Monday, October 11, 2010

The Caste System of Hollywood

I'm more years removed from college than I'd like to admit.  But for some reason, I still have the "gotta pass the final exam to graduate" nightmare.  Perhaps the reason I have this dream is it actually happened to me.

My last final exam in college was in Indian History -- a subject that had nothing to do with my degree.  But thanks to certain course requirements and a little bit of procrastination, this class closed out my college career.  As I recall, I needed a C on the final to pass the class and then graduate.  This was no small task as is evident by the fact that I needed a C.  But I studied my ass off, got my diploma and have since forgotten everything about Indian history...until now.

I was eating tandoori chicken and watching an episode of Outsourced (which I think NBC stole from a previous posting) when I realized there's a lot of similarities between the Indian caste system and Hollywood's hierarchy.  How so?  Both the caste system and Hollywood's hierarchy are about suppressing the masses, they're frequently criticized and they're probably not going away any time soon.  I will now attempt to not offend anyone by pointing out the parallels.

[Note: If I get this wrong, please remember that I just barely passed this class.]

"Did you bullshit last week?"
Brahmins: The highest of the caste system consisting of the priests and philosophers.  An easily drawn comparison to Hollywood as most network/studio execs believe themselves to be, if not Gods, their representatives on earth.  As for the philosopher part, to quote Bea Arthur in History of the World: Part 1, a philosopher is nothing more than a "Bullshit Artist."  Bulls eye.

Kshatriya: The second level consists of warriors.  The Kshatriya (according to Wikipedia, so it may or may not be true) preferred engage in guerrilla warfare -- a battle based on ambush, deception, sabotage and surprise.  Sound familiar?  Which group of Hollywood types engage in deception, ambush and the like to achieve their goals.  If you said agents or producers, you agree with me.

Vaishya: In the caste system, these are the artisans, merchants and farmers.  You know, the people who actually DO THE WORK.  Of course they don't get the respect or money they deserve, so (according to there's a history of bitterness. Hmm.  Who can you think of in the Hollywood system who might just be bitter and underpaid?  I'm going with writers.

Sudra: The lowest and the largest group in the Hindu caste system.  These people typically work in service and other occupations that are "unskilled" or "semi-skilled" (the Internet's words, not mine).  Sounds like a Production Assistant to me.  Unless you took a class at Tisch about getting Red Vines from Costco.

Dalit: So unimportant that in the classical varna model of the caste system, this group often isn't included despite the fact that there are 166 million Dalit in India.  They are known as the Untouchables, but not in a cool Brian De Palma/David Mamet kind of way.  Dalit are people who are so low on the totem pole that others won't acknowledge them.  They are dehumanized and woefully underpaid.  The Hollywood equivalent -- Temps.

I'm pretty sure this posting was better thought out than whatever I wrote on my final exam.  Maybe now those dreams will go away.

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