Elysium, Matt Damon, and Me

My High School Alma Mater. The place has grown some! And yes, I received a truly stellar education there. image from Webb School of Knoxville website.

My High School Alma Mater. The place has grown some! And yes, I received a truly stellar education there.
image from Webb School of Knoxville website.

The primary theme of the new film Elysium is that if some people have something that everybody wants,  it’s only fair if everybody gets it. The secondary theme is that the only reason everybody can’t have it is because the greedy rich bastards won’t share.

Does this sound familiar?  It should; it’s the basis for both Obama campaigns, not to mention the Occupy Wall Street fiasco a couple of years back. And now we have Mr. Everyman himself, Matt Damon, bringing this story to life on the big screen. This is not a review of Elysium, and I’m not going to give away any spoilers, so don’t worry about that; instead, I want to talk a little bit about the real world and how movies like Elysium fail to deal with harsh truths.

But first, let’s talk high school.

Recently, I was told my opinion didn’t count because I went to a private high school.

No, seriously!

The subject had nothing to do with education. It was about Alexandria Hill, a little girl who died while in foster care. Her foster mother has been charged with murder. The news story quoted the father, who said that he had just visited his little girl a few days before and was excited because he was four months away from getting her back. The story was posted on Facebook by a friend of mine, and one of the comments was way out of bounds, as far as I was concerned. The man who placed it stated that he was a lawyer who dealt with cases like that, and he “laughed out loud” at the father’s claim that he was getting his daughter back. He went on to suggest that Alex’s death was possibly due to abuse from her father. No evidence of this in the story at all; this was just his opinion.

I called him on it and said that he should be ashamed for laughing at the grief of a man who had just lost his daughter forever.

His response was to imply that since he worked hard and I went to a private high school, my opinion was invalid. Apparently, my nine years of service in the Navy wasn’t enough to make up for the fact that my parents sacrificed to send me to a private school.

Folks, this is a lawyer speaking; a highly educated and trained person with years of experience with argument and debate and his response was to pick on my high school? He felt that was an valid argument? Frankly, the whole thing reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Wargames.

General Beringer: [smiles sarcastically at McKittrick] Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I’ve come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks.

McKittrick: I don’t have to take that, you pig-eyed sack of bleep.

General Beringer: Oh, I was hoping for something a little better than that from you, sir. A man of your education.

Unlike General Beringer, I didn’t bother to respond; at that point, I couldn’t say anything to him any worse than what he’d already said about himself.

Now don’t get me wrong; I have no problems with private school, or public school for that matter. My opinion is that the single most important factor in my children’s education was me and their mother. And I have a track record of teachers who either loved or hated me to prove it. Yes, I went to a private high school, worked hard, did well, blew away the SATs, got a National Merit Scholarship and went on to college.

Where I promptly flunked out.


The state university sent me a letter after two quarters suggesting I take some time off to discover my true place in life, which in their considered opinion, was not as part of their sophomore class. So I worked at a minimum wage job for a couple of years, then went into the Navy, where I grew up a bit and got my life on track.

All of my kids went to public schools, except for one year where my oldest went to my old high school. He tested well enough to get in but was way behind, particularly in English. His freshman teacher, a remarkable woman, brought him from a 6th grade level to freshman level in one year. I couldn’t afford to keep him there, and I certainly couldn’t afford to send all of my kids there, but that year, and the sacrifices it took to get him there, was well worth it.

So I certainly don’t see how the fact that my parents paid more for my high school than this other guy’s parents paid for his has anything to do with the validity of my opinion. And of course, it doesn’t. What he was doing was attempting to discredit my point by attacking me, by casting me as some sort of privileged, wealthy, elitist who has never had to work for a thing in his life.

And that brings us right back to Elysium, where we started. The people of Elysium have everything, but there’s no sign that they ever had to work to get it. They live a life of unearned luxury while the rest of the world lives in brutality. Matt Damon is supposed to be us, a regular guy fighting for a chance to live, and maybe to bring equality back to the world. Equality of outcome, not opportunity. As I said in the beginning, if everybody wants something, then they all should have it. Or nobody should have it. No thought is given in the movie as to how to supply millions of people with a limited resource. They want it, so they shall have it.

Take eight doses of penicillin, sufficient to cure a nasty case of pneumonia. But you have 100 patients who need it or they will die. If you split it 100 ways, nobody is cured and everybody dies. Instead of saving eight, you lose everybody. How do you decide who gets the drug and who doesn’t? No matter what criteria you use, you will be creating your own version of Elysium, where some have, and some don’t.

That’s the real world folks, and that’s a reality that movies like Elysium refuse to deal with. (So much for that private school education. I just ended a sentence with a proposition.)

By the way, the star of Elysium, Matt Damon, is an ardent advocate of public schools. However, he has chosen to send his children to private schools. Which means their opinions will never count.


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