Friday, December 23, 2011

“Edukating” the Rich about Inequalities

by Anna DeVries

Wednesday, November 30 marked the EUC’s 4th and final film showing this semester. With the presentation of The Edukators, U of I’s European Union studies community ended this semester’ film sequence with a motion picture whose core themes are remarkably similar to the themes and events that are plaguing the actual European Union. Deeply rooted in the trends of political and social inequality, fiscal injustices, revolution, and rebellion, The Edukators is a film that does more than comment on the inherently strong bonds of friendship; it presents the (intended) youthful viewer with a somewhat realistic portrayal of the ever-growing divide between the overwhelmingly wealthy, and those struggling to simply survive.

[Spoiler alert: the following paragraphs reveal key plot elements of The Edukators] Hans Weingartner’s 2004 film depicts the lives of three lower-middle class, seemingly insignificant, young adults, Jule, Peter, and Jan. Aware of their surroundings, of the extreme wealth that surrounds the extreme poverty in Berlin, Peter and Jan take it upon themselves to “educate” the fortunate masses. By breaking into the homes of the wealthy, rearranging their furniture, and leaving a note that says something along the lines of “you’re too rich” or “your days of plenty are over”, these two Edukators breech more than just the security provided by expensive alarm systems. As stated in the film, the rich expect to be envied, to be robbed, or to be ripped off, and therefore they take certain precautions to avoid this fate; but they do not expect to be watched. By taking nothing from the homes of the affluent, the Edukators instill a fear into these prosperous individuals, a fear that they are unsafe, even in their homes—for what can you give someone who doesn’t want the multitude of material possessions you own?

The Edukators’ brilliant plan goes awry, however, when Jan and Jule take personal matters into their own hands and break into the home of a wealthy businessman to whom Jule owes €94,000. As the two scour the home for a lost cell phone, the businessman, Hardenberg, walks in on their operation. Panic-stricken and overwhelmed with emotion, Jule knocks him out, and in a whirlwind of questionable decisions, the Edukators add “kidnapping” to their list of revolutionary activities.

Surprisingly enough, over the course of the rest of the picture, the three revolutionaries befriend their hostage. They learn that he himself was once a rebellious activist until his life called for a better paying job. Hardenberg then forgives Jule of her debts, and the Edukators set him free. Until the last moments of the film, the viewer believes that people can change their behaviors, and that Hardenberg will go on to donate some of his money to the less fortunate; but that delusion is quickly squashed when it is revealed that Hardenberg called the police to arrest his kidnappers.

While the lives and struggles of the three protagonists are fictional, the reality they represent is very real in the European community today. With the economic crisis of 2009 followed by the global recession, even the citizens of the strongest economy in the world, the EU, are affected. Although there are overwhelmingly wealthy individuals such as Hardenberg, the majority of EU citizens struggle to pay their bills and debts, and to support their modest lifestyles. This circumstance, coupled with the fictitious but ultimately reasonably realistic struggles of the Edukators, allows the viewer to contemplate the impacts of economic inequality on society. What does it mean that a large majority of the general public are breaking their backs to pay off debts while the few fortunate are reaping the benefits? Is it an institutional problem or a social problem? Perhaps when we can answer these queries we can begin to bridge the ever-growing divide between the wealthy and the impoverished. If The Edukators is true in asserting that people cannot change, then is it the responsibility of political and economic institutions to adjust to societal needs? And most importantly, in a culture where the voices of the wealthy are heard over the majority, do we need a small (or large) scale revolution in order to make societal needs noticed?  

Anna DeVries is a senior at the University of Illinois studying both Global Studies with a concentration in governance and diplomacy as well as German. Having grown up in the suburbs of Krakow, Poland, she focuses her studies to concentrate directly on this area of Europe. Anna has studied abroad 3 times, twice in Vienna, Austria, and once in Istanbul, Turkey; and aside from globe trotting, her academic interests also include studying: the linguistic relationships between European citizens, institutional practices within the EU, and the societal acceptance/rejection of migrant groups within the European community. 


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