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Imagine a world where time is capital.

This is the dystopian future of 2161 brought to film by Andrew Niccol's In Time (2011)—triggering some powerful parallels to Logan's Run (both the original novel from 1967 and the film adaptation in 1976).

Both Logan's Run and In Time expose the human condition in terms of age and mortality—in the first, life ends at 30, and in the latter, people stop aging at 25, but at a price, which involves time.

Science fiction (SF) as a genre presents us with allegory in the form of other worlds, as Margaret Atwood argues, and speculations, but the most engaging aspect of SF for me as a fan and teacher is when SF unmasks universal and contemporary realities by presenting those other worlds.

One of the recurring messages of SF is the crippling inequity that continues to plague human societies, such as the haunting and sparse Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” that forces reader to admit privilege exists on the backs of the innocent and oppressed.

The world of In Time presents an apparent meritocracy in which all people are given life until 25, when they stop aging but an embedded clock starts ticking forcing everyone to earn time in order to live. This deal with the devil positions all labor as literally necessary to live and puts banks at the center of who survives.

The Frantic Distraction of Surviving

Americans' faith in a meritocracy is often expressed in claims of the U.S. being a post-racial society as well as a classless society. Like the Hunger Games trilogy, In Time highlights class distinctions as people are segregated in Time Zones. Eventually, the narrative brings together the two main characters, Will Salas from the ghetto and Sylvia Weis from the affluent zone, New Greenwich.

Due to both personal tragedy and a huge gift of time from a stranger, Will confronts the norms of this dystopia while being hunted by a Timekeeper, Raymond Leon. One scene, I think, deserves closer consideration.

When Will travels from the ghetto through several Time Zones (incrementally costing him more and more time) to New Greenwich, he steps out of the cab and immediately begins jogging, a habit common in the ghettos since almost everyone is living, literally, from paycheck to paycheck (or under the weight of time loans, loan sharks, or pawn shops) until he notices that in New Greenwich people are eerily casual. This distinction comes up again when he is eating breakfast and the waitress notices that he isn't from New Greenwich because he does everything fast.

People in the ghettos, what can reasonably be called the working class and the working poor, lead lives that are so frantic that no one has the time to confront the inequity of the society, and because of the segregated society, these frantic workers have little insight into the lives of privilege, casual lives, that Will witnesses for himself and the viewer.

Also worth closer consideration is the role of the Timekeeper, Leon, who presents a truly complex character who functions under a code of ethics that is perfectly ethical within the norms of the culture, but ultimately self-defeating and dehumanizing. Timekeepers enforce the laws, primarily couched in time as capital, but because of their close proximity to crime, they carry with them only small quantities of time, thus leading frantic lives very similar to the working class/poor they help keep both in line and frantic.

Ultimately, Will exposes truths that challenge the norms of this society, truths that are in fact just as relevant to the world we now inhabit:

• Will discovers that time is not a limited commodity; there is plenty of capital, but the privileged create scarcity to keep the masses frantic, and distracted.

• Timekeepers as a police force are unmasked as not seekers of justice (Leon admits this directly), but as agents of the privileged.

• The moving target of the free market is exposed as not so much "free" but an arbitrary mechanism that puts most people in a life like caged gerbils on running wheels. Interest rates and prices incrementally increase daily as the workers accumulate time. The system is designed to keep workers trapped in their roles as workers.

• And privilege, as Le Guin's story shows, is always at the expense of others, captured by this exchange from In Time:

Sylvia Weis: Will, if you get a lot of time, are you really gonna give it away?

Will Salas: I've only ever had a day. How much do you need? How can you live with yourself watching people die right next to you?

Sylvia Weis: You don't watch. You close your eyes. I can help you get all the time you want.

In effect, while the details may be exaggerated, the lessons learned by Will are disturbingly relevant to contemporary Americans, as much as how it informs us as workers as it highlights that education reform is more concerned with producing workers than proving all children with equity, liberation, and autonomy.

Frantic Students, Frantic Workers: The Rise of the Frantic Class

The frantic state of being among the working class and working poor of In Time is a perceptive dramatization of the American worker, increasingly stripped of rights as unions are dismantled and the essentials of human dignity (income, health care, retirement) are further tied to being employed.

But the allegorical messages of In Time also speak to how and why current education reform claims and policies are designed to appease corporate needs for frantic workers.

One characterization of U.S. public education today is well represented in this dystopian world—frantic.

Current corporate education reform is built on implementing national standards designed to continue the historical call to incrementally increase both expectations and outcomes (the target for success in education has always been a moving target) so that students, teachers, and schools are always under duress, always falling short, always so frantic that no one can pause to question, challenge, or do anything other than comply.

Imagine a world where time is capital, where all of any person's time is spent compiling time, a fruitless cycle of acquisition, of seeking to comply with the mandates none of the masses have chosen for herself/himself.

But you don't have to imagine this.

