Yesterday Ryan and I continued our Peter Weir kick (which has already taught me that Australia itself, not just its fauna, wants to eat you) by rewatching The Truman Show. In case you don’t remember, Truman’s annoying TV-wife does forced, saccharine product-placement bits and nags him to have a kid to complete their suburban-perfection lifestyle. Her character-within-a-character is incredibly conservative, intrinsically conservative in the textbook sense: she functions to keep Truman the same; she is the caretaker of their retro, confined fantasy of a white middle-class heterosexual utopia.
And, trying to smooth over Truman’s accidental glimpse into a backstage area through an elevator door, she tells him about an “elevator disaster downtown” caused by “those non-union workers. Monstrous!”
I have to admit, this threw me for a moment. The climate has turned against unions so fast that this line, from a 1998 movie, seems nonsensical. Sure, thanks to a tip from Camille Alexa I know that Ronald Reagan said unions were a basic right. But in spite of his conservative canonization, Reagan was a while ago. In just 13 years, we’ve gone from an artificial shill of corporations and conservatism casually lambasting non-union labor to the GOP trying to break the back of unions across the country.
I like to understand why things are happening. We all do: that’s why conspiracy theories are so popular, because lack of explanation is primally terrifying. But more, as a history nerd and someone who thinks in stories, I want to know how we got here from there. I’m going to have to read up on it, because it boggles the mind. It seems like a nationwide revolution has been accomplished by sleight-of-hand within my lifetime. How can the wind change so entirely in such a short time? Why is the history of labor in America so often hidden history, when this is a country built by greed and baptized in the sweat of workers?