Stanley Aronowitz and William Difazio’s research on contemporary Marxist political and economic theory that follow and analyze Fordism and observations of work as a way to take advantage of and have power over workers is useful to apply with the film, Syriana. These thoughts clarify the problems with Fordism (a business practice based upon Henry Ford’s method of car production) and its political effects on ruling workers and their lives.
Establishing endless work via technology and the effect this technology spans beyond the workplace with cell phones, internet, etc. is interesting to note, especially in the characters, who hold government positions. For the other characters, the labor market and political systems create alienation from the social processes outside of work, such as in the family and community. Capitalism as a economic system is shown to exploit workers in all countries shown in the film. Because of this, frustration and extremism ensue. Aronowitz and DiFazio believe that when people are free from a menial, controlled, and exploitative environment, then only then can they be free and looking at this as a cause for many of the character’s choices and misfortunes is useful.
The exploitation of all main characters in Syriana, through their jobs in government and other sectors is contrasted with the portrayal of the lesser characters and members of their family. There are three pairs that were central to making the film make sense in terms of the conflict of work, politics, and family. George Clooney’s character “Bobby” is a government employee, who was looked at as expendable by his employer, the CIA. His work life revolves around doing everything he is told to do without question. One of his former co-workers remarks that he has been “used” and he probably never even knew why.
“Bobby” states that he never did need to know why he was used. Later on in the film he is made to be a “patsy” for the CIA when an operation goes wrong. He finds himself lonely and lost due to government practices. His son, on the other hand shows interest in the best parts of a Democracy and Capitalist government. He talks about college, rowing, and girls. He wants a normal life, the opposite of what his father has. But, in the end, when “Bobby” is no longer under the government’s direction, he becomes free for the first time and he chooses to do what he believes is right in saving a young prince that has been ordered to be killed.
Another interesting pair is that of “Bryan” (Matt Damon’s character) and his son “Max“. Bryan is an energy analyst and is almost constantly working. He is asked to attend a party and agrees to working on “Max’s” birthday. While “Bryan” is working, the family is enjoying themselves. “Max” is killed in an accident, caused by technology and its imperfection. If it were not for both technology and endless work, created by Capitalism, it may be argued that “Max“ would still be alive. After this, “Bryan” goes on to work as an advisor for the same prince that “Bobby” tries to save.
When “Bryan” stops working as an analyst, he goes on to work for this visionary prince in an attempt to help change the world and politics for the better. “Bryan” notices a strong contrast between the Persian people and the busy Capitalists, he is accustomed to working for and this is due to the political landscape of this different country, although the visionary prince is not popular due to the status quo of those Persian politics. It seems that all the characters above attempt to change the world for the better and constantly fail, as many in politicians and people do today.
A more extreme form of changing the world comes from a Pakistani, who calls himself “Johnny”. “Johnny’s” father is , also, a interesting character. Johnny’s father’s unemployment and “Johnny’s” desire to help his family is fueled by his desire to change the political world around him. “Johnny” desperately wants money to bring his mother to be with his father. The father is shown playing and enjoying the freedom from oppressive work, while “Johnny” needs something meaningful. In a negative twist to this “Johnny” is recruited and exploited to be a suicide bomber and then his life then does have meaning, but it is in his death.
Without these real economic and social problems and the need for commodities, these family problems would not be so complicated and many extremists today do commit acts of violence for money for their families and for meaning in their lives. In conclusion, Syriana is very good, as it does explain how political and economic systems affect everyone and the portrayal of different people in different parts of the country seem a close comparison to real events that may have happened or are still happening today.
The film shows how much people are the same and not different due to work and government. Looking at theories that support this, such with Aronowitz and DiFazio, make this movie more believable and critical in terms of Marxist political and economic theory. More importantly, it shows the power of Capitalism and the causes of extremism that can affect us all.
Aronowitz, S & DiFazio, W. “The Jobless Future” in Garner, R. , Social Theory Continuity and Confrontation. (2001). Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Pres, Ltd. Syriana. Warner Brothers Pictures. (2005).