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January 27, 2006 | Page 6

Even more to dislike in Kong
Too hard on King Kong

Jobs, but no joy, for workers

The U.S. economy is expanding. With such strength comes new employment, as President Bush noted after the January 6 jobs report from the Labor Department. The president is absolutely correct. Economic growth does increase total employment. But does this trend improve the quality of work, meaning wages and benefits?

For more information, we turn to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which analyzed a quarter-century of robust U.S. economic growth (1979–2004) by analyzing data from last March's Current Population Survey.

During that 25-year period, Republican and Democratic presidents sat in the White House. As they governed the nation, the share of U.S. workers with "good jobs," defined as hourly wages of at least $16 ($32,000 annually), plus a retirement pension and employer-paid health care remained the same--25 percent. "The U.S. economy has failed to convert long-term economic growth into better jobs," said John Schmitt, CEPR economist and author of the report.

In 1979 as in 2004, 75 percent of the employed American work force lacked good jobs, as defined by the CEPR. Consider these details: The economy's inflation-adjusted output of goods and services per person rose by 60 percent between 1979 and 2004. (It is worth noting that such growth does not include unpaid household labor such as child-rearing and elder-caring.)

Crucially, for these same 25 years there was no corresponding growth in the share of working Americans holding good jobs.
At the same time, their education levels increased, while technology advanced by leaps and bounds. For three of every four U.S. workers, economic growth did not raise their living standards.

The American economy, the world's largest, has failed to improve the lives of regular people by providing them with more good jobs as a percentage of total employment. Accordingly, it is up to progressive media to explicate and validate this story of job quality for the American people. They have been living it.
Seth Sandronsky, co-editor, Because People Matter, Sacramento

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Even more to dislike in Kong

THE RECENT review of King Kong by Joe Allen hit the mark by insisting the film is racist to the core, but missed the cultural significance of the ape from Skull Island ("King Kong: Is racism irrelevant?" January 6).

King Kong is, in fact, a twist on the classic "captivity narratives" that have been popular since America's colonial period. In these works, white women are torn from their communities by so-called "savage" Indian raids.

The subtext is a fear of the racialized "other" and the possibility of miscegenation--or even that one may "turn Indian" and find the experience pleasurable. In all such stories, it is up to the male hero to save the fallen woman from a descent into the "savage" lifestyle.

Likewise, King Kong represents the Black male "savage" who contrasts with the purity of the white female character, played by Naomi Watts. It takes Adrian Brody and, ultimately, a U.S. fighter fleet to kill Kong and stop the possibility of any attachment--either emotional or sexual--between the ape and Watts, thus saving white civilization from its racialized fears.

Even Adolph Hitler claimed the 1933 version of the movie to be his favorite film!
Martin Smith, Champaign, Ill.

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Too hard on King Kong

TALK ABOUT spinning something so far out of its entrance that all connections are gone. Whew! I reread the King Kong review several times, thinking I had missed something relevant in the previous readings ("King Kong: Is racism irrelevant?" January 6). But, no, I had it correct the first time.

After director Peter Jackson makes his film (his motives and intentions common knowledge around the world), a very personal homage to the film that inspired Jackson to pursue cinema as a career, set in the 1930s, here comes complaints that he did not imbue his homage (painfully built to honor the original) with 21st century social-political updates.

Breeding a 1930s Kong with 21st century realities won't work. In the '30s, it was easy to believe there might be an island as yet undiscovered, and it might be possible for ancient animals to still trod the earth.

We all know differently, but part of continuing discovery is to snuff out fantasy, even those we wish to keep. There are no Kongs, no rampaging Allosaurs. But if we allow ourselves to tumble back to the '30s, we can find a time where those possibilities, however fantastic, haven't been stamped out. The '76 remake of King Kong forgot that, updated the film to the present and fell off the deep end.

Jackson engineered his homage through a 1930s lens--Kong's birth decade. Maybe he could have had all the natives be Caucasian and given an explanation. Maybe he could have them running a trading center for ship lines. Maybe something like that would have worked.

But his version of indigent people living on the most dangerous plot of land on the planet, which--to follow the original story--offered ladies from their midst as a sacrifice to Kong, just follows the original.

Why do they offer sacrifices? The original didn't take note, and neither does the remake. It's just a plot element. What would Kong do if they didn't? It's not mentioned anywhere. In a plot-driven film, they do offer sacrifices. What does Kong do with them? That's not addressed in the original, but it's very clear in the remake--and it's understood in both.

It seems the comments regarding Kong are asking the impossible: Avoid racism by erasing Kong from the history of cinema because, somehow, a piece of pure escapist cinema made in the '30s must abide by 21st century sensibilities.

On a personal note: I do not believe there is a Kong Island, that there are hostile natives living there, or that there is a 25-foot tall gorilla and all manner of extinct species of everything from bugs to bats. But it's fun to pretend--like the first stories told around a campfire. Are we sweating the small stuff or what?
Anonymous, from the Internet

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