Preston Sturges’s classic “Sullivan’s Travels” was a recent Netflix pick. Briefly, the story is about a filmmaker in Hollywood, Sullivan, who feels he can’t fairly write movies about the poor unless he himself knows what it’s like to be poor. So he becomes a hobo to live that life. It’s a method numerous journalists have tried on for size, as if parachuting into a reality for any amount of time will instantly endow the observer with the material, the experience, and the qualifications to write about it. Some will get it with that type of experience. Some get it without the experience.
I confess the madcap picture failed to keep my attention as John Lloyd “Sully” Sullivan brings new screeplay fodder back to Hollywood. But I offer this bit of dialogue, and in particular Sully’s butler’s comments on poverty which I find a good reminder about something – anything – we think we might understand.
Butler: The poor know all about poverty and only the morbid rich would find the topic glamorous.
Sullivan: But I’m doing it for the poor. Don’t you understand?
Butler: I doubt if they would appreciate it, sir. They rather resent the invasion of their privacy…I believe quite properly, sir. Also, such excursions can be extremely dangerous, sir…You see, sir, rich people and theorists, who are usually rich people, think of poverty in the negative, as the lack of riches, as disease might be called the lack of health, but it isn’t, sir. Poverty is not the lack of anything, but a positive plague, virulent in itself, contagious as cholera, with Filth, Criminality, Vice and Despair as only a few of its symptoms. It is to be stayed away from, even for purposes of study. It is to be shunned.
Sullivan: Well, you seem to have made quite a study of it.
Butler: Quite unwillingly, sir. Will that be all, sir?