Beast of America: Industrialization
(Welcome to the third entry in our series “Beast of America” analyzing the various social themes and messages found within Irrational Games’ latest masterpiece: BioShock Infinite.)
Hello and welcome back to our Beast of America series. In the beginning, I really just wanted to write this article. Ask anybody, my big issue is workers’ rights. Then I thought about all the other issues present in Bioshock Infinite and how they pertain to America; so I decided to write a series of articles. When I presented the idea, Adam was immediately on board and asked if he could be involved. From there it grew into everyone being involved and writing an article. Why the hell not? They’re all better writers than me anyway and I get to be lazier and still call it my idea and that is what I like to call a win. In all honestly, I’m very proud of the series and I’m glad we got to discuss these serious issues with you.
We have come to learn that the Bioshock universe is actually infinite universes. Infinite universes in which constants and variables play out the same story. Both Rapture and Columbia were meant to be a paradise; a utopia. Obviously, both failed miserably. I’m just going to come out and say why I think both failed so miserably: Capitalism. I was kind in my titling of the article and called it industrialization so people wouldn’t immediately dismiss this as socialist, communist, Nazi propaganda. I don’t really believe that industrialization is the problem. Industrialization was just the process and period by which we became an automated and efficient workforce. No, the real problem with both the Industrialization period and with the Bioshock universe is unfettered capitalism.
I’m going to do my best to not turn this into propaganda. Though I do believe in the philosophy of Karl Marx, I also believe that capitalism is currently the best economic model for us. Are those at odds? No, I don’t think so. Marx said that capitalism was a necessary step on the road to a truly free workforce. What I would like to see is restrained capitalism. People so often forget what capitalism was like before unions fought for regulation. Bioshock Infinite gave more people a view into that life through Jeremiah Fink and Fink Manufacturing.
Finkton is a large part of Columbia since it is where everything for the floating city is made. Like the rest of the districts, it is shiny and polished on the surface but has a darkness underneath. The first glimpse we get is that this is where the “underclass” has to make a living. They can clean the streets and business of Columbia or they can make goods for Fink; the Black, the Irish, and the Asian. They can sell their time or they can starve. A decision most of us are not unfamiliar with. Because when the raw materials are owned by the elite, by the Jeremiah Fink’s of the world, the rest of us are left with nothing to sell but our labor. Sure, a few can and do rise above but the masses do not. The hope, that simple ray of sunshine, that maybe-possibly-some day we can be one of the elite is what makes capitalism thrive.
Just like Jeremiah Fink’s voice over the loudspeaker, we too are inundated with voices from on high that tell us to keep hoping. The voices of the elite that tell us we aren’t one of them because we aren’t working hard enough. Be like the bee. The bee doesn’t rest. The bee doesn’t ask for anything in return. And the bee doesn’t take sick days. We and the citizens of Columbia are told to stop being human. Do not want. Do not need. Do not be ill.
Work in rhythm to the clock. Buy your products at the company store. And, by God, don’t complain about it.
Shortly after the Industrial Revolution, workers rose up and demanded fair pay and better working conditions. Unions formed. I mean that in every sense of the word. They formed themselves and they formed the first middle class in human history. Because the middle class is nothing but a blip. An irregularity that many would have you believe is dying because of the unions and not because of the unchecked greed of our corporate masters. Entire towns were massacred by companies. By the Pinkertons. By Booker. And now it’s un-American to demand fair compensation. Go out and start your own Fink Manufacturing.
The shit we’re told to keep us fighting with one another. Maybe in an alternate universe American workers have realized their power and are demanding to be treated like human beings.
I tried not to turn this into propaganda and I failed. Though you’ll hear no apology from me.
From the first Bioshock:
“Ten gallons of desalinated sea water – ‘buck eighty-five. Fifty pounds of remnants from Fontaine’s Fisheries – ten-fifty. Twenty bucks and change for a gross of Sinclair’s wholesale hypos. Two ounces of pure ADAM, that’s forty-five dollars to Ryan. Put ’em together and what do you get? A cool grand’s worth of Doc Hollcroft’s Cure-All and Root Maker. Placebo effect – I tell ya, it’s a capitalist’s best friend!” – James Hollcroft
Because that’s what unregulated capitalism is: A snake-oil paradise.