Willy Wonka: A Millennial’s Guide to Economics

Originally written and published on my personal blog, in 2013, this analysis of the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is humorous but probably would have earned an A in a Reed College film or economics class. It was edited and republished at THRU Media a couple years later. I have taken another proofread to it and I present it again, without graphics, cleanly edited.

The classic 1971 musical film, Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory is a period piece set in London during the Great Depression. Wait; usually a Depression is set in America. Come to think of it, there are computers and television in the film — those are post-war fancies. One of my favorite scenes involves a technician with a back talking computer that won’t cheat the precise location of the Golden Ticket. The technician is British. Charlie’s teacher is British. The urban locations were actually shot in Munich. Charlie is American, the newscasters are American, Wonka seems to be American as well. Maybe this is intentional to create a more universal sense of place. But since everybody is white, it’s only really speaking to Western society.

This may seem like a careless analysis, but I could start at any point in the movie. You have seen this film many times. It is a staple to your cultural perspective, if you are from Generation X or Millennial, because it is the most subversive G-Rated film you saw at a young age, it was at every video store, and your Baby Boomer parents remember it quite well because they did acid to it in 1971, and they wanted to blow your mind with it. It’s not that it was a blockbuster hit, it just has lasting power. It has me thinking hard now some twenty years later.

But we can’t just move on with this mystery looming over our head. Simplify it then. It takes place on Planet Earth in modern political times. Right? It has a way of seamlessly avoiding the precise location of Wonka’s factory, but it’s revealed that it’s within walking distance from Charlie’s route — weird scene early on depicts knife sharpener creep dude saying, “nobody goes in, nobody goes out.”

The Synopsis

Poor Charlie Bucket is taken care of by his single Mother, working in some pre-industrial laundry room with washboards and buckets. Charlie is becoming a young man with his first ever paper route. He buys a loaf of bread to go with the cabbage water for dinner that his Mother provides. Their poverty appears ludicrous next to the opening sequence, “The Candy Man Can,” where Charlie basically misses out on all the free candy that all the other kids are having.

The grandparents, aunt and uncle just waste space in bed as if to represent Depression itself. But Charlie has real affection for Grandpa Joe, notably when he pushes tobacco on him and he turns it down. It makes me think of that naive false altruism that seems to be rampant among the poor — a virtue that is more self-destructive than creative. Charlie’s hunt for the Golden Ticket is given an encouraging morale boost from Grandpa, “You’ll win because nobody wants it more than you.” 

When the hunt begins for the Golden Ticket, you’re taken around the world where every other kid is enjoying economic opportunities nowhere close to the abject poverty of the Bucket Family.

Enter the spoiled brats; kids with everything and not a fart to give the world. First there is Augustus, the benign German fat boy that takes a bite out of a microphone; the son of a successful butcher. Second up but perhaps the most memorable is English girl, Veruca Salt, heir to a wealthy snack tycoon (Salt’s Peanuts) and so god-awfully selfish that only her Father truly tops it, since he monopolizes the supply of Wonka bars. This gains Mr. Salt access to Wonka’s factory, and Wonka himself, while buying the love of his daughter. Every capitalist knows that would be a significant return on investment.

Next up, Violet Beauregard, the self-congratulatory nitwit American gum chewer loud mouth daughter of an Automobile Dealer. She may be the loudest and yet most benign of them at this point. And finally there is Mike Teavee, the back talking kid obsessed with television and guns, from suburban Arizona. His seeming middle-class parents have no influence over him.

The commonality between these characters and their parents is a lack of responsibility and relationship with their kid. They also seem to be only-children, you know, without siblings, but that may only be implied. The kids disrespect their folks, order them around, get all their desires met, and show no apparent sign of maturing into young adults. Whereas Charlie, his family may be poor, totally lacking savvy, and somehow stuck in a Great Depression all to their own, they seem to respect one another, and accept whatever fortune may come their way. This forced Charlie to become a young man. 

The scene is set. We are all rooting for him. Charlie wins the ticket. All hell breaks loose.

Introduction to Slugworth. Note the labels on his chocolate in the candy store — boring and unimaginative. You know the ending, so I’ll remind you that Wonka sets these kids up with a chance to share factory secrets, especially, the Everlasting Gobstopper, as a test of their moral virtue. And these are indeed closely guarded secrets. Make no mistake. Wonka is a big time industrialist. But he seems to be independent, as it were, not a Nestlé type. At the time the original book was written, as well as this film, no corporation existed on the scale of contemporary Nestlé.

