Today we’re talking about the 1994 feature film The Flintstones. Kind of. We’re not really talking about JUST The Flintstones movie, more like using it as a frame to talk more widely about anti-capitalist messages in children’s movies.
Before we start, though, we just want to put it out there that we’re not a movie podcast, we’re not moving in that direction or anything. There are lots of movie podcasts who do it a lot better than we ever could–You Are Good, Blank Check, Her Head in Films, Open Form, This Ends at Prom, Bad Romance are some of our favorites–so we encourage you to seek them out if that’s really what you’re looking for. We’ll talk about film sometimes because it’s something we both care a great deal about but overall, we’re going to continue picking topics and issues and ideas at random because we’re curious about a lot and we want to talk about those things.
One last thing before we get into it…..This is our 10th episode, which means we’ve been doing this podcast for over two months now. We’ve had a lot of serious conversations regarding where we want to go with this and what we want to do. We need a few things–like better recording equipment for example–and we also want to continue doing this podcast long term. If I can just get feelingsy for a second, it’s not hyperbole to say that doing this podcast has really helped keep our spirits afloat. All that being said, we started a Patreon account and we’re hoping to get some support from our listeners so we can keep doing this and keep getting better at it. The link to the Patreon is in our bio, we’ll also put it on our social media accounts, and on our website. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast and you’re able, please support us and our dreams of being bigger and better. We appreciate it.
OK, whew, let’s GET into this shit.
I’m going to give a quick synopsis of what happens in The Flintstones for our listeners who don’t know the film well or who haven’t seen it. The movie itself is based off the famous Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the 1960s. The cartoon, like the movie, is set in the Modern Stone Age and centers around the Flintstones, their best friends and neighbors the Rubbles, and various other minor characters in their hometown of Bedrock. Fred Flintstone (played by John Goodman in the movie) and Barney Rubble (Rick Moranis) work at a company called Slate & Co. that basically produces raw materials with which contractors of Bedrock build homes and businesses. Fred and Barney are working class guys, and they make a very working class wage–they have enough to provide for their families but not enough to afford extras or get a new garbage disposal right away when their old one starts breaking down. Wilma Flintstone, Fred’s wife, comes from money but chooses to leave a life of luxury to be with Fred–she’s a class traitor, which I love. Betty Rubble, Barney’s wife, doesn’t have much of a backstory in the film but it appears to me that she also comes from a working class background much like the guys. Neither Wilma or Betty work, they stay home and take care of the house and kids. So when I say working class, you know I mean the 1950s version of working class, not the 2022 version.
The plot of the movie centers around an embezzlement plot that an executive at Slate & Co. sets up in order to make himself rich. Cliff Vandercave (played impeccably by Kyle MacLachlan) and his assistant/lover Sharon Stone (played by Halle Berry, also an impeccable and very sexy performance) come up with an idea to essentially get a patsy in the office who can take the fall for their embezzling. Cliff comes up with an idea embezzle money by selling Mr. Slate (played by Dann Florek) on this automated system that would reduce costs of labor at the quarry. In order to do this, he has to create a new “executive position” and hold an aptitude test to find the smartest guy at the quarry so Mr. Slate will buy into it and think it’s a real thing. Now, earlier in the movie, we learn that Fred has given his and Wilma’s savings (which they were saving to get a new garbage disposal) to Barney and Betty so they could adopt a child (since they haven’t had any luck conceiving their own). For this great act of selflessness by his buddy, Barney decides, on the day they take the aptitude test, to switch his test for Fred’s–because he knows he’s a lot smarter than Fred–in the hopes that Fred will get the executive position. Of course, he does get the position and unknowingly and unwittingly becomes Cliff’s patsy. The new position comes with a swanky new office complete with an office Dictabird–like a dictaphone but a prehistoric bird who talks–and a huge raise. Cliff makes Sharon Fred’s assistant, and through her, Cliff feeds Fred lots of fraudulent forms to sign and Fred being the dumb idiot dope that he is, signs them without so much as giving them a glance. As a result of the money and essentially new class designation, other parts of Fred’s life (and Wilma’s life, too, actually) begin to deteriorate. He’s forced by Cliff to fire Barney so the tension there gets thicker and thicker. Both Fred and Wilma start acting like snooty rich people, so Betty also begins to resent them. It’s a mess. Eventually, their friendships blow up, which then causes tension between Fred and Wilma. And it all coincides with Cliff having Fred sign documents that