Capitalism Is Bad YKTTW Discussion

Capitalism Is Bad
Works that portray capitalism as evil and/or irresponsible.
Better Name Already have? Better Name
(permanent link) added: 2012-10-21 17:56:18 sponsor: MJShofner edited by: JesseMB27 (last reply: 2014-10-28 09:00:28)

Add Tag:
"I think I see the Invisible Hand. It's giving us the finger."
— Dialogue from a political cartoon by an unknown artist

Many people believe that greed is the root of all evil. Some individuals would take it a step further and go so far as to proclaim "Fuck the Rich!" and demand the destruction of the system that they see as being a Plutocracy that is of the Corporations, by the Corporations, for the Corporations to screw the people over.

This trope can come in a variety of forms
  • Class struggle: Arguably the most well known form of this in which Capitalism is portrayed as benefitting a small elite at the expense of the poor and middle class.
  • Black Market opportunism: Possibly the least controversial version of this trope, Capitalists are portrayed as abusing loopholes or outright flaunting the law to aggrandize themselves by immoral means such as drug dealing, contract killing, smuggling, illegal arms dealing, slavery (in settings when/where it is outlawed. See the fifth point for details), and illegal business transactions (e.g. cartels, scamming).
  • Environmental Destruction: Sometimes also used in some works in an effort to broaden its message in portraying Businessmen as blatantly irresponsible in harming the planet in order to make a profit. Sometimes may overlap with Science Is Bad in certain situations.
  • Religious Criticism: Works that have this sort of angle will seek to present capitalism as incompatible certain religions and in some cases argue it as being a Sin against it's god(s) and/or basic principles. At the very least, it will present it as amorally "Incentivizing sin" by supplying material that is prohibited by that religion's guidelines (e.g. Alcoholic beverages, pornography, certain prohibited foods, (i.e. pork) etc.).
  • Racial and Ethnic oppression: Somewhat of an out growth of the first variety, but with an especial focus on the effects of capitalism on certain races and ethnic groups in the forms of slavery, segregation, imperialism, and/or colonialism.

Other tropes that are featured in works using this theme frequently include

Works employing this trope will generally be on the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism and villains will typically be categorized as Lawful Evil in Character Alignment. Though some Lighter and Softer versions of this trope may focus on certain aspects of capitalism, such as consumerism and the policy regarding regulation, rather than condemning it as a whole.

More nuanced works with this trope may also employ Humans Are Flawed or Humans Are Bastards being that, after all, businesspeople are humans too, unless they're aliens.

Before snarking about some writers and actors employing anti-capitalist messages while profiting from them as being Hypocrites, keep in mind that narrative fiction creators are more likely to identify as artists than as businesspeople. Though some cases of this may overlap with The Man Is Sticking It to the Man, particularly works that had substantial funding from Big Business.

Compare and Contrast with Aristocrats Are Evil and Democracy Is Bad (the latter of which some believe can either strengthen people's property rights, and thus enforce Capitalism, in certain situations). Also keep in mind that not every work of fiction that features a Corrupt Corporate Executive is necessarily playing this trope. For example Rufus Shinra from Final Fantasy VII and David Xanatos from Gargoyles are both unscrupulous businessmen, but the nature of capitalism is never explored in any detail and therefore those works would not count for this trope. Not to be confused with Adam Smith Hates Your Guts which is a video game mechanic.

For the opposite of this trope, see Dirty Commies.

While it can be acknowledged that capitalism, as with anything else made by humans, is not without flaws, No Real Life Examples, Please!


Examples:

Anime and Manga:

