Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE past Lizzy’s marriage to Mr. Darcy, you might just see books about Harry’s life between the Battle and the Epilogue.

This is Luigi, an avid Harry Potter fan. Thank you for reading and I hope this wasn’t a complete waste of your time.

And you, are you a Harry Potter fan? If so, what is your history with the books and movies?

An Essay

Since it’s summer, I’ve been online on Facebook nearly every day. And doing something so often, even something as enjoyable as Facebook, tends to get boring. I was just browsing through the notes I’ve made and stumbled upon this particular entry. It was a school assignment; I had to write an essay (in Tagalog, though this is written in English) about what I would do if I could get away for a year. This is my response:

My teacher assigned me an essay about what I would do if, for one entire year, I was allowed to go anywhere in the world for an all expense paid trip. The first thing that came to my mind was how, about a year or so ago from now, I had taken my large atlas book, flipped through the pages and marked the countries I wanted to visit. I had dreamed then of wanting to travel around the world, learning about the different cultures of each country, all the while relaxing without the care in the world.

It was one of my greatest dreams then, so much so that I had made a mental plan already. First, I would go to Australia, then around the other countries of South East Asia – Java, Sumatra, Cambodia, Philippines. After that, I would go to Korea, Japan and China, and from there I would travel to the Middle East and Russia, cross over to Europe and bag pack through Switzerland, Poland, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium, and Norway. Then I’d fly over to the UK, spend some time with my friends there before flying to the Americas. I’d start with Canada first, then visit all the states in North America (staying longer that usual around the Pacific Northwest – go Forks!), ride a motorcycle down south to Central America, and then to South America. By then, I’d been all over the world, and I then I can find a random school to learn Latin ballroom dancing.

But then I thought, no matter how much I would like to learn about the cultures of this world, the main thing is that I hate traveling. Ever since I was young, I’ve been shuttling back and forth from the Philippines to England and then back again. I like the feeling of home, the feeling of endless comfort, and traveling around wouldn’t give me that. I would be endlessly tired and stressed. I would be internally complaining why I had done this to myself. Believe me, I’m a great complainer.

Home, to me, is a fuzzy image. They say home is where the heart is, but I can’t seem to find it here in the place I’m currently living in. I’m living in my grandparent’s house, and though I love them and my brother to pieces, my heart isn’t here. My mother is staying in Riyadh somewhere in the Middle East; I love her, but how can my heart be there if I’ve never set foot in the place?

So, where is my heart? Well, it’s all the way in 87 Rosalind Street, Ashington, Northumberland. It’s all the way in England. That was where I grew up. What precious few memories I have growing up here in the Philippines are unclear, and I can’t bring myself to appreciate them as much as I do of my memories hanging out with my best friend, running around in parks or just sitting around in my living room watching TV.

Therefore, if I could go anywhere in the entire world for one year, I would choose Ashington. I would choose where my heart is aching to go. I would choose to go to the place where I found the first true best friends I remember having. Many things I wished didn’t happen happened when I was living in England, but many things I wanted to happen happened as well. I was at the stage wherein I was slowly realizing that I was living in this world, not just an empty shell of a child. I felt alive there, and though I feel alive here, too, my life at the moment just holds too much negativity that I try very hard to not think about.

I’d spend my year in Ashington studying for school, hanging out with my old friends and maybe watch Doctor Who every now and again. I’d take my GCSEs, think about which college I would attend, perhaps meet my personal Mr. Darcy along the way. I would eat fish and chips and ketchup flavored Walkers crisps. I would ride double-decker buses to where Lizzie lives. I would taste the snow during winter. I would enjoy life… and then come back to the Philippines once the year is up.