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Opinion | “Forget it, Jake”

The film “Chinatown” unravels the layers of ethical dilemmas and institutional corruption, revealing a world where right and wrong are blurred.

Jack Nicholson in Roman Polanski's CHINATOWN (1974). Photo courtesy of Film Forum
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In the grand theater of Alabama politics, one might be forgiven for feeling like they’re trapped in a scene from the 1974 film noir classic, “Chinatown.” The film’s iconic closing line, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown,” encapsulates a profound sense of futility—a bitter acknowledgment that the world is often an insidious mix of greed, corruption, money, politics, and power, all conspiring to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

This isn’t to say that every Alabama politician is inherently corrupt. Far from it, many are true public servants, earnestly striving to make a positive difference. However, they operate within a system that has been fundamentally broken for decades, designed to favor the wealthy and influential over the needy and the general populace. The state’s tax code and the centralized power in Montgomery are prime examples of how the very foundation of our government is skewed to reward elites, leaving ordinary Alabamians to fend for themselves.

It’s not merely a zero-sum game; it’s a rigged game, favoring not just the entrenched powers within but also the external special interests with their tentacles deeply embedded in our legislative processes. Those who dare to expose the truth and hold the powerful accountable are often misled, marginalized, maligned, or even destroyed, much like the characters in “Chinatown.”

In the movie, Jack Nicholson plays private detective J. J. “Jake” Gittes, who gets entangled in a web of deception spun by the corrupt and powerful Noah Cross, portrayed by John Huston. The narrative, set against the backdrop of 1930s Los Angeles, dives into the murky waters of moral ambiguity, where the human soul is continuously compromised by greed and corruption. It is a stark reflection of our reality, where institutional corruption feels almost as natural as the landscape itself.

“Chinatown” unravels the layers of ethical dilemmas and institutional corruption, revealing a world where right and wrong are blurred by the perspectives and desires of its characters. Through director Roman Polanski’s lens, the film emerges as a study in the cost of vice, painting a grim tableau where the pursuit of justice often becomes a casualty in the war against moral erosion.

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

This line underscores the overwhelming corruption and depravity among the elites, much like the disheartening reality faced by those fighting for justice and equity in Alabama. Yet, amidst this bleakness, there are those who persist, chipping away at the monolithic structure of corruption and inequality. Organizations like Alabama Arise, Appleseed, the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, Alabama Forward, and the Equal Justice Initiative are making significant strides, despite the overwhelming odds.

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The pervasive sense of disillusionment can feel insurmountable, but the relentless pursuit of justice and equity by these groups provides a glimmer of hope. They remind us that change, though slow and arduous, is possible.

So, while the struggle for a just and equitable Alabama might sometimes feel like a futile endeavor straight out of “Chinatown,” we must remember that persistence and small victories can eventually lead to meaningful change. The fight continues, and with each step forward, we inch closer to a government that truly serves its people.

However, there are days when the answers to the state’s governance seem to boil down to a resigned, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Alabama.”

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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