“Don’t Look Up” Exposes How Capitalism Won’t Save Us

Historically, pandemics have caused immense social upheaval, horrific death, and large-scale change. After the 1918 Spanish Flu crisis, governments around the globe adopted healthcare initiatives to ensure widespread access to medical assistance, public sanitation initiatives increased, and the United States even saw the implementation of public housing safety requirements, such as fire escapes and social distancing. Within 100 years after the Black Plague ended in Italy, Feudalism fell, social relationship to death changed, Catholicism’s influence declined and the Renaissance transformed art as we know it.

The darkness that arrives with mass sickness forces those who survive to look at the remains of a society that once was, struggle against limitations from an old world, and adjust in transformational ways that allows for better life to flourish once more.

Adam Mckay’s new Netflix movie Don’t Look Up provides a timely, unique allegory that highlights the deadliest pandemic we are forcefully inundated with today: capitalism. After astronomy professor Dr. Mindy and PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence respectively, discover an extinction-level sized comet hurtling towards Earth, the film explores how society (fails to) cope and plan for this overwhelming impending doom. Public response to the film shows how our collective is lost in a capitalist darkness, subsumed by the way things are as opposed to evolving in ways that will allow the light to shine through. Many of us have more blindspots than we think, constantly “looking” in the wrong direction.

Don’t Look Up has received a wide array of reactions and criticisms, some of the most frequent ones I’ve come across being: it’s only about how climate change is ending the world; the movie is patronizing to conservatives; and it lacks proper racial representation. I think many of these takes miss the overall point, in the same way that a lot of our present efforts to change society for the better — on ALL sides of the political spectrum — fail to dismantle the actual structural foundation of modern inequality.

The film does not point fingers at democrats, republicans, white or Black folks, straights or queer folks, etc., it indicts capitalism as the superstructural system responsible for everyone’s problems. Don’t Look Up immerses the viewer in frustrating political and media chaos in the face of an undeniable crisis and perfectly highlights the ways in which we, on a daily basis, are unable to see the heart of our issues, as those in power purposely obfuscate the truth for their benefit. Rather than uplift the truth, capitalism works within the government, media sensationalism, unnecessary politicization, misinformation, classed ignorance and individual complicity to impede our ability to ‘look up’ and see the comet for what it is.

For example, in the face of the comet, tech celebrity-billionaire Peter Ishwell and President Orlean deprioritize saving humanity. Their joint class position, political power, and personal relationship moves them to make policy decisions that center their own ephemeral interests, such as improving the President’s poll ratings for reelection and furthering capitalist profit through the monopolization of the raw materials from the comet at the expense of the Earth. The administration even creates polarizing campaigns/slogans (“don’t look up”) that abuse American political loyalty in order to perpetuate conflict that ensures their status and job security, benefiting from manufactured social division.

Capitalism disrupts the government’s ability to accept the threat of the comet as true in the first place, with the Orlean Administration only trusting the science when it was confirmed by capitalist-approved Ivy League institutions rather than immediately listening to Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky. The media, also inundated by class bias and celebrity, only cares about what will bring more views and money, with news hosts choosing to “keep bad news light” instead of asking the hard questions or maintaining journalistic integrity.

The film shows how capitalism obscures our analysis on the interpersonal level. Dr. Mindy, who tasks himself with fighting for the truth from the “inside,” allows opportunism, careerism, desire for material pleasure and ego to move him away from what really matters — saving the Earth and his family. Used as nothing more than a political pawn with a white cishet male face by the ruling class, he quickly learns that fighting from the inside is futile, as he cannot single handedly change such an overpowering system. Meanwhile, the characters who hold marginalized identities are tossed aside, villainized, memed and ignored.

Capitalism even leads everyday people, desperate to earn a wage to survive, to want the comet to hurl toward Earth. They view the comet’s raw materials as a gateway to find new employment, as the potential access to more materials will create a need for more laborers in the cellphone industry, agreeing to risk their lives because they are unable to see possibilities outside of the present system.

Sound familiar?

In real life, we see the exact same dynamics. Rather than provide Americans with the resources they need to safely survive the COVID-19 pandemic or climate change, our leaders have denied their very real existences, murdered and/or disabled millions of adults and children, forced people back to work during the peak of the Omicron variant as to not disrupt the economy, stoked anti-mask/vax division for political power and profit, used figures like Fauci to normalize such suffering, and more.

Despite the existentially fatal threat of climate change, some Americans remain forcefully attached to jobs in the fossil fuel industry, worried the wages they need to live will be significantly lessened if society switches to renewable energy sources and trapped by an economic system that offers no other alternative for survival. This worry, though debunked, is endorsed by messaging from politicians with deep economic interest in the fossil fuel industry who insist on prioritizing profit over life and the Earth, allowing the unchecked spread of untruths to keep American capitalism alive.

