Saturday, October 11, 2008
Changing cultural values - Richie Rich & Scrooge McDuck
Recently global market woes, wealth, poverty, wealth discrepancy and societal values have been key topics of conversation in our house. I forget what particularly brought Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck to mind but it had something to do with how values have changed in the space of 50 years.
I remember loving comics as a kid and I remember the characters as all having their own distinct “flavour” – good characterisation, I guess. There were a few characters that didn’t do it for me, some that I loved and some that I didn’t like at. I always recall Richie Rich and Scrooge McDuck in a very particular way. To me, Scrooge was mean, nasty, miserly and downright sneaky – he was not a likeable character. His money grubbing ways were just too over the top. Yes, he’d risen from humble roots but he was “nouveau riche” of the worst kind. Richie Rich on the other hand was, for me, just plain pathetic. Here was a kid who had everything and was just so “nice” - far too nice, and always so desperate to have friends and to be accepted. And the reason for his desperation was because his wealth put him out of everyone else’s league. It’s ironic that his two closest pals, Pee Wee and Freckles were seriously poor kids and his girlfriend, Gloria, always refused his luxury gifts. As I recall, most of my friends weren’t too keen on Scrooge or Richie either. Both characters were, in their own right, just not “nice”, unlikeable in their own ways. Although Richie wasn’t a “bad” guy, in my book, Scrooge was.
Now, zoom forward 50 years and consider where Scrooge and Richie would be today, how they might be perceived in a world where greed and wealth have become the norm.
First off, I imagine that with all his money, Richie would have no problems finding friends. For one thing, there’d be a hundred willing hangers on, only to glad to be noticed by him. For another, he wouldn’t be the only seriously rich kid around. In fact, he’d probably hang out with Paris, Hannah and the rest of the seriously rich kids. Richie’s world would be completely different – and Richie would be no different from the rest. In fact, in the Richie Rich movie starring Macauley Culkin, Richie is overindulged and has few troubles, he spends most of his time oohing over the junk his money can buy and he wins friends by wowing them with his toys. By the 90s, when the film was made, money bought love. A far cry from the Richie of fifty odd years ago.
Then take Scrooge – as a businessman he resorted to aggressive tactics and deception – and we didn’t like him one bit for it. He manipulated people and events for his own ends, had a nasty temper and didn’t hesitate to use violence against those who provoked his anger. He even exploited his own nephews – Huey, Dewey and Louis, and Donald Duck - to accumulate his fortune. And most of us thought he was a rotter – Ebenezer Scrooge all over again. His creator would no doubt argue that he did have morals but that didn’t really make him any more likeable.
Again, zoon forward 50 years and Scrooge McDuck could be anyone of the in-crowd amongst whom wheeling and dealing and screwing your opponent has become the norm. Today, Scrooge would fit right him with all the other greedy and acquisitive fatcats. He’d be the guy that everyone had on their party list. He’d be famous and be on the Forbes 500 list. Scrooge, in today’s world, becomes one of the main guys.
It’s ironic to note that Scrooge today is more popular than ever, while Richie Rich had to be adapted to make him even vaguely appealing to today’s audiences. Now that should tell you something.
It begs some serious questions though; it’s taken a mere fifty years for our values to change so substantially, for greed and excessive wealth to become an acceptable and desirable norm. Look, for example, at the madness that is modern Dubai, look at the lifestyles of the rich and famous – and the reasons, moreover, for that wealth and fame. None of them want for friends like Richie did, no one minds their piles and piles of filthy lucre like we did with Scrooge.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not about me being a have not and banging on about the haves. I’ve been blessed to lead a comfortable life but that doesn’t make me unaware and more than a little concerned about the horrible and increasing discrepancy between rich and poor, and values which drive the rich to profit at the expense of the poor. I’m struck that somewhere along the way we’ve gone badly wrong and have seriously lost the plot of what it is to be human. As I said before, the global economic shakedown is, to my mind, a wake up call – or at least, it should be.
And all of that leads me nicely to reminding you that Wednesday the 15th of October is Blog Action Day and the topic this year is poverty. It’s not too late to register and join in, if you haven’t already done so!