will supposedly give the quarry workers a 2 week vacation but actually, the documents were pink slips firing everyone there. It’s interesting because up until this point in the film, there seems to be only two classes in Bedrock: the working or middle class and the ultra rich. There isn’t any homelessness or poverty shown to us until this very moment where Cliff fires everyone because the automated system is going to supposedly take their places. Anyways, soon after, Fred begins to be suspicious that something is going on and he accuses Cliff of doing some fuck shit to which Cliff admits to doing the fuck shit, but it’s too late because he already set it up so Fred would take the fall. And he does…Mr. Slate calls the cops and Fred is forced to flee. Then, it’s up to Wilma and Betty (who have now rekindled their friendship) to get the Dictabird who overheard Fred and Cliff’s conversation in order to save Fred’s ass. They do get the Dictabird but then Cliff kidnaps their kids, so it all culminates in a showdown between Fred, Barney, and Cliff at the quarry where they have to trade the Dictabird for their kids. Of course, Cliff is not triumphant, and in fact, in the kerfuffle Fred and Barney accidentally create concrete–concrete that falls on Cliff and entombs him inside of it–and Mr. Slate is so impressed that he offers Fred a REAL executive position as the head of the concrete position, but Fred’s like “No, I want to be with my boys on the ground but your ass better pay us better and give us more money” to which Mr. Slate agrees. Sharon is arrested for her role in the embezzling plot and everything goes back to normal. At the end of the movie, the Flintstones and the Rubbles are friends again and Bedrock is just like it was at the beginning.
Along the way, there are some great goofs on corporations in general. One of my favorite goofs in the film is when Cliff is introducing Fred to his new position and he asks Fred if Fred knows what they do in the corporate offices and of course, Fred’s like “No, but we’ve always wondered” so Cliff replies “We interface, Flintstone. We strategize, analyze, conceptualize, prioritize” which basically means fucking nothing. There’s also several moments where Cliff says he has “vision” and implies that he’s smarter than everyone else because of this “vision.” There’s also a moment where Cliff gives Fred a huge bonus out of nowhere and says “If you really want to become a top executive at this company, you have to start living like one.” Then, there’s a point at which Fred and Wilma are sitting in their new hot tub having cocktails and Wilma says, “Fred, isn’t this all too much too fast?” and Fred says, “Wilma, in the buffet of life, there are no second helpings, you gotta fill up your plate, top off your cup, and stuff a few rolls in your pocket”--which is supposed to signal to us the ways Fred is really buying into this bullshit.
So, I say all of that to get to the point that I think is interesting about The Flintstones and several other family movies that came out in the 1990s (The Addams Family, Casper, live action 101 Dalmatians, Blank Check, Jungle 2 Jungle, Jingle All the Way, to name a few) that have very clear anti-capitalist themes. I actually went into this thinking The Flintstones was strictly anti-work, but it’s actually not anti-work. Fred–and all the quarry guys–seem to take a lot of pride in their work as quarrymen and understand the importance of it because the people of Bedrock need these materials to build shelter, but it IS anti-capitalist in the sense that it portrays capitalism as a uniquely corrupting force that can overcome even the people with the best intentions and most stubborn resolve. I feel like a lot of kids movies from that era did that, and with kids movies in particular, that message is very clear because kids movies are supposed to be simple and easy to understand. In The Flintstones, for instance, we meet Cliff and Sharon before Fred is even introduced in the film…immediately, we’re thrust into Cliff’s plot to steal this money and destroy someone’s life and he doesn’t feel bad about it. There is a clear delineation between who is bad and who is good here straight off the bat because that’s easy for kids to understand.
Many of these films have some kind of evil genius or just like a normal ass greedy ass person who wants to rip someone else off for their own gain; some of them just have characters who are already wealthy and have major character flaws as a result and are forced to see the errors in their ways. And it’s the people who are on the other side that are there to teach them they’re wrong or that their actions are immoral, that capitalism is fucking them up. Obviously, this is a message I’m fully in support of but it is curious to me for a few reasons, and I just thought we might talk through those together.
So, I have two questions:
Why do you think these themes and messages were so prevalent in the children’s media of that time?
—response to the failure of Reaganomics, to the 90s not being the shining beacon of opportunity that it was supposed to be, etc.
Second, obviously Hollywood itself is not anti-capitalist…there is probably widespread discontent with capitalism in the industry, but we know there’s not like a ton of communists running around. So what’s the deal with anti-capitalist cinema then? What are they doing or trying to do?