Instead of eradicating racial and gender inequality at their roots, our leaders utilize oppression and chauvinism to stoke divisions and maintain a system that forces us all to survive on exploitative wages. Politicians pit identity groups against each other and force historically marginalized peoples to expend our energy fighting for crumbs, like equal wages within capitalism, as opposed to creating a new system that is better for all — and the ruling class profits from the perpetuation of inequality and exploitation in the meantime. Media outlets like Fox News and Facebook make millions off these political divides and let financial interest get in the way of uplifting truth. Schools are banning books as we speak in order to further obfuscate the truth. The list can go on.

At the end of the film, surrounded by family and community, Dr. Mindy realizes they “really did have everything” as the comet hits Earth. As we face our own comets —  whether it be climate change, police brutality, COVID-19, or the global rise of fascism and conflict —  staring down the barrel of death and chaos every day, we must realize that we, too, have everything. We have all the tools to save ourselves, despite what politicians or the media want us to believe.

Don’t Look Up shows us what happens if we wait too long to interrogate our culture and ourselves, lose sight of truth, and fail to take action: irreversible destruction. But it also shows us that we are powerful enough to make the right decisions if we remain dedicated to the truth. Capitalism is not forever, but neither is our time on Earth, and we must take the time we have to analyze and deconstruct the ways we’ve internalized capitalism’s lies. We do not have to accept destruction and suffering because the ruling class says so or because it is what we are accustomed to. But we do have to actively fight this system and its messaging; we must demand more for ourselves and our communities.

Together, I believe we can move forward, heal the Earth from this capitalist sickness, grow and divest from ego, embrace that every being is deserving of life and love, reground ourselves in divine honesty, abolish the worshiping of material and celebrity, overcome false political divides, and always seek the truth. It is not too late, and our collective fate depends on it. We must be brave enough to look up.


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Amari Gaiter

Amari Gaiter is a writer, aspiring community organizer, educator, facilitator and a lover of music based in New York and Los Angeles.

Amari has written 11 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. “We would rather be ruined than changed
    We would rather die in our dread
    Than climb the cross of the moment
    And let our illusions die.”

    ― W H Auden.

    This comment is for all of you who may read this and who know deep down that something is seriously wrong and feel like being brave, or who are at least open minded to entertaining new and challenging ideas.

    I don’t visit this site much anymore, I don’t have much interest in pop culture these days I guess but old habits die hard and I do sometimes find myself over here with my morning coffee. I don’t know why I’m writing this, I just feel compelled to and I’m going with it.

    Our world is ending and it’s not because of capitalism though of course that’s an element of it – but it’s only one branch of the entire technological system that runs life on earth.

    Swapping out capitalism for some other form of running things (eg socialism, communism, fascism, democracy) within this system is completely futile. We’re living in the world that ego built and this includes all forms of governance and all the ways we relate to each other and nature and the ways we let our technology use us.

    There are no winners here only losers, there are no sides, no parties, no good guys and no bad guys, this is all illusion. There is only the system separating us and grinding us all into the dirt.

    You can swap out ‘the system’ for ‘the machine’ or however you want to describe it, but in essence we’ve created a world system that has a mind of its own, and is fuelled by our fear. No amount of shuffling the deck chairs or changing the captains is going to stop this titanic from sinking.

    So how do you want to go down? As a human being or as an arm of the machine? With love or in fear?

    If any of this resonates with you and you’re interested in challenging what you think you know, and exploring how the world ‘out there’ actually works and how the world ‘in here’ creates and sustains it then I recommend checking out Darren Allen’s 33 Myths of The System.

    It’s challenging! But it does explain a lot and some of you might find it comforting and liberating which is why I wanted to mention it.

    Good luck and peace be with you all.

    “As civilisation reaches endgame and begins to disintegrate, as the illusions of left and right coalesce into a single, spectacular omnimyth, as every rootless mind begins to directly experience the stupefying dystopias of Orwell, Huxley, Kafka and Dick, the time has come to understand the whole system, from root to fruit.”

    https://archive.org/details/33MythsOfTheSystemDarrenAllen_201812

  2. These points about capitalism you provide are all true.

    However I would add another point about this movie and capitalism. And that would be the capitalism severs international ties that are not based in monetary gain or exploit.

    And that America is very much the linchpin of Capitalism in the 21st century, and America’s refusal to cooperate and not dominate, international discussions, movements and politics will possibly doom us all in it’s near-sightness.

    At least from my perspective as someone who lives outside of America.

  3. I felt very disconnected from the movie even as I watched it and I’m not sure if I would have taken it more seriously if the cast wasn’t so star studded. Maybe that’s a point they’re trying to make too?

  4. I wasn’t a particular fan of the movie, something weird with the acting. But the meaning behind the movie is spot on and there has already been talk about mining asteroids, so I guess we will see. If they need help mining on planet earth I have the hook up, Excavators for Sale in Maine. Thanks for sharing!

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