Comics:
  • The Boondocks: Capitalism is portrayed as detrimental force on the lives of everyone, with the exception of a white elite, especially on the Black Community in keeping it in perpetual poverty unless one decides to go "Acting White" (though "Acting Black" isn't seen as being wise either). To add to this, Huey Freeman frequently quotes Karl Marx to back up his opinion.
    • In the last season of the cartoon based on the comics, Granndad was driven into prostitution, corpse smuggling, and actual slavery by his own blind, irresponsible consumerism, and the manipulative usury of his plutocrat landlords, the Wunclers. Pissing on the poor seems to be an actual pastime of Ed Wuncler's; he once trapped a little girl into wage slavery in a lemonade stand, by promising her a pony. All of this bleak horror is Played for Laughs.
    • The necessary condition towards upwards mobility isn't "acting white" ("acting black" is perpetually shown to be synonymous with "acting like a damned fool") so much as "affecting a very narrow set of status-quo-abiding behaviours and beliefs". Successful lawyer Tom Dubois needs to act a very specific kind of white; he can't act like any of the Wunclers (especially not the one who "acts black"), or like a redneck, or anything like that. The criticism against him doesn't seem to be that he's a Category Traitor, but that's he's fettered, impotent, and perpetually insecure.
  • Iron Man: The comics play with this on some occasions. Stan Lee and Larry Lieber noticed that all the businessmen in the Marvel Universe, and for that matter comics in general, were those of the Corrupt Corporate Executive type, and thus decided to create a superhero who averted this trope in the form of Tony Stark (AKA Iron-Man) to demonstrate that Capitalism was not inherently evil. Some of the villains that he faces, most notably Obadiah Stane, lack any of Stark's integrity and take advantage of armed conflicts to make a profit. Thus the beneficial and detrimental effects of Capitalism can be played up in certain storylines.
  • In Sin City, Basin City is terribly corrupt and in the hands of a minority of political and economical elites, especially the Rourke family, who use their power to get away with regular dog-kicking so base, so vile, so monstrous, they don't even know what a Moral Event Horizon is. They get away with most of it, too, until eventually the working-class, downtrodden, impoverished underdog Anti Heroes defeat or murder them.

Films:
  • American Psycho is about very young investment bankers that live a carefree, extremely boring life while putting on a façade of work. Their entire existences revolve around status symbols like designer clothes, expensive watches, and getting reservations in highly fashionable restaurants. They are so conformist and same-looking that they keep confusing each other for others. The protagonist uses his money, his resources, his connections, and his anonymity to brutally abuse and murder people, especially of the Disposable Sex Worker and Disposable Vagrant types (probably).
  • In Atlantis The Lost Empire, the Big Bad, Rourke, is a sadistic mercenary who actually describes himself as an "adventure capitalist". Granted, all he is motivated by is money, which is why he leads to the expedition. Then, just to get even more money, he steals the only thing that allows the Atlantians to survive (a giant blue crystal) and tries to bring it to the surface to sell it. Some people see the film as being anti-capitalist because of him.
  • Brazil by Terry Gilliam is a Downplayed example. It is more a satire of consumerism than capitalist economics as a whole, though according to Gilliam in an interview it hasn't stopped some conservatives in the United States (who are more likely to pro-capitalist) from genuinely enjoying it and possibly misinterpret its intended messages.
  • Capitalism: A Love Story by Michael Moore sets out to argue against Capitalism as its writers understand it going as far as to equate it with sin. Please leave it at that.
  • A Corner in Wheat, a short film from 1909, is about an unscrupulous capitalist who corners the wheat market. The capitalist makes a ton of money and eats lavish dinners, while the farmers who can't sell their wheat struggle and the poor people of the cities can't get bread.
  • The Dark Knight Rises seems to go back and forth with this trope. On one hand, we have some good anti-capitalist zingers from Catwoman, who disapproves of Bruce Wayne's selfish lifestyle. On the other, we have a Does This Remind You of Anything? sequence where angry anarchists attack the stock exchange and super-villain Bane's dialogue calls back to the recent "Occupy Wall Street" movement. When the film was released, many decried it as capitalist apologism in defense of the elite. Though it should be noted that Christopher Nolan has officially stated that no political message was intended.
    • In addition to the aforementioned statement from Nolan, the above description utterly leaves out the fact that Thomas Wayne's philanthropy by Ra's al Ghul's own admission had been of benefit to Gotham's less fortunate and that many of the city's problems, including the unemployment and economic crises, had been engineered in the first place by the League of Shadows itself as part of an effort to bring about Gotham's destruction to destroy what the League saw as a corrupt society, regardless of socioeconomic class.
    • The Dark Knight Rises has been mocked as an example of both anti-capitalism and anti-anti-capitalism, with Jonathan Chait writing in New York that "What passes for a right-wing movie these days is The Dark Knight Rises, which submits the rather modest premise that, irritating though the rich may be, actually killing them and taking all their stuff might be excessive."
  • Fun With Dick And Jane is made of this trope, being a movie inspired by the Enron scandal.
  • In Time: Connects capitalism with Social Darwinism in an anvilicious way. Wages are decreased and prices are increased by fiat, meaning the purpose of the system is to Work The Poor To Death at a controllable rate.
  • Mother India is a critique of usury: a family of peasants goes into debt to pay for a wedding, and the moneylender later alters the terms of the deal so that they only ever make enough money to pay the interests. Then things get worse.
  • The Purge and its sequel show this in an oblique way, with the rich being the only ones that can afford proper security during the titular event (although one needs beware of being too rich), and the rich paying for hitmen to do the Purging for them (and even auctioning people to kill) in the sequel.
  • RoboCop and its remake share this theme, featuring typical Cyber Punk Mega Corp. organizations that are very unscrupulous about how they employ their power.
  • Much of the propaganda of the Soviet Union employed this trope. The Sergei Eisenstein film Strike is about how the evil capitalists who own a factory oppress and victimize their workers. After a worker commits suicide when being falsely accused of theft, the workers go on strike. The evil capitalists call in the police and the army, and the film ends with the workers being massacred.
  • They Live!: This film was made by John Carpenter to criticize the effects of the Reagan Administration on American society in regard to the increase of materialism.

