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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The moral of this year’s Oscars

Published: February 13, 2013
Section: Opinions

Award show season has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. Watching the superficial pomp and circumstance of the red carpet and the lavish ceremonies that celebrate the pinnacle of the past year’s art and culture makes me feel like a party-goer at one of The Great Gatsby’s celebrations (if only that were true).

But this year, with the Academy Awards fast approaching, I feel something different. Almost all of the nominees for Best Picture (“Lincoln,” “Argo” and “Les Miserables”) either retell historical events, or use history as the backdrop for universal human stories. Maybe I’m feeling more inspired than usual because of the many ’Deis Impact events I attended this past week, but I firmly believe that there are social justice lessons we can learn from all of these films, and acting on those lessons could make the world a better place today.

As a friend pointed out, one can draw a parallel between the French Revolution as depicted in “Les Miserables,” and the Occupy Movement today. Even though the present-day movement is much less violent—and less focused or cohesive, if you listen to critics of Occupy—look carefully and you can see the same ideas at play. “Les Miserables” is about more than the French Revolution, or even the story of one broken man finding redemption. It is really about the conflict between change and the status quo, and the universal struggle of the many against the few.

“Les Mis” is the story of a society that is worn down by injustice and inequality, one that knows that the state of affairs must change, but does not know how to actually bring about change. So they fought against injustice the only way they knew how, by violently overthrowing one king, which failed miserably (and then another king took over the throne, and the situation did not change or improve at all). This idea reminds me of one of the most pressing social issues of our time: the problem of gun violence.

I believe that the hotly-debated solution of arming every teacher will not solve the larger problem of violence; it will only perpetuate the problem. Violence does not end violence, it creates a cycle that leads to more violence while failing to address the underlying problem. I don’t claim to know how to solve this problem, but I do know that something must change and that problems must be addressed without resorting to further violence.

And then there are the parallels between the American government as seen in “Lincoln,” and the government today. “Lincoln,” even more so than “Les Mis,” is a story about the struggle between social change and the status quo. Here is another instance where society knew it had to change, but was held back by the people who fought to preserve tradition—in this case, slavery. But Lincoln’s famous words are truer than ever today: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” An America divided by partisan politics cannot succeed in repairing society’s problems.

So, what does it all mean? Maybe the collection of films this year is a reflection of these uncertain times, where we can look to the wisdom of the past to figure out how to solve challenges for the future. Our generation must become more like Lincoln and the rebels in “Les Miserables.” To move forward as a society, we must be kind and ready to give up some of ourselves to help others in need, like Jean Valjean. But even that is not enough: we must be cognizant of the world’s problems and be ready to rise up and fight the injustices around us.