Who doesn’t like a tale about an economically challenged youth that beats the odds, four snotty kids from the 1%, and even the addled conscious of a billionaire candy tycoon to go on to own the world’s greatest candy factory?
My deep seated aversion for the Chocolate Factory started early. First grade to be exact. Because Californians don’t know what to do in the rain, we’d all be herded into the multi-purpose room for morning recess. Inside, we’d partake of the first fifteen minutes of the original chocolate factory movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”—the possibly LSD-induced Gene Wilder version. We’d go back to class only to be “released” for a thirty minute lunch recess at 12:15. Logically, we’d pick up where we left off right? Minutes 16-46 of the movie? No. We’d endure the first fifteen minutes of it plus the next fifteen minutes. Then, for afternoon recess we’d watch the first fifteen minutes for a third time. And if it rained the next day, the pattern would repeat. No wonder we hated the rain. I didn’t know it then, but apparently it’s never too early or often for a mouthful of colonial indoctrination.
I thought I had finally escaped my Groundhog Day-esque thralldom to Charlie, Willy and their accursed factory when I graduated from the academy. But it wasn’t to be. In 2005 Johny Depp et al. resurrected the sugar-coated nightmare—this time titled “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
But repeated force-feedings isn’t the only reason why I despise the Chocolate Factory, Charlie’s or Willy’s.
The main reason I hate the place, the concept, and the product is because I and many like me would be Oompa Loompas. (And if you’re wondering: yes, that’s a bad thing.)
But let’s not start there. Instead, let’s meet our first contestant: Augustus Gloop. Augustus is an obese monster-glutton of a child who usually has one if not both hands on some form of Wonka confectionery. And he’s white.
Next up is Veruca Salt, a spoiled English sprite and nut factory heiress. Also white.
Violet Beauregarde, an over-competitive bubblegum chewing friendless brat whose helicopter mother lives through her with a vicious vicariousness. By the way, white. Oh except for the mother, who might be a colored person, but only if you consider spray-tan orange a legitimate ethnicity.
And then there’s Mike TV, a boy genius who somehow got smart while being raised solely by his television set (see, your parents were wrong). And if you haven’t guessed it: white.
Finally there’s Charlie, a destitute, lower-class shoe-shiner who is honest to a fault and always puts his family first. Likeable, but most importantly white enough to win it all.
Each child brings with them one parent. So that’s ten people, plus Willy Wonka. All white? Dang, us colored people just can’t seem to catch a break? For a factory that puts out chocolate, there’ a whole lot of vanilla going in, know what I’m sayin’?
Apparently, non-white people just aren’t very good at winning games of chance. Oh, and we’re stupid too–as the beginning of the film amply points out with the SE Indian prince who, against Willy Wonka’s sage advice, contracts the chocolatier for a palace made entirely out of chocolate, only to have it melt under the hot Indian sun.
The factory itself is a monolithic dystopian industrial nightmare of smokestacks, and windowless brick walls. No one ever goes in, and no one ever comes out (are we sure this is a kids’ movie?). The only escape is either as a chocolate bar or out one of the numerous chimneys. Maybe Augustus Gloop had the right idea?
And the reasoning behind Wonka’s DEFCON 1 level security? Corporate espionage. At the beginning of the film, Charlie’s grandfather tells us about how he and every other worker was fired from Wonka’s factory in response to competitors’ advancements in candy-making technology. So Willy, instead of instilling in his workers a sense of community and mutual benefit, cans everyone. But if that sounds ruthless, wait till you hear about the other half of Wonka’s plan for world domination through confectionery-based capitalism.
Surely someone must grease the wheels of industry from within the factory walls? And someone does, or rather something: the colonially idealized indigenous being, a.k.a Oompa Loompa. Us.
It turns out that it kind of sucks to be an Oompa Loompa in Loompaland. Even though you’ve lived there your whole life, you and your ancestors still have not developed an effective defense against native fauna that will eat you ten-at-a-time. “Wangdoodles, and Hornswogglers, and Snozzwangers” indeed. Hmmm…what historical parallels does this remind me of? Oh yes: the Lakota and their Buffalo problem. I mean, that is the reason for the great buffalo slaughters right? Because white settlers were saving Indians from the rampaging beasts? Of course it was. One could never learn to live in balance with the world around them.
Culinary variety wasn’t really a strong point for the Oompa Loompa’s either. Their only regular food was a putrid mash of unevenly ground up caterpillar. Conveniently, the food the indigenous population naturally craved was precisely what Colonial Master, Mr. Wonka, had in great supply.
And what was that? Why the cocoa bean, of course. Did anyone ever stop ask why the cocoa bean was so rare if it was actually indigenous to Loompa Land? Maybe because ole Willy was bogarting them all for his chocolate factory! “Listen folks, the reason why you can’t find your favorite natural food is because I’m taking them all to my factory far, far away…and now I’m taking you too!”
That’s right. Taking. Behold:
Mike TV: Are they real people?
Willy Wonka: Of course they’re real people. They’re Oompa Loompas.
Mr. Salt: Oompa Loompas?
Willy Wonka: Imported. Direct from Loompaland.
Key word: imported. Now, I don’t know about you. Maybe you’re native. Maybe you’re not. I’m not. But my parents immigrated. They were not imported. Bananas are imported. Big screen TVs are imported. People are not imported, or at least we officially stopped importing people after the Civil War.
In every way, the Oompa Loompas are the embodiment of the colonist’s ideal of the colonized. Small-of-stature, talk in rhymes, prone to breaking out in song and dance, desperate for deliverance, hard working even when unpaid, docile and fantastically infantile in every respect. Please Mr. Colonist! Save us so we can work in your windowless factories!
Brown people of the world rejoice: your neo-colonial avatar has arrived!
In short, Wonka’s empire was built on technological innovation, despotic downsizing, and good old fashion colonial slavery and resource deprivation/exploitation. How’s that wonderful Wonka chocolate tasting now?
April is about when we should start seeing Hollywood’s summer blockbusters start advertising in force. Fools and their money are soon parted, but you’d be even more foolish to support colonial desensitization efforts with your hard earned dollars. Jokes and special effects aside, there is a real message that’s being told. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the hidden message is colonialism, and you’re supposed to eat it up, especially you little brown Oompa Loompas out there. Progress is not constant: it must be won with great cost and lost with but a little complacency.