Literature
  • 1984: Deconstructed, and if not this trope itself then certainly the mindset of people who believe that Capitalism is evil. While only glimpses of pre-Ingsoc ruled Britain are revealed via flashbacks, but it is recounted in some detail in the book known as The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism. In it, Emmanuel Goldstein, the author who may or may not still be alive, or may not have even existed in the first place, examines Capitalism and other features of Human civilization, leading to the ultimate conclusion that Ingsoc was Not So Different and had become like the very people they wished to destroy.
  • Nikolai Nosov's series of children's books Adventures of Dunno and his friends has little liliputians - Mites - living in a Ghibli Hills -esque Mouse World. That's Earth Mites from the first two books. In the third book, they travel to the Moon and find out that the local Mites are capitalists who live in a Wretched Hive; the book is basically the Soviet children's tour of why exactly is capitalism bad.
  • Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath is about a family that emigrates to California, having been told there's lots of lucrative job opportunities. Once there, they find out that there's a surplus of workers, and their salaries are systematically undercut until they earn barely enough to live to return to work the next day, living "like animals"; they become de facto slaves. Things get even worse once they start earning even less than that. The workers are understandably upset at this state of affairs, hence the title.
  • The Invisible Heart: An Economic Romance by Russell Roberts is written to be a subversion. Laura Silver, a teacher at the fictional Washington D.C. based Edwards School, is a genuine believer in this trope while in contrast Sam Gordon, a teacher (specifically of economics) and the eventual love interest of the former, argues in favor of free enterprise and also points out some fallacies (such as the zero sum game fallacy) as well as how capitalism can be beneficial (progress in the fields of science such as technology, medicine, etc.) because of economic incentives.
  • Jennifer Government: In many ways the Anti-1984 (read about that one above), in which a dystopia exists by way of powerful corporations seeking to aggrandize themselves and have turned the United States government into a puppet to serve their own purposes. Its condemnation of Libertarianism is so over the top (especially going out of its way to present John Nike as the worst kind of person in existence to make readers come to a conclusion) that it seems like self-parody.
  • Possibly the Ur-example is Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle. Sinclair had intended it to be an indictment of the capitalist system, but it was taken by the broad public as a public health and safety expose.
  • Robert Tressell's The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists published in 1914, but written before his death in 1911, looks at the workings of unrestrained free-market capitalism through the lives and trials of a group of building labourers, the sort who are hired and fired at will and as needed. The boss routinely cheats customers, baiting with expensive materials and then switching to inferior grade once the contract is signed; employees are treated like dirt; in the absence of a welfare state it is easy to slip into absolute poverty; and a new hire teaches the rest the shortfalls of capitalism and the superiority of socialism as working system.
  • Anything written by Ayn Rand will be an deliberate inversion of this trope to attack anti-capitalist ideologies as being absolute conformism and suppressing individual rights. The only time she invokes this trope is when criticizing Crony capitalism and Corporate welfare which she considered not to be legitimate forms of capitalism.
    • Atlas Shrugged seems like an unintentional example in a very different way than the others on this list: billionaires that also happen to be geniuses go on strike, taking all their technology and trade secrets with them, resulting in mass death, chaos and starvation throughout the USA.
  • Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is ambivalent; the entire world is a Mega Corp. owned Wretched Hive, the USA are fractured into independent, privately-owned states, down to the neighbourhoods. Even the Federal Government have become a private company... yet they still "do the work that no-one else believes is worth doing". Violence is common and life is extremely dangerous. It's also very colourful and exciting, especially as seen through the eyes of the Bad Ass protagonists. To give you an example, pizza delivery men work for the Italian Mafia, have gone to specialized universities to acquire their qualifications, and will deliver the pizzas in time, no matter what insane stunt driving they have to do, on pain of death. Teenaged couriers carry messages, armed to the teeth, on motorized roller-blades, via highway, at speeds exceeding 60 mph. Walled neighbourhoods have domestic robot guard dogs that run faster than cars and pack mini-guns. And so on.

