Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Idealized Farmers?

Dust Bowl scene from PBS special, looks just like the ones in "Interstellar"
I was thinking about the stereotype of the farmer reflected in the movie "Interstellar." The main character, Cooper, is a farmer in a vast dust bowl where the only crops left are corn and okra, and okra is in trouble. His children are being programmed to a life of more farming by a pathetic and unimaginative educational system, teaching a revised, untrue, and vile version of history.

In the early scenes of the movie the usual cliche -- nobility of farming in extreme and challenging conditions -- seems set-off against the unexplained chase after a drone where Cooper runs his truck (with flat tire) through huge fields of corn.

Soon after this, Cooper finds a clandestine underground NASA space program and meets the secret NASA scientists. We learn that he despises farming and always wanted to return to his original occupation as a space pilot. Presumably the endangerment of okra was to get our attention and make us see what a travesty farming has become in this post-apocalyptic world. Everyone is eating okra? OK. Being a farmer is beyond depressing, not so noble at all in the coming disaster, thanks to negligence on the part of current humanity. Social relevance!

Although the key to the situation is that humans are facing starvation, in fact there isn't much actual eating (presumably of corn and okra) in the movie except for a sort of around-the-table-in-the-farmhouse scene and one meeting where Cooper and the chief scientist have a cup of coffee in the secret NASA headquarters. The piloting mission Cooper accepts is to find a well-watered temperate planet where the remnants of the human race can avoid mass starvation -- sort of like the settlement of Australia in the early 1800s. Humans have ruined this world and he and a few stalwart comrades must find them another.

The romance of farming continues to be questionable in the lives of the two Cooper children, the very bright daughter Murph who becomes a scientist and actually seems to sort of save humanity and the unimaginative son Tom who in fact loves farming even though it's so blighted. Flashbacks to the dust-bowl days of the early part of the movie all echoed the testimonies of actual 1930s farmers interviewed on the PBS American Experience special "Surviving the Dust Bowl."

Farmers have a big role in popular movies, even when there's really very little going on with the actual process of farming. Like in Star Wars where we meet the good honest protective farm family of Luke Skywalker (with the retrospective explanation of who they all were, given in the prequels). We all want to see heroes live like the Ingalls family in "Little House on the Prairie."

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