I watched Slumdog Millionaire this weekend – and was struck most of all by the Dickensonian character of the world it took place in – brutal everyday violence, orphans lost in a cruel world, children exploited yet resilient in the face of crushing trauma, unspeakable squalor, and a rigid class structure. Then there were two non-Dickensonian elements – the animalistic urge to live, to survive, and to thrive which often seemed to be the only thing keeping the characters going and the miracle of globalization and free markets which seemed to bring the possibility of hope and opportunity by the end. The serious social issues and grand societal evolution are merely the backdrop for a love story, which in the end, seems to make the depiction more powerful (Contra Alice Miles’s nonsensical criticism of the film as “poverty porn.”)
Last week, I was reading the United Nations International Labor Organization Global Employment Trends 2009 report (pdf) and was struck again at what I had forgotten – that some billions of people in this world live in extreme poverty. The report had to differentiate between those in extreme poverty (USD$1.25 per day) and those in just plain poverty (USD$2.00 per day) – the difference is only $0.75 per day. The report dealt with all this analytically – with charts and graphs – but Slumdog Millionaire gave a visual image of what this might look like, what it does look like in some places in the world still. It truly is a world alien to our own, yet filled with individuals with recognizable emotions and desires.
In that spirit, while realizing that extreme poverty has not been eliminated in India and other developing countries, it’s worth taking note of a country that does not even seem to be developing – in which there is little if any hope or opportunity – labeled the most dangerous place in the world by Jeffrey Gettleman in Foreign Policy – Somalia.
Gettleman describes a country that is little more than a Hobbesian state of nature in between it’s neighboring countries and the ocean, where violence is rampant and everyday, where global powers intervene sporadically with varying motives but always perverse results, and the fourteenth government of the past twenty years now only controls a few city blocks in a country the size of Texas.
[Photograph by Wen-Yan King licensed under Creative Commons.]