A Holiday Message from Les Misérables

les-miserables-2012-anne-hathawayStarting Christmas Day, Les Misérables will no doubt grip the imaginations and pluck the hearts of moviegoers throughout the nation. Following either genuine or manufactured box office enthusiasm, the ad campaign for the film of the stage musical of the Victor Hugo novel will trumpet its status as “AMERICA’S #1 MOVIE.” You’ll hear exhortations like “DON’T MISS THE EVENT OF A LIFETIME! EVERYONE LOVES LES MIZ!,” and over your average heartland holiday get-togethers, you’ll be subject to hearing raves from otherwise manly men who will boast of how they hate musicals, but boy howdy, how they cried over that movie starring Wolverine and Catwoman.

Now, then, seems like a pertinent time to recall the trenchant observation made by (Philadelphia native) writer Joe Queenan, who remarked in his obscenely hilarious book Red Lobster, White Trash, and The Blue Lagoon:

Indeed, the most appalling thing about attending a performance of Les Miz was not the musical itself but the spectacle of seeing a roomful of middle-Americans get all weepy-eyed about the plight of desperately poor French people and the inequities of a judicial system that would hound a man to his grave for the mere crime of stealing a loaf of bread.

Middle-Americans hate poor people, loathe the French, and are forever electing public officials who make it their life’s work to put the wretched of the earth in the slammer for stealing a loaf of bread.

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That said, the tragic events that have recently held sway over our public discourse make it impossible to regard a certain snippet of footage from the commercials—when Jean Valjean clutches Cosette to his side while the voiceover intones “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you safe”—without a feeling of bitter poignancy. Those few seconds have suddenly, by way of awful coincidence, taken on immense significance and serve as a reminder of life’s precious fragility.

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May your holidays be blessed with happiness; my Top 10 Movies of the Year comes next.

  • Blair Kramer

    Aw, c’mon George… Surely you’re kidding. We middle class Americans certainly do not “hate the poor!” Many (if not most) of us came from poor backgrounds. We are the most generous people on Earth when it comes to giving to charity. Regarding the notion that Americans hate the French, it’s actually the other way around. The French hate Americans (and the British… And the Spaniards… And the Irish… And the…). And we certainly don’t vote for people who jail the poor and hungry who steal loaves of bread! Besides, WHO goes to jail for stealing bread (yes. I know! You didn’t mean it literally. But still…)?! However, we DO want people who break into OUR houses to get arrested! And jailed! After all, there’s no excuse for such behavior! If a truly hungry person simply rings someone’s doorbell, sooner or later he’ll be given something to eat. Moreover, there are more than a few private and government agencies that help the poor. No one has to steal. Please don’t take this personally when I say the following, but… I certainly hope you weren’t serious when you wrote your plainly thoughtless comment about middle class Americans. It was downright silly.

    Now, I have seen the film version of LES MIS and beyond the fact that it’s too long (which, I guess, was to be expected), I just couldn’t get past the fact that these supposedly dirty, filthy, wretched people were Anne Hathaway, Russel Crowe, and Hugh Jackman! In other words, for me anyway, it was a case of “Name that handsome, glamorous, well fed movie star” pretending to be a victim of poverty and starvation! It was ridiculous! Also, a minor quibble. I know that people with cockney accents are not from the upper crust of British society. But they’re in BRITISH society! Numerous lower class French characters in LES MIS spoke in pronounced COCKNEY accents! I know that it was meant to convey the fact that they are from the lower class, but geeze! They’re supposed to be French f’r cryin’ out loud…!

    • GeorgeDAllen

      No offense taken, BK. :) Hey, I’m just glad you made your way into the comments given our conversations about the Disqus bugs!

      Meanwhile — not to put too fine a point on it (because I certainly endorse the commentary by including it, obviously) but the original passages you’re talking about originate with Joe Queenan, from his very, very funny book. Having said that, “generosity” is kind of a slippery term you’re arguing there. In pure dollars, perhaps, but when you have more money than God, it’s not exactly the biggest deal to give the most dollars. As a percentage of our GDP? Yeah, not so much.

      It’s ridiculous for big stars to play the roles of impoverished people? I’m still trying to figure out why you’d think an actor should only play parts equal to their take-home pay–but let’s say that could somehow become a reality; I daresay you’d never see a movie about “the little people” ever become a box-office success again, because mass audiences (yes, I’m talking to you/us, middle-class Americans) as a rule don’t exactly turn out in droves to see movies not populated by major stars. No matter what they’re about.

      As for the accents? Let’s call that the Biblical Epic rule? Not exactly peculiar to Les Miz.

      • Blair Kramer

        I don’t wish to beat a dead horse George but I think you should keep in mind one inescapable fact: It isn’t necessarily true merely because Joe Queenan said it! Now… Beyond the fact that it’s no one’s place to pass judgement on others regarding their level of charitable giving, it IS true that Americans give the highest monetary amount to charity. But in point of fact, we also give the highest percentage of our income than any other people in the world. This is a statistical fact (at least according to the federal government). But the notion that we in the middle class actually “hate the poor” isn’t just plainly untrue. It’s patently offensive! Many of us were raised in poverty. It’s not something one forgets. Therefore, we give to charity. I certainly give whatever I feel that I can. Always have. Always will. But, we should always remember that our families come first! We must focus on the needs, comfort, and well being of the people we love! They take priority above everyone else. And this is as it should be. We must help those in need, but only AFTER we have taken care of our own! It’s the morally right thing to do. Of course, Joe Queenan is entitled to his views, but he’s simply full of beans (as they used to say in the 30’s!)!
        Now… Back to the subject of movies… I admit that I may have been a bit of a sour puss when I wrote my comment about handsome, well fed movie stars pretending to be hungry and poverty stricken! After all, I’m a big fan of STALAG 17 and all the supposed prisoners in that film don’t look as though they’ve missed too many meals! Oh well…
        Yeah… Once again, I admit to being a sour puss about cockney accents! You see, I always have difficulty understanding people who speak in pronounced cockney accents! Therefore, I get frustrated whenever I hear it. Still, was it really necessary for supposedly lower class French characters to speak in such accents in LES MIS? In my opinion, I don’t think so.
        Take care, George. I remain your humble opinionated servant…
        Blair