Live-Action TV
  • The Men Who Built America: This History Channel miniseries that focuses on the history of the United States from the late Nineteenth to the first decade of the Twentieth Centuries known as the Gilded Age. While it recounts the innovations that came about from the enterprises of Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J. P. Morgan, it also shows the social unrest of the workers of those companies who endured economic hardships. The Captains of Industry are apathetic towards the plights of their workers and viciously sought to assimilate as many smaller companies as possible to snuff out competing businesses. They also certain had no problem, to paraphrase J.P. Morgan, "buying a president" referring the Presidential election of 1896.

    However the last episode of the miniseries subverts this by portraying the beneficial effects of capitalism when it focuses on Henry Ford successfully challenging the legality of the Trust's claims that his attempt to start his own automobile company infringed on their rights in court and his creation of the Model T, an automobile that middle class consumers could afford.
  • In Star Trek the Federation is post-scarcity communist (Depending on the Writer), while capitalism is generally represented by the Ferengi.
  • Supernatural: The Leviathan arc that makes up the entirety of the seventh season (which ran from 2011-2012) is devoted to criticizing Capitalism. It portrays corporations as being like parasites who enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of the population and keep them ignorant while doing so. It even includes an unsubtle Expy Of 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney, of whom the writers were not fond of to put it lightly, in the form of the King Leviathan Dick Roman.

Tabletop Games

Theatre
  • Little Shop of Horrors (Not to be confused with the 1960 Roger Corman film of similar name): The creators of this off-Broadway musical have said that it is about how "power, greed, and the pressure of Capitalism corrupt" society as represented by the Audrey II plants claiming to offer fame and fortune in exchange for being fed human blood. The 1986 film based on the musical makes it Lighter and Softer by downplaying this message and omitting the ending of the musical in which The Audrey II plants grow out of control and consume everyone in the city of Skid Row, New York and with the rest of the world eventually following in this fate. Don't Feed the Plants indeed.

Video Games
  • BioShock: This is possibly one of the central tropes of the first game, depending on how one views it, as represented by the city of Rapture. It is shown that the Laissez-faire (or Unfettered) capitalist society that Andrew Ryan (Whose philosophy is based on Ayn Rand's) has turned into a Wretched Hive where merchants shamelessly charge people for weaponry to defend themselves during a civil war waged by The Unfettered Atlas (AKA Frank Fontaine). Though Ryan is presented as being a well meaning Anti-Villain, in contrast to others mentioned in this article who are blatantly selfish and deceptive, who genuinely sought to create a utopia based on Objectivist principles. Though it should be noted that Ken Levine has said that the theme of the game was more that Humans Are Flawed and extremism of any kind is not beneficial.
  • DmC: Devil May Cry: This game helmed by Ninja Theory literally demonizes capitalism as a plot from Hell. Mundus (AKA banker Kyle Rider) along with his demon underlings control the Human world through debt and keeps humanity complacent through Virility soft drinks and the Raptor News Network in order to use them as livestock.
  • Everyday The Same Dream: The game has this theme to some degree in that it portrays residing and working in a corporate society is a dreary, repetitive, and mind-numbing way to live. Though it is also an indictment of the monotony and pressure of society as a whole.
  • The capitalist Magog Cartel in the Oddworld franchise is notorious for creating industries that are spectacularly unsafe and ruinous to Oddworld's natural ecosystem, and for treating the employees little better than slaves (to the point that, when a Cartel abattoir begins making a loss in the first game, the Bad Boss decides to butcher the employees and sell their meat as a new product line). Sekto, the Big Bad of spin-off game Stranger's Wrath isn't part of the Cartel, but he is a Corrupt Corporate Executive; he plans to dam the River Mongo and use its water to manufacture Sekto Springs soft drink, which deprives the Grubb tribe that live near the river of their livelihood.

Western Animation
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: This show used the third type of this trope to portray the endeavors caused by Unfettered Capitalism to detrimentally effect the environment.
Replies: 102