This frantic world of In Time is the frantic existence of the American worker, and this frantic world is being fed by the corporate takeover of public schools where accountability, standards, and testing have reduced teachers and students to gerbils on running wheels.

In 2012, workers, students, and teachers are the frantic class; like Will, we don't have time:

Will Salas: I don't have time. I don't have time to worry about how it happened. It is what it is. We're genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. The trouble is, we live only one more year, unless we can get more time. Time is now the currency. We earn it and spend it. The rich can live forever. And the rest of us? I just want to wake up with more time on my hand than hours in the day.
The rising frantic class is necessary for the privileged few, the 1% controlling both manufactured austerity and the perpetually moving targets of success.

While universal public education was created to feed the promise of the American Dream, the current corporate takeover of public schools is driving the American Nightmare of the frantic class.

We don't need a movie to see that.

Related Poem

"the world"

Related Blogs about SF

Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”: Allegory of Privilege

Whence Come "The Leftovers"?: Speculative Fiction and the Human Condition

Calculating the Corporate States of America: Revisiting Vonnegut's Player Piano

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 08:29 AM PDT.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Is not our current struggle for time? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Not time to live longer as that is not possible, but time to live more relaxed and more in control?  We think that having more money will give us that, so we chase after money.

    So really, we don't have to wait for a future to experience the world of In Time, we are experiencing it now, it's just that money is the mechanism of control.

    I thought of these Megadeth lyrics:

    Time has a way of taking time...

    Time waits for no one, not even me...

    Great diary.

  •  Metaphors (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plthomasEdD, Russgirl, iTeachQ

    Great blog--as usual, a thinker.

    Just mentally browsing (at a leisurely pace!) through the metaphors and slogans we use in education: Winning the future. Race to the Top.  Let's Move! (new USDOE reading program). Advanced placement. Adequate yearly progress. Race to Nowhere. Even Geoffrey Canada is waiting for you-know-who.

    Just one big giant, competitive race.

  •  Great callout that we Americans are "frantic"... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and habitually so.  That's a good one-word summary of that whole "race to the top" consumerist mindset so clearly laid out in Michael Moore's documentary film "Bowling for Columbine".

    Tho I have a different take on things than your statement...

    While universal public education was created to feed the promise of the American Dream, the current corporate takeover of public schools is driving the American Nightmare of the frantic class.
    ... which I think paints the U.S. public education system as too benign an institution from its beginnings, when it was targeted at "programming" immigrant kids to adopt the value structure of the elite and accept the predominance of that elite, and the role of those kids staffing the enterprises of that elite.

    Tho in my reading of U.S. history the corporate takeover of the public school system was mostly accomplished by the early 20th century, the roots of state standardized education as as a "weapon of mass instruction began with the inception of our state-run public education system.

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles

    by leftyparent on Sun Jul 15, 2012 at 12:15:37 PM PDT

  •  Greed vs Necessity (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    revbludge, plthomasEdD

    The sad bit is the excessive greed that drives the rigging of the US economy to benefit perhaps 50,000 people at the expense of 300 million is unnecessary.

    If you limited wealth to $100 million per person, and $10 million per child as a trust fund, you would be stinking rich. At 3% interest, you'd make $3,000,000 a year or $250,000 per month. If you're a trust fund baby, that would be $300,000 a year or $25,000 a month. In both cases, you earn that money by doing nothing: you could still make more.

    The remainder of current US wealth would be spent on the infrastructure that makes wealth possible: education, research, roads, bridges, courthouses, police, fire, prisons, social workers, and all the rest.

    Put another way, the suffering of the 300 million does not have to happen. We could all lead minimally decent lives with jobs that paid a living wage, homes if we wanted, families if we wanted, a decent education, health care, and help when we lost our jobs or were sick. And the rich could still be fantastically rich without doing anything.

    However, it requires a society that tries to roughly balance all interests. That's what Canada, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Norway, and a couple dozen other countries manage to do, in several different ways. And the US did it from 1945 to around 1980.

    I suspect the In Time world was in the same position: the endless unchecked greed isn't required to be rich in time. And creating a just society in the US doesn't require the end of personal wealth. Only that wealth and the interests of wealth be balanced against the needs of all the other parts of our society.

    Great piece, Paul, thank you!

    •  Between 1945 and 1980 the fed. govt. (0+ / 0-)

      undertook to dismantle a major social privilege system-institutionalized white supremacy. It is deeply ironic that the wealthy class was able to use this dismantling of white privilege to coopt the blue-collar beneficiaries of the postwar economic platform and use their votes to destroy it. Having lost their middle-class economic security and hopes because of the politicians they put in power, many members of the white underclass are now that much more eager to see Jim Crow laws reinstituted, which would give them at least social superiority to compensate for economic security. And the party of Romney, Gingrich et al is egging them on every fucking minute of the day. And the angels weep.

  •  Great diary thanks (0+ / 0-)

    and excellent science fiction critique. I love science fiction.

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