The American Ruling Class

This is a highly entertaining dramatic documentary musical written by Lewis Lapham and directed by John Kirby that “explores our country’s most taboo topic: class, power and privilege in our nominally democratic republic.” It seeks to answer the question, “Does America have a ruling class?”

Serving as an oddly Vincent Price-like master of ceremonies, Lapham poses a simple question: Is there a ruling class in America, and, if so, how does one get in? To find the answer, he sends two fictional Yale grads on a series of interviews, some candid and some staged, with such power brokers as former secretary of State James Baker as well as progressive icons, such as Howard Zinn, filmmaker Robert Altman, Barbara Ehrenreich, Kurt Vonnegut, and Pete Seeger.

At bottom “The American Ruling Class” is a morality tale. As Lapham conducts them through the corridors of power: Pentagon press briefings, the World Economic Forum, philanthropic foundations, Washington law firms, corporations, banks, the Council on Foreign Relations, and New York society dinners–our two representative graduates “one rich and the other not so rich” must struggle with their responsibilities in “a world collaterally damaged by the magic of money and the miracles of science.” The real-life luminaries they meet on their journey become characters in a story about power, its responsibilities and abuses.

The American Ruling Class. 2005. 88 mins.

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