The remake of Mary Poppins is out and my daughter doesn't even know who the most famous of nannies is. A grave travesty I needed to quickly rectify. So it was, that we watched Disney's 1964 release of the original Mary Poppins last night. The movie based on the musical is set a stone-throws away from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in London in the year 1910. By comparison, this would be like a movie released today that was set in the mid-1960s. In other words many people watching the movie in 1964 remembered what 1910 was like and it was not at all foreign to them.
The premise of the movie, for the few people in the world who may have never heard of it, is a British family looking to hire a nanny for their two children. Dictating a classified ad to his wife, Mr. Banks stresses the importance of the role when describing the nanny's responsibilities saying, "The future empire lies within her hands." The notion of empire, while probably quaint for most viewers of Mary Poppins, may spark a feeling of fond reminiscence for others. As Mr. Banks continues to dictate the ad he adds, "A British bank is run with precision, a British home requires nothing less." The notion of empire and of Britain's global financial dominance is front and center in the movie, realities that probably escaped me as a child. Income inequality and rampant poverty among the working class are also proudly displayed.
In a later scene in the movie the children accompany their father for a day at work. Mr. Banks works at the Dawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in the City of London and on their way there, his son shows an interest in spending the money on feeding pigeons and thereby helping the homeless woman who sells seeds for pigeons to eat. Mr. Banks obviously sees this as a waste of money and upon introduction of his children to the owner of the bank, the children are advised against wasting their money on such things. In a musical number the bank employees accompany the owner in song, singing: "If you invest your tuppence wisely in the bank, safe and sound, soon that tuppence safely invested in the bank, will compound." The word tuppence is the abbreviated form of "two-pence" or two two-hundred-and-fortieths of a pound, or about a penny and compound interest is the name of the game at the bank.
The bankers continue to aggressively lobby the boy into investing in the bank telling him his money will go toward, "Railways through Africa, dams across the Nile, fleets of ocean greyhounds, majestic, self-amortizing canals, plantations of ripening tea." In the first scene of the movie with Mr. Banks, he sings a song about what it is to be an Englishman. In the first few verses, Banks sings, "I'm the lord of my castle, the sovereign, the liege, I treat my subjects, servants, children, wife, with a firm but gentle hand, noblesse oblige." This concept of noblesse oblige coupled with the bank's intentions of "investing in railways in Africa, Dams across the Nile, and self-amortizing canals" reminded me very much of the current predicament in Venezuela, only one country east of Panama and its "self-amortizing canal."
Having been to Caracas, I saw first-hand the economic devastation that country is in and ultimately such ruin must be attributed to the leaders of that country. Having said that, the current rhetoric around "going to Venezuela" and taking it over is not only overtly Monroe Doctrine-esque but also stinks of noblesse oblige. Whatever you think of Maduro, his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez was a widely popular president. Venezuela, it appears, is either being pillaged by the very rich for their benefit alone or by politicians for the benefit of enough of the electorate to retain control of the presidency. Whatever the case, the people ultimately suffer.
While Maduro may not be the best president for the job, a hand-picked 35-year-old being given the authority to rule by foreign powers is hardly democratic. Recognizing Juan Guaido may still have been acceptable if the argument was based purely on altruistic intentions but President Trump's advisers have come out and vocally lobbied for Maduro's replacement based on the economic benefit to the United States of replacing him. Not only are their intentions less than pure, they show no shame in advertising them.
So it is that history repeats itself. Another South American leader is replaced by the colonial powers of yesterday for the stated goal of bettering their own economies. What a shame indeed.