First to get knocked off is Augustus, the boy with no personality but a suit large enough to support two men. He drowns in a river of chocolate. He never even sees the Everlasting Gobstopper. Then goes Violet Beauregard, the gum chewer who couldn’t resist trying the five-course meal. She goes out as an ever-expanding blueberry.

Charlie nearly gets it. Here is the unique case. Charlie acts as prompted by his Grandfather, his elder, and so is a mere accomplice. But as he floats toward the fan powered by fizzy lifting drinks, you knew it would be the bloodiest spectacle witnessed in the film. However, they belch their way back down. All is well.

Next to go is Veruca Salt — which is long overdue by this time. She is the bad egg, the one that can’t get the golden goose and throws a tantrum. And so she falls into the bad egg bin of death. Then goes Mike Teavee, who doesn’t die per se; he just succumbs to the undeniable urge to be on television. And so he is miniaturized into oblivion. What keeps it G-Rated is Wonka’s assurance that they all have a 50/50 chance at survival.

With all the kids knocked off, Wonka thanks Charlie and let’s them go, without the promised lifetime supply of chocolate.

Here is the dramatic scene where everything in his office is in halves. Joe demands the chocolate, but Wonka screams at them instead. Wonka is wondering how he is going to clean up the death of four children, surely he’s a little on edge. But Charlie does the one thing Wonka wanted: He returns the Gobstopper. Charlie knew that this would betray Wonka, even though he was kind of a dick. “So shines a good deed in a weary world,” says Wonka. And that does it, his other half is fulfilled and Charlie inherits the empire. His family is saved by an industrialist. Then Wonka reveals the floating glass elevator, and they live happily ever after.

The Analysis

Let’s go back and consider Wonka’s factory for a moment. Beverages that cause anti-gravity, gum that causes enemies to explode, terror-generating environments (the psychedelic rowing scene), materials that last forever, teleportation technology, geese that lay gold, the UFO-like glass elevator, and an apparently self-sufficient edible biosphere. Perhaps these secrets are paramount to the motivation of people in the global fervor to win the Golden Ticket. Hilarious scenes like a woman whose husband is being held ransom for her case of Wonka bars — and she has to stop and think about it.

These are military kind of secrets that cause such espionage. There is no way that Government forces could ignore Wonka, unless he managed to keep it all under wraps, or, unless he worked with the government. Or else he’s holding the technology against the government. In which case, he must be a revolutionary in favor of free democracy. Not so, because he went on this search to find a child that would learn his business and ask no questions, with complete loyalty, to become Wonka.

I’ll be honest, I’m unclear, because I had a much more positive view when I first conceived of this essay. I wanted to stress Charlie’s honesty, integrity, and how that earned him the keys to a magical empire. But then I got to thinking about Wonka. He is apparently unmarried, lives in the factory, and is entirely concerned with his business. The more I analyze him, the more he looks like a sociopath.

I start to worry for Charlie, because he’s naive, he’s a poor boy; his family always had complacence combined with moral virtue. Wonka is clever, a mastermind. Fake-Slugworth was planted at every location of the winning ticket. It seems to be a massive hoax funded by the temporary monopoly of the chocolate market — a plot to cause diabetes in the foolish. One goal in mind: Find an impressionable child to become his spitting image to carry out the business forever. That is why Wonka did the contest.

Of course, it is all a story. The mystery behind the turn of events is the glue to the pages that keep it bound. The 1964 book of the same title that the film was inspired from was authored by Ronald Dahl, a Commander of the British Air Force in WWII, and became a best-selling Author in the post-war years. He knows something about military secrets. And this may be the crux of my interest in the whole story.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the assumption of power that the United States has taken since the end of WWII. Cultural values in America have permanently changed since that time, with propaganda-violence as a profitable form of entertainment. Where the will of the people is not reflected in the legislation. Censorship and wiretapping has become commonplace. We are beginning to take on the features of Fascist Germany. We gained Germany’s secrets and continued developing what the Nazis started, but this time for the good – or so we believe. We understand how power corrupts, and yet we are concerned with being the most powerful nation as if that has always been our national identity. Not so. We were an underdog, concerned mostly with our own industries and liberty, until we defeated Hitler and Imperial Japan.

Hitler’s military technology was more advanced than any other in the world. European forces just came together with an unscathed United States, rapidly developed new technology, and outnumbered the Germans, who were spread far too thin. The U.S.S.R. gained the other half of the secrets. The two have been employing them against one another ever since, and there is no greater expression to that than the Space Race. That race developed all the key missile systems in use today. This idea is not well researched and so could come off as a flimsy conclusion, but here it goes.

