What "Joy" Gets That "The Social Network" Didn't: Capitalism Doesn't Require Tragic Heroes
"Joy acknowledges the wealth-creating value of incremental improvements even in the most mundane items."
Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel has a sharp column at Bloomberg View about the differing visions of success portrayed in David O. Russell's movie Joy, which chronicles the success of Miracle Mop maker Joy Mangano, and Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network, which charts the rise of Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
Both Joy and Zuckerberg see things others miss. Both have to fight for their ideas. Both get, and largely ignore, bad advice from people who seem to know "business." Both spend a lot of time in legal disputes.
But "Joy" celebrates creativity without credentials. It acknowledges both extraordinary gifts and ordinary life. While Sorkin's Zuckerberg shows contempt for anyone who doesn't match his formidable intellect, Joy treats everyone with respect. "Even if I was a cleaning lady, so what?" she tells her young daughter when a playmate teases the girl about the so-far unsuccessful mop. "There's no shame in hard work."
When [Bradley Cooper's character] Walker questions Joy's determination to represent her own product on the air, telling her that QVC uses only celebrities and spokesmodels, not regular people, she spits his own idealism back at him:
You said to me that David Selznick, the son of immigrants, married Jennifer Jones, an all-American girl from Oklahoma, because in America all races and all classes can meet and make whatever opportunities they can, and that is what you feel—you reach into people's homes with what you sell. You said that.
She wins the argument.
The respect extends to products and customers. "Joy" acknowledges the wealth-creating value of incremental improvements even in the most mundane items.
Postrel fears that because Joy celebrates an "untragic" hero who is also a women (played by Jennifer Lawrence), this paean to entrepreneurial capitalism may end up stuck in the "sisterhood ghetto" of chick flicks.
Which would be a shame since it's exceptionally rare to see a movie about business in which the successful people are not villains and hucksters who make money by screwing people over. As Postrel notes, despite the intentions of writer-director Aaron Sorkin to paint Zuckerberg as diabolical in The Social Network, viewers overwhelmingly identified positively with the character because they had a clear sense of Hollywood stereotypes and they liked Facebook.
The column ends with this tweet by Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales:
Just saw Jennifer Lawrence's Joy. Every entrepreneur and dreamer: drop everything and go see this movie. ??? I cried with joy.
— Jimmy Wales (@jimmy_wales) January 7, 2016
I think one of the most interesting and promising things about younger Americans (which I define generously as anyone younger than my 52 years) is that they increasingly are shucking off the stale and moss-covered ideas about capitalism that us older people were fed: Behind every fortune is a crime, don't you know, and the only way you make money is by tricking people or stealing from them. "Corporations" or businesses use up workers and then discard them, as happens in The Death of a Salesman (about the dumbest "great" play in American theater).
Millennials especially have no problem with capitalism (even if they can't define it or socialism with any precision) and many want to start their own businesses. Zeitgeist shows like Shark Tank underscore that the ideas that work are ones straightforward products and services that make people better off and that businesspeople need to be straight with one another. Best of all, most millennials want to pursue work that expresses their core values. As somone who grew up in a world where such an aspiration was unthinkable—work was something you did to put food on the table and have some money left over for the weekend—that's about the most amazing development of 21st-century America.