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Arts & Culture

The Covid Privilege: A Parasite Parallel

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Yes, the swans are returning to the canals of Venice, and the skies of Delhi are clearing up, but at the cost of whom? Because it is not the rich.

Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite was unarguably one of the best movies that were served to us last year. An excessively uncomfortable yet realistic movie about the class divide, it was practically on everybody’s tongue to discuss.

There were many gripping scenes in the movie, and it’s hard to pick a favourite, but the “car scene” was definitely one of the best. It describes a scene where Mr Kim is driving Mrs Park back home after a day of shopping for her son’s birthday impromptu that was to happen that evening.

The night before, a devastating downpour that flooded the entire city, forcing the poor out of their homes and destroying almost every belonging that they possessed. Mr Kim and his entire family had been displaced too, with their entire house wrecked and destroyed, but he had still been asked to come to work and look cheerful for the Parks, simply because he had been paid.

In the car, Mr Kim drives forlorn and dejected- the man had just lost his house and everything he had owned- while Mrs Park sits in the back-seat with her feet up, inviting a friend to the evening’s jamboree. She talks heartily in the back, complaining about the rain, and how they had to trade plans for her son’s birthday- from camping to a garden party. “But at least the sky cleared up,” she says, as Mr Kim, whose house the rain that had ‘at least cleared the sky’ had destroyed, drives on. To Mrs Park, a downpour that had destroyed hundreds of lives in the city was a mild inconvenience that had at least made the sky pretty.

That is exactly what we sound like when we applaud the swans of Venice coming back, or the pollution clearing up and the skies becoming pretty, or the Earth ‘reclaiming herself’. All these things are extremely important- and needful- and there is absolutely no contest to that. However, we are extremely fast to forget that this clearing up of these skies, and the ‘reclamation’ of nature, has come not at the expense of the rich, as it should have been, but instead at the expense of the poor.

As workers, a lot of us have the privilege of a work-from-home, something that the daily-wage labourer or the essential service worker cannot afford. To a lot of us, the sacrifice for the clearing up of skies is the mild inconvenience of having to stay at home working from our laptops yet earning the same or watching hours of Netflix to try to while away the time. But the sacrifice that the poor make isn’t simply an inconvenience- it is a matter of survival and uncertainty. It is a matter of anxiety about how to earn enough to buy basic groceries that were already hard to buy, to begin with. For them, this global crisis is more than just medical.

The swans should return to the canals of Venice, the waters of the beaches of Manila should be turquoise again, and the skies of Delhi should clear up. It is what we owe to nature, as is her right. But the least we can do is not romanticize a pandemic that is giving all this to us by standing on the backs of the poor.

Feature Image Credit: Parasite (2019)

Shreya Juyal
[email protected]



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