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Class and "Rent"

I've been thinking a lot about class issues and the movie Rent.

I got into this whole discussion on the Antioch92 Discussion Board a number of years back about class and about the shame that (in this case) students at Antioch College who did not receive financial aid felt. I could not think of a single student who, while we were enrolled, revealed themselves to be a "full tuition student." Now, more than a decade later, some alums revealed that they were full tuition, but they seemed to all have disclaimers ("we came into an insurance settlement"; "my parents saved for years and had nothing left afterward"; "They could only afford the four years -- if I'd had to stay five, I would have been screwed"; etc.).

I bet you're wondering what this has to do with Rent, huh?

There's been a lot of discussion about the things that were changed from the stage version of Rent to the movie. Of course some things were shortened for time ... songs were cut, or edited, and some plot points got combined with others. Two actresses from the original cast were not cast in the movie (while the six other lead actors were), and the debate over the reasons why still rages on (was Fredi Walker replaced with Tracie Thoms because Fredi is fat and Tracie isn't?). But here's one debate that I haven't seen written about anywhere:

What the fuck happened to Benny?

For those not familiar with the show, a little background [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD]: Benny is the ex-roommate of main characters Mark and Roger (and Maureen and Collins). Since their days as roommates, Benny has married a rich chick named Allison (who we never see) and bought the building that they all once lived in (and that Mark and Roger still live in). Now he wants to throw out all the homeless people who live in the vacant lot next door and build an electronic artists' studio there. Your basic evil robber baron type stuff.

Now, in the stage version of the show, Benny goes through a kind of redemption. Yes, in the beginning, he's portrayed as a guy who's forgotten what he believed in once he moved into a new tax bracket, but by the end, he's putting that money to good use -- paying for Angel's funeral (even though he knows Angel killed his dog), and offering to pay for Mimi to go to rehab. But in the movie, all of that is gone. Actually, Benny is gone. In the movie, Benny's not even around when they find Mimi (though I believe he's a part of the "Mimi's Missing" montage for about six seconds).

It makes me wonder. Rent is all about inclusion. The main characters are gay, and straight, and bi. They're white, and black, and Hispanic. They're cross-dressers. They're drug addicts. They're activists.

So here's my burning question: If it's not OK to hate someone because of their sexual orientation, or their race, then why is it OK to hate someone because of their financial status?


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 30th, 2005 02:29 pm (UTC)
I think most people who do feel the need to hate based on class status do so mainly out of their own uneasieness about their own class background. It's the only kind of snobbery left for people who have publicly eschewed all other forms, and I think its a human need to be snobby over something. Instead of it being over who has the biggest SUV, it's over who has the sobbiest story to tell about their financial woes.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 1st, 2005 05:36 am (UTC)
Well, to clarify, I think I was using the term "redemption" to mean that Benny went from being an unfeeling jerk to being someone who was capable of doing something nice for somebody else.

The way his character was presented (in both versions) was that he was basically their friend until he met Ms. Moneybags, and then he turned on them, and on what he (supposedly) believed in. By the end of the play, his character softens and he is seen as once again their friend. In the movie, he remains distant ... he doesn't pay for Angel's funeral, he doesn't break up with Allison ... he has concern for Mimi, but I don't think he pays for her rehab (or offer to).

In short, he remains a marginalized character, and a caricatured one at that. Always a bad guy for being rich ... no depth, no feelings. Feh.
Dec. 1st, 2005 08:00 am (UTC)
I noticed that a lot at Antioch as well...almost like some people felt embarassed that their parents had the money to afford their education or something weird like that?! I considered myself lucky, my dad worked for the US Government and MIT and his job benefits included they pay the tuition fees for their employee's children when they went on to higher education. (My brother took advantage of this by getting a music degree and then going to three other universities before getting his final bachelors and becoming an architect but that's another story...) Our financial stability was all over the place when we were children as my dad worked mainly on contracts and there were times when he was "in between contracts" as my mum called it then. We lived in cramped apartments, even a rented hotel room at one point and then on the opposite side, in nice houses and I would have my own room. I tried not to get involved with that at Antioch because I lived in a wide range situations growing up and experienced different the benefits and disadvantages that money brings/doesn't bring. Did you read shadyblackflash's response to some of the hate at Antioch? I think he summarised it well. And Hope, reading this reminds of why I had such a love/hate relationship with the place. Money can be easy come, easy go as it was often in my life.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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