September 8, 2005 -- Another example of how Europeans and Americans are drifting apart culturally and politically can be seen in the film The Edukators (Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei in German, translated as "The Fat Years Are Over"). This flick comes to American theaters from Austrian-born director Hans Weingartner, and it will no doubt delight limousine liberals and the types of self-righteous juveniles who travel to exotic places to protest against globalization on Mom and Dad's credit card.
The film focuses on two self-styled radicals—Jan and Peter—who've hit upon a new way to make their point. They secretly break into the houses of vacationing well-to-do families and rearrange the furniture, piling chairs on tables and on sofas, putting the porcelain in the toilet, and leaving notes like "You have too much money." They want these supposed privileged elites to hear those words whispering in their ears as they stand in line at the bank. These radicals use guilt rather than guns as a weapon.
When Peter's away on a trip, his girlfriend Jule, who gets fired from her waitress job for smoking and some sloppy work habits, confides in Jan that she is poor because she is paying off 95,500 euro to a man whose car she destroyed in an accident; she had let her insurance and her driver's license expire. (Sounds like irresponsibility, not capitalist exploitation!)
Jan talks about the problems of the bourgeoisie television addicts and how the revolution has sold out; Che T-shirts are now sold in boutiques. Jule says she "wants to find something to believe in." Jan in turn confides to Jule about his nocturnal invasions with Peter, and, on the spur of the moment, Jan and Jule target the house of the man who in her mind is responsible for her financial plight. But when the two return the next night to retrieve Jule's lost cell phone, Herr Hardenburg returns home as well, confronts Jule, whom he recognizes, and is promptly subdued and tied up by Jan. They call the now-returned Peter to join them and to figure out what to do. They can't release Hardenburg and just hope he won't rat them out since this capitalist pig "lies all day long" for a living.
So the three take Hardenburg to a rarely-used cabin in the mountains to decide his fate. They could officially kidnap Hardenburg, collect a ransom, and use it to help Jule flee the country. Or they could put him in the morgue, a thought about which they feel truly queasy.
Director Weingartner gives us plenty of dialogue between the four. At first, Hardenburg gently argues with them about what they've done. He says he's being made a scapegoat for the system. "Yes," reply the revolutionaries, "you didn't make the gun but you pulled the trigger." He says he didn't know about and regrets the problems that the debt has caused Jule; he just let his lawyer handle the matter. He agrees that many of the trio's complaints are valid. Is Stockholm Syndrome setting in or is Hardenburg just trying to gain their confidence so they'll release him rather than kill him?
Herr H. reveals that in those crazy 1960s he was a student radical. So how did he come to where he is today? Eventually, he wanted a more reliable car and air-conditioning. He married his girlfriend, they had children, they needed more money and security. Now, he works 14 hours a day for three cars and a boat that he doesn't have time to use. He thought money would buy him freedom. Instead, it bought responsibilities. He doesn't seem happy.
Jan and Peter inevitably fight for the affections of Jule; Hardenburg tries to be a peacemaker and even takes up cooking, a task he loved back in the old commune days but that he doesn't have time to do now that he's a rich guy.
Eventually, the trio is convinced that the kidnapping was wrong and they return Hardenburg, who offers—it seems sincerely—that he won't call the cops and will cancel Jule's debt. Does he keep his promise or do "some people never change"? In the end, the trio goes off to immobilize the satellite dishes that keep most Europeans addicted to television.
Director Weingartner is an interesting character. He was trained as a medical doctor but gave it up for films. Perhaps his generic point that rich folks should not lose their happiness in material possessions thus comes from his own circumstances. But this doesn't argue for the revolutionary nonsense spouted by the film's protagonists. Rather, it suggests that the Hardenburgs of the world should take pride in producing their possessions and take time to enjoy them.
Weingartner says he moved to Germany from Austria because the former country was more prosperous, and thus there was more money with which to make movies. And he resides in Berlin because, he claims, the cost of living there is lower than in most other European cities. Sounds pretty materialistic and bourgeois to me.
Weingartner says of his motivation for the movie, "We don't know where to put our revolutionary energy." But if you really believe in "the cause," why not go to communist Cuba and work as a doctor in a local clinic?
Weingartner manifests all of the economic errors and moral confusion to which Europeans are addicted. We see the old class warfare Marxist assumption that individuals prosper at the expense of others. Hardenburg is rich because of the exploitive capitalist system, which keeps the Third World peoples impoverished. But in point of fact, Hardenburg and those like him do not exploit others; they earn their money through their own efforts, producing the goods and services that the young radicals so detest. He does not deserve to be kidnapped by this trio of self-righteous Robin Hoods, who deserve jail rather than our sympathy.
Consider some facts. Many of the poor folks in the Third World, in whose names these revolutionaries commit their deeds, risk their lives trying to flee to Europe and America so that they than can partake of all the bourgeois comforts with which we're blessed. Further, if the Edukators really want to help the world or just their fellow Germans, they would become productive members of society, like Hardenburg.
And as to the remark that money does not buy freedom (or happiness), only responsibility, Weingartner has it all wrong. Responsibility for their lives is what adults embrace with joy and what allows them to create the goods and services that make them—and their neighbors and country—prosperous. Weingartner, like so many on the Left, worships the infantile as attractive, moral, and revolutionary. It is not. There's nothing more pathetic than what Hardenburg would have been had he held to the "ideals" of the revolution: a burned-out baby-boomer living in a sloppy garret, musing for the good ol' days, and playing old Hendrix records. (Okay, they'd be MP3s, and at least the '60s had some good music.) That's what's in the future for the Edukators.
Weingartner's movie plays on the guilt that well-off Europeans—and limo-liberal Americans—usually feel. And life truly imitated art at the flick's premier last year at Cannes. Let's go to the scene: the rich and glamorous, resplendent in beautiful clothes and jewels, arrive in chauffeured Mercedes at the grand auditorium. After the film accuses the rich—The audience? Or the individuals who got that way producing their clothing and manufacturing their cars?—of being crass materialists, they give it a ten-minute standing ovation before retiring to their villas and palaces on the Riviera to imbibe the best cuisine, wine, and champagne their dirty money can buy.
Clearly the well-off in Europe need some educating, but not in the way Weingartner proposes. Hypocrites who applaud the sentiments of his movie might legally deserve their wealth, but spiritually they do not—because they are applauding the principles that would make Europe like the destitute Third World that so many radicals, rich ones or otherwise, claim they wish to help.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.