Wonka is America’s Hitler. That would be a wild way to go, but actually, this is my take. Wonka represents the American Mad Man of The Greatest Generation that created tremendous technologies, entrepreneurism, and power. Charlie is a Baby Boomer. He represents the generation being handed the keys to the most abundant, creative, strange, mesmerizing, cut throat, violent empire the world has ever seen: Post-Modern America.

I am a Millennial and I relate to Charlie. My world is bleak yet mesmerizing all the same. It’s a world full of automation and high definition media all the time. Yet the whole structure of it, the economy and culture driving it has vastly split the rich from the poor — Charlie lives in his own Depression despite seeing others swimming in candy. My generation is being handed the keys to a vehicle that hasn’t got any gas in it. In other words, the only way to get out of it is to join the elite, no questions asked. That is how we break the glass cieling in our own glass elevator.

Millennials have to make friends with guys like Wonka, who value honesty and integrity, while steering clear of the deathtraps laid ahead of our path. We, the Millennials and late Gen X, just entering management, have to push through the crash course and come out on top to inherit the kingdom. But beware again; we will soon be setting the deathtraps, inheriting the mania that capitalist-industrialism requires for continuation. 

Personally, I just want simple social equity and I don’t care about any kingdom.

By 1973, two years after Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory film, and nearly ten years from the book release, a follow-up was published, written by Dahl, The Great Glass Elevator. I have not read this sequel.

In 2006, Johnny Depp took the role of Willy Wonka in a remake. I have not seen it and I thought it would compromise the integrity of this essay. After all, it is Gene Wilder that makes the film a real accomplishment. I think the film is a masterpiece. Even to the effects, the sets, and the songs, but Gene Wilder is the only choice and I would bet that Depp really superficializes the character while the script removes all kinds of conceptual goodies like I’ve explored here.

The only actor I would cast for Wonka today would be Daniel Day-Lewis. This one choice would change everything else. It’s too late for that though.

Long House Electro Epic

“Long House” was Produced in 2011 by Sean Ongley

This cut is a story in three acts with a jazzy dub-like jam that drops into a suspenseful build-up, concluding with a bumping minimalist house-style breakdown.

I am using four different production software suites mixed inside Logic Pro 9. Those being Ableton Live 7, Reason 4, and MOTU Symphonic Instrument. Also some Arp Odyssey shows up here, especially at the end.

I was mixing on active Event 20/20’s in a modest studio at the Cathedral Park Place warehouse, in Portland, Oregon.

This is the most mature piece of music that I have ever composed. I’ve never quite been able to match it. But I feel that I can do better than this, and will, soon.

T:BA Revived Washington High School in 2009

The inaugural year of the reopening of Washington High School in Southeast Portland, Oregon, was carried out by none other than Portland Institute for Contemporary Art as part of the Time-Based Art Festival. The following comes from two interviews conducted at the site for a radio special on KBOO Community Radio, which aired in September, 2009. The interview begins with Fawn Krieger.

Interviews with Fawn Krieger and Jesse Hayward for T:BA 2009

In the context of a live broadcast, the audio above is only an excerpt of the original program, which is not included here.

Washington High School remained occupied by PICA for four more years, atypical of the moveable feast that is The Works, a nightly cabaret that caps off each day’s program.

Fawn pictured me standing with her laptop to offload our interview audio.

Grasshoppers 2017 Commercial Video

A 2017 THRU Media Commission for PJCE

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble asked THRU Media to produce a short documentary to promote their second-year program mentoring high school students as composers, called Grasshoppers.

Additionally, he wanted a complete 3-camera concert shoot plus editing for each song. This was a pretty big job that could have been vastly more expensive, but I did it on the shoestring and punched above my weight, as this is my only video commission.

Forrest Brennan and Joe Jatcko provided camera operation for the concert, capturing the content for much of the documentary as well. I completed the edit in my studio.

Watch the full Grasshoppers Concert at PJCE’s Youtube.

At Least We All Eat Hummus

Originally published at THRU, in March 2015. I highlight this one because it is representative of my approach to dance review, and it shows a side of Israel that we don’t often see. I also really enjoyed this event.

Last night, two performances were paired together for something that White Bird calls, New Israeli Voices in Dance, presented at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. It is part of their Uncaged program and runs through Saturday night. Both of these featured works are minimal in their stage and costume design, which I suspect makes the show possible, financially speaking. Not that such a limitation withdraws from quality, because in the case of these works, it is to their advantage.

The first, “Exhibit B” by Ate9 Dance Company, and the second, “We Love Arabs” by Hillel Kogan.

