The American Imbalance

This week we were assigned to watch a Youtube video about the unequal distribution of wealth throughout America. Though I was moderately aware of this problem beforehand, I was both surprised and horrified by the end of the video. Not only does the clip appeal to the audience’s logical side by presenting startling statistics, but its commentary on these facts along with its mocking tone creates this surprise and horror within its viewers. It also presents two types of visual animation depicting the ideal, the precepted, and the actual distribution of wealth. By first displaying the information in a flat chart and then transferring it to a graph, the video provides visual proof of the extremities of this unequal dispersion. One of the most startling statistics was that the top 1% of America owns 40% of the country’s wealth, and the bottom 80% of America owns only 7% of the country’s wealth. While this statistic on its own seems startling and unfair, when it is presented in a graph with the extremely poor barely even visible due to their impoverished conditions and the extremely wealthy with its own column restacked ten times over due to their exorbitant affluence, the wealth difference between these two categories is unbelievable. The graph effectively helps the viewer visualize the preposterous gap between the two ends of the spectrum.

This video connects surprisingly well to the literature we are studying in English class: Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby and Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. Both set in the early to mid 1900’s, these two books portray the extremities of the American wealth spectrum and show that unequal dispersion of wealth has been a prevalent problem throughout history. While Fitzgerald chooses to primarily depict the extremely rich,or as referred to in the video-the top 1%, the unequal distribution of wealth is clear. The rich live in the West and East Egg or in New York City while the poor, hard-working Americans labor in the desolate and grimy valley of ashes. In the novel, the rich continue to obtain more and more wealth. Many of the relationships in the novel, such as Daisy and Tom’s, Gatsby and Daisy’s, and Myrtle and Tom’s, are motivated by money. The extreme gap between the extremely poor and extremely wealthy depicted in the video helped changed my views on this novel. As many of the main characters, specifically the Buchanans, would be considered top 1%, their outrageous actions are more understandable. Though it was infuriating when Tom and Daisy pack up their bags and leave upon Gatsby’s death, after visually seeing their extreme wealth in the graph in the clip, it is more understandable how the two are able to retreat into the comfort of their money since they have so much. The  video truly helped emphasize the vast wealth the rich characters in the novel possess. The themes of The Great Gatsby warned against materialistic greed, but America’s wealthy seemed to be consumed by this want and continue to get richer and richer. The appalling graph of the reality of the distribution of wealth throughout the country makes the American Dream seem unrealistic. Forging one’s way from the bottom trench of poverty to the top of the curve of the super-rich seems almost impossible. Even the narrator, in his mocking tone, makes this dream seem unrealistic.

The Grapes of Wrath explores the opposite extremity of the wealth spectrum, focusing more on the extremely poor. While the novel focuses on this category of people, the unequal distribution of wealth is still evident. The banks are the super-rich, continuing to get richer and richer every day as they push more and more families off land. The families being pushed off the land lose everything when they are forced out of their homes and forced to search for a new life in the west. As the novel concentrates on families moving West, readers see the impoverished lives the characters must live, trying to get by on a day to day basis. The Youtube video changed my perception of this novel by emphasizing the extreme poverty of these characters. The characters in this novel are the barely visible bottom trench of the graph in the video. Seeing this graph causes the book to become more personal as I can relate this visual to the characters’ situations; it is saddening as the banks who are described as “monsters” push thousands and thousands of people off of their land, off of everything they’ve ever know. To see the top 1% uncaring and unknowingly cause such hardship for thousands of others becomes even more tragic.

Here’s the link to the Youtube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPKKQnijnsM

 

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