Father of Capitalism: Adam Smith or Jerry Seinfeld?
by Cadila Vaz & Isha Khawaja
Jerry Seinfeld. Loving husband, father of four, and Emmy-nominated stand-up comedian. Noted for his iconic commentary: “what’s the DEAL with AIRLINE food??” Seinfeld has accomplished many great feats in his life, well known for his self-titled sitcom, Seinfeld, co-written with Larry David. But what happens when you give Jerry Seinfeld complete control of a children’s movie? You get The Bee Movie.
The Bee Movie follows the story of honeybee Barry B. Benson (voiced by the legendary Jerry Seinfeld), a native New Yorker just like Seinfeld himself. This fresh-faced, graduate isn’t keen on being an efficient cog in the machine that is the honey producing hive. Benson can’t be tamed after getting his first taste of freedom after flying outside his hive for the first time. Conveniently flying through New York City’s landmark Central Park, Benson meets Vanessa Bloome (voiced by Renee Zellweger), a human female, and the flower of their love for each other blooms shortly after. While spending time with Bloome, Benson realizes that the world he knows is all a lie: humans have been breeding bees and harvesting honey and then producing it in prejudicious packaging. Benson now sees that his raison d’etre is to get justice for the bees! And what’s a better way of getting justice than going through the human court system and suing the human race for theft? To be completely honest, the whole college-grad/social-justice storyline seems inspiring, and when you add the whole breaking-societal-norms and groundbreaking-romance, The Bee Movie seems like it could have been a kick-ass, indie flick. But no, it’s a children’s animated movie.
But it’s not any children’s movie.
It’s a movie created by Jerry frickin’ Seinfeld.
When you take enough anthropology classes, or honestly just have any ability to think critically, you’ll see that Jerry Seinfeld’s The Bee Movie is a masterfully constructed commentary on communism, capitalism, and colonialism. Get ready to hear about the three C’s of the B movie folks.
Let’s begin with communism. I believe that this is probably the most blatant of the three C’s. The busy worker bees represent the working proletariat class, slaving away without any real compensation. These workers spend their day in the factory, represented by the hive, creating products (in this case honey). And just who owns these factories you might ask? The bourgeoisie, who are represented by the human race in The Bee Movie. The humans cage, drug and exploit bees all for the sake of honey, none of which is that different from the horrible working conditions that the bourgeoisie exerted over the proletariat. Humans practice beekeeping in order to harvest honey for the consumer market, thereby taking advantage of the poor working class bees.
Marked as the main character, Barry B. Benson is definitely the face of proletariat revolution and commie uprising. Unable to take a second more of the facade of his honeybee life, he breaks free of his shackles of capitalism and seeks out justice in the courts of New York City. Once earning the bees equal rights to the production of honey, it seems as though the wings of the communistic bees were finally soaring above the capitalist machine.
Now freed of their capitalistic bonds, the honey bees no longer have an incentive to work, now spending their time literally swimming in their honey. With this complete disregard for their old regime, the behavior of the honeybees leads to the downfall of society as a whole, illustrated by the death of all the plants and flowers in the film as the bees ‘tan’ by their honey filled pools. Barry washes back into the tide of capitalism once he realizes how essential of a role the honeybees play in the ecosystem simply in their process of making honey.
But Capitalism plays a funny role in The Bee Movie. Before seen as an exploitative force, Benson and the members of his beehive eagerly return back to work at the hive to fulfill a sense of purpose. The reality of humans’ exploitative nature first sinks in when Benson’s companion, Vanessa Bloome takes him to the supermarket. Benson is shocked when he sees hundreds of honey jars overflowing in the supermarket- as if humans don’t have enough sweeteners to add to their tea.
Shortly following this, Benson has an urgent need to find the source of the exploiters. After fencing with his butt stinger with the ‘dealer’, he ventures off to the home of the swiped honey: Honey Farms. When Benson arrives to the bee farm, he sees the horror of his distant relatives. In a desperate attempt to follow their queen, the daily-confused bees are caged in fake walls and poisoned by the beekeepers only for their products to be stolen. Honey Farms shows the essence of capitalism. Bees are still seen as individual parts working for the whole, but do not get to enjoy any of the fruits of their labor as it is sold to humans.
But at the end of the movie, Benson’s justice for the bees leads to the world’s demise. Without pollination, trees are dying, flowers are wilting and his companion is no longer able to sell flowers. Without the production of bees, the world’s environment is at stake. Benson realizes he needs the bees to work again. His initial rage of the labor oppression of the bees subsides and Benson stresses the importance of every individual working their part for the whole. Benson pleads to return to capitalism.
The Bee Movie not only comments on capitalism, but colonialism as well. Humans’ relationship to honey is similar to Europe’s relationship to most developing nations. Humans, the colonizers, do not see what they are doing to the bees as oppression. The characters in The Bee Movie initially believed that humans are entitled to take the beehive honey, just as Europeans are entitled to colonize the rest of the world. Both oppressors benefit from exploiting the bees and non-European nations economically.
Also, can we take a moment to note that the honey bee population today is not actually a native species to the Americas? I’m about to lay down some heavy information so I hope that you’re going to able to pick it up. It turns out that when Europeans first came to the Americas during their process of colonization, they introduced these honeybees so they could continue to enjoy their milk and honey. For a long time, it was thought that there was no native honeybee population, and that’s why it was essential for the Europeans to do what they did. But in 2009, paleontologist-entomologist, Michael Engle analyzed fossil records and identified that there was a worker bee (which are always female btw) fossilized in Nevada, dating to the Middle Miocene, a geological epoch way before the colonization of the Americas. While this isn’t directly related to The Bee Movie, it’s crazy to see how colonial forces are able to erase a native presence.
So next time you watch The Bee Movie or any DreamWorks Animation production, keep an eye out for the three C’s: Communism, Capitalism and Colonialism. These forces are subtly embedded in many more children’s films than you think.