“Exhibit B” starts strong with fast-looping music from Omid Walizadeh, the kind that literally grips your brain. The curtain rises and all dancers are on stage, in pairs. I see a reclusive, meditative pair, two casually sitting and interacting pairs, and one disjointed pair because one is dancing solo at center-stage while the other cleans the floor with a towel. The floor-cleaner is Choreographer, Danielle Agami, making it clear she’s willing to hold her weight in the group. She’s a spry thirty-year old woman, young by the standard of her accomplished career.

Stage goes black. Music is pounding with industrial-style beats and upfront glitches. In their pink-fleshy costumes (also by Agami) you can make out their outlines scattering the stage, or setting up a new scene. Music continues at full volume during blackouts. These short scenes are not broken up by music, only light. So the energy builds with the music, providing continuity between blackouts. A lighting scheme by Portland’s Jeff Forbes makes for unique moods for every scene.

In one scene, dancers try to run across the stage, as if a no man’s land, all of them collapsing, followed by another dragging them off-stage. These happen very quickly, but with enough suspense to question what will happen next. One such casualty remains on the floor, followed by someone who steps out for a solo, as if impervious to sniper fire, or whatever it was taking them down. She is eventually gobbled up by all the dancers, concealed, prevented from being known.

Mysterious meaning like this kept me plagued with thought, which is not always a pleasant experience, even for people who enjoy thought. I am actually on the fence with my interpretation for this one. I review without notes and go in without conditioning—researching only as much as necessary until fingers reach the keyboard—to allow the meaning to digest in dreams, then I tackle the residual impressions over coffee.

This idea of subconscious information connects to the next performance by Hillel Kogan, who repeatedly states that the audience receives the information (entirely coded into expressionistic dance) and he trusts them to take it and understand it later—whether they know it or not. Before going into the second half, some reflections.

Ate9 Dance Company could be looked upon as an expression of diversity in itself. Prestigious dance troupes more typically favor a certain body-standard, not necessarily for the concept of sexiness or ethnic purity, but for their predictable movement and appearance—but still it perpetuates the body-race-image complex. Some companies are going against the current and bringing a range of body types and skin tones to their troupe, and Ate9 is forerunning that movement especially because they are located in Los Angeles, CA, a place of great diversity and body-standards juxtaposed, and roots in Tel Aviv, where ethnicity is a constant source of conflict.

Ariana Daub, I noticed for her personality, brings so much expression. Micaela Taylor brings a determined grace and athleticism—she also has that ready-made dancers’ body. Agami herself brings something fierce. Everyone deserves credit for a powerful new work that premiered on the West Coast last night. If I watched it again, I would look more closely at their expression. In the dazzle of fast-moving beautiful people, being untrained in the language of dance, I now realize how much I miss.

The second half of this double feature is an extemporaneous performance by Hillel Kogan with Adi Boutros. Kogan masterminds a new work with Adi on the spot. I wonder if, at one time, it wasn’t so well-developed. It is a two-year old work and I think they have worked together on it and have the main events plotted out.

It is narrated by Hillel, at first to the audience, where he awkwardly tries to explain his struggle in the creation process. I felt like I was receiving secrets from a choreographer about the experience of dance and being a dancer. Physically, emotionally, spiritually–he put that into words, giving the audience a chance to build empathy.

He has this notion of space that invites and rejects. He wants to find an Arab that he believes the space is inviting. If you follow Israeli politics—and might have after the Netanyahu speech to Congress—then you might have heard the struggling Prime Minister alert his voting base that Arabs were being bussed out in droves. Arabs don’t have much place in Israeli society, especially in Tel Aviv, where both of these dancers work. Although Hillel is not tackling the political process, he is confronting division and a bonding relationship.

This premise brings Adi Boutros on-stage. From then forward, Adi receives most of the attention. Their interaction is very funny. Hillel is satirizing himself, the expressionist choreographer, yet he is still building a pretty interesting work. In that he almost seems like a hack modern dancer, I think the personality of shallowness helps demonstrate the stupidity of racism. It illuminates the cultural assumptions that The Ignorant embody. His satire is not targeting shallow dancing, it is targeting shallow other-ness.

Adi frequently broke up in laughter and they both kind of had this secret smirk for the audience throughout the piece. When they finally reach a performance set to Mozart, with a fog machine, after a tedious, funny build-up, it is impressive. Technically, their skill is excellent; Adi appears to be weightless. I think he works on his b-boy skills just as much as modern ballet. The humor that Hillel develops with this ludicrous theme finally comes to a climax with a truly unifying act.

The two short works paired well together for their variety and totally different pacing, making a satisfying program. I hope you get a chance to see it for yourself.

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