I’m not ready to give up on Timothy Hutton and the gang just yet, but the big business, rich-heartless-business-guy-is-the-evil-one theme that drives the show may be getting a bit tired. After all, once you’ve demonized the “rich and powerful” for four years, it’s got to be hard to keep recycling the same story (how come this never seems to include government—I’ll tell you why: there are no right-wing capitalist loving writers or producers on the show!). About the show, the Wikipedia entry says, “Leverage follows a five-person team: a thief, a grifter, a hacker, and a retrieval specialist, led by former insurance investigator Nathan Ford, who use their skills to fight corporate and governmental injustices inflicted on ordinary citizens.”
I’m pretty sure I’ve watched every episode in five seasons, but I don’t remember government being the bad guy that torments ordinary citizens very often, unless maybe government partnered with rich guys. Now I’m against crony capitalism as much as the next guy, but do the so called “rich and powerful,” with government’s help or not, really get rich and powerful by exploiting the ordinary schlub? You would think so if you watched this show. Why exactly do I watch it again? Well, it’s entertaining, and the stories are compelling if you can get past the anti rich and powerful thing.
In Season 5, Episode 11, the trite story is about the big box retailer destroying the quaint little town of mom and pop stores, and the communitarian way of life so beloved of many Americans, in the ideal; Utopia is always better when you don’t actually have to live in it. There are a few throw away lines that such stores bring lower prices and jobs to a community, but the change to a predictable way of life is just too much to bear. The Leverage gang realizes they can’t take down the entire Value!More corporation, but maybe they can just shut this one down, which they eventually do in what to me was ham handed and not very entertaining.
I think Leverage tells us a lot about American culture in the 21st Century, and how the “robber baron” theme started way back in the late 19th Century has come to influence entertainment and politics in our day. It’s a cliché that one of Hollywood’s favorite demons is the business person, an inevitably greedy money grubber who will do anything, often including murder, to gain even more riches. This could only happen because progressives who fundamentally distrust and despise free enterprise dominate not only our professions of entertainment, but education and media as well.
Americans for generations have been programmed in every way in their daily lives to cast a jaundiced eye on the pursuit of wealth. Of course the hypocrisy is palpable, because the vast majority of Americans lust for riches. Witness our latest lottery obsession. Yet we have the evidence of our most recent presidential election that envy is a winning card, where the winning candidate consistently demonized the “millionaires and billionaires” who just aren’t paying “their fair share” (even though the top 10% of income earners pay 70% of all federal income taxes-obviously not “progressive” enough).
Leverage also tells us that our fundamental cultural narrative about wealth is that luck, if not the, is at least a primary factor in acquiring it. The days of Horatio Alger as a cultural hero are long gone. Even in the tumult of the American industrial revolution, hard work, persistence, thrift and honesty were taught as the way to get ahead in life; 19th Century Americans well into the 20th Century believed that they were not victims of some powerful conspiracy to keep them down, or that wealth was a zero sum game where those who got rich did so inevitably at the expense of everyone else.
This is a reflection of the pathetic economic education that most Americans get, or don’t get at all. Popular culture only reinforces it, and statist politicians take advantage of it. Maybe one day enough champions of capitalism and free enterprise will make their way into the professions of education, entertainment and media so that television series like Leverage will never find an audience. One can always dream.