The ideas and concepts presented in the movie Trading Places certainly dealt with the accessibility and inaccessibility of the superstructure of society. The separation of class, of race, and of gender greatly shaped and influenced human society for thousands of years. Only recently through numerous civil rights movements has the barriers of those social structures been broken. Still, traces of those thoughts and notions can still be found in various work places, schools, and even homes. It is important that we make a closer evaluation of those characteristics, and how they relate to the ideas and concepts of Karl Marx and Adam Smith, in the movie Trading Places.
Every society is built on an economic base. Said Marx, Society is organized into class structures, aggregates of men who stand in some common relationship favorable or otherwise to the existing from of production. But conflicts always arrive between class between classes whose position is jeopardized and the classes whose position is enhanced. There is no example in history of a ruling class not trying to defend its class rule, or of an exploited class not trying to limit or eliminate the exploitation it suffers. Class struggle is a permanent feature of human society. In fact, Marx noted in the Communist Manifesto, that the history of humankind is the history of class struggles . It can extend to all fields of politics from foreign policy to educational problems and religious conflicts. In Trading Places, the conflicts obviously come between the class of the rich and powerful and the class of the poor and feeble.
Of course, present day economic structure (such as one evident in Trading Places) is very different than those in the days of Karl Marx. It is way more complex with innovative technology and a global market. But still, the contemporary economic society still follows the rules described by 17th century economist Adam Smith. The value of product is still defined the cost of its production, or labor. Smith s theory of self-interest still applies, the drive of individual self-interest in an environment of similarly motivated individuals will result in competition; and competition will result in the provision of those goods that society wants, in the quantities that society desires, and at the prices society is prepared to pay. Self interest is the factor in which men will incite themselves to do whatever the society needs, for that is the quickest way to profit. That will lead business to invent, to innovate, and to create new things that on one else have thought up. In the mechanism of the market Adam Smith found a self-regulating system which provides for society’s orderly provision. And that is the key to the capitalistic survival that contradicted Marx s prediction
Karl Marx and Adam Smith did not make race part of their description on the struggle between classes. But that problem is obvious in the United States today. The difference is that European class struggles did not have a major race presence. Only in the United States history were there so many people of the same race that are in the slave class. But during Marx and Smith s world the classes were largely divided into the haves and the have-nots. The race issue plays a big part in the struggle of classes in America because of their heritage. The prejudice against the colored is still evident today in schools, firms, and most of all minds of many men. Throughout the movie, the contrast between Valentine and Winthorpe was blatant. The poor bum from the ghetto was black, the other a well-financed, high-class executive with his own limo and servant, was white. To start the movie the way it did was an obvious depiction of the stereotypical social status of blacks and whites in society. Billy Valentine was an honest and hardworking executive for the Dukes, but he was not allowed to survive in the upper class because of his color. The Dukes will never let a black man run their family business.
Trading Places depicted the results of what happens when two distinct individuals from two extreme class structures are switched. The class structure evident in the movie seems permeable yet non-permeable at the same time. Louis Winthorpe is a successful businessman in the stock world, quickly rising in the Duke & Duke firm, and set to marry the rich and pretty Penelope Witherspoon. Billy Valentine, on the other hand, lives on the streets, faking various handicaps in order to support himself. But both of their fates became toys at the hands of the Duke brothers. Billy Valentine was thrust through the seemingly impervious class system and he flourished under the guidance of the Dukes. His knack for trading the future of pork bellies and other commodities made it almost seemed that he was born to be a top executive in a trading firm. Winthorpe, on the other hand, went from a wealthy, respectable man to an alcoholic deranged potential criminal. He s unsuccessful effort to get his life back made him into a useless scum of society. The film offers what would seem to be a definitive answer to the raging debate between which molds character: nature or nurture, genetics or upbringing. It suggests that society shape a man to what he becomes, and that under the proper environment, any man can become studious, and ethical. Consequently, under the reverse surroundings, a man can become an utter failure, such as the outcome of Winthorpe after he was framed of dealing drugs.
The gender issue was not greatly exemplified in Trading Places. But one sharp image lingered at the end of the movie on the trading floor. All the traders were men. There was not a single woman on the floor. It suggested that women do not have the split-second decisions and aggressions that were needed in the trading market. Society today, in many ways, is still biased against a woman s abilities and potentials as opposed to that of a man. There were even gender gaps between women of different classes. Ophelia the prostitute with a heart of gold and Penelope with a mind shallow as a sink were also two obtrusive examples from distinct class structures. Penelope fits perfectly into the high-class rich and snobbish stereotype of the rich. Her superficial ideals and desultory actions further slanders the higher class compared to the open-heartedness of Ophelia.
In a way, it was interesting to note that the fall of the Duke brothers in the end ironically mirrors that of the downfall of the capitalistic economy predict by Marx. As Marx said, By its own inner dynamic, capitalism would produce its own downfall, and in the process, nourish its own enemy. The Dukes also brought under Valentine and Winthorpe and in the end was destroyed by those two.