Debunking Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory?

Posted on 20 Aug 2014 20:06

Maybe this article from Thrillist is not the dumbest article concerning food ever written, but it is up there. Raise your hand if you have ever thought that most of the stuff that happened in the original Willy Wonka movie (the one with the great Gene Wilder) could ever happen in real life. I see one hand, but he's too busy burning a doobie and watching cartoons to defend his assertion.

Do we need to "debunk" the goose that laid the chocolate eggs? Or, do we need a scientific opinion on whether a fizzy drink could fill you with enough gas to make you float? Do we need anyone to tell us that it is "Star Trek" to transmit candy bars through the air? Some of us actually work hard to debunk food legends and scientific inaccuracies. To debunk something means to check the facts and expose the reality behind myths, beliefs, ideas, etc. It stands to reason, then, that to debunk something, it needs to actually be a myth, idea, or belief.

Only idiots think they need to debunk things nobody believes. But, it is not the purpose of this rant to talk about entertainment sites full of fluff and BS. Let's just leave it to saying that Roald Dahl the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, on which the movie was based, relied on a lot on pure imagination, and the movie continued in that vain. Still, there is a lot to be "debunked" that has nothing to do with the actual candy creations, and if the author of the article in question had bothered to actually do a little work, instead of writing a Captain Obvious article, many misconceptions could be uncovered.

Roald Dahl also wrote James and the Giant Peach, The Fantastic Fox, and other children's books, as well as several books targeted to adults. Many parents today would find his books to be unacceptable for their children and much controversy has been born from his work. Even the original film with Gene Wilder, with all its goofiness, had some creepy moments. The second remake starring Johnny Depp was pure creep.

Well, the second film could be said to be truer to the book since, in reality, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory could give many kids nightmares! But there's more. See, the real myths don't surround the fantasy candy and drink creations but instead center on how the first movie dialed down many of the horrific and racist elements of the book, and, as well, how we manage not to even notice them.

The chocolate factory is a fantasy-land playground with some safety issues. The evil, spoiled children visiting the factory deserve their various fates, except for Charlie, the "hero." Few people know that the "umploompas" in the original book were actually enslaved African pygmies "paid" in chocolate. These people were objects to be owned and traded, as exemplified by Veruca Salt's demand to have an Oompa-Loompa of her own. They are portrayed as not being able to survive without Wonka, who took them out of poverty and misery and gave them happiness, saving them from their simple-minded savagery. He is their "savior."


The Oompa-Loompas, as portrayed in the first movie, are different only in skin color. The recent movie, if anything, heightens these racist elements, and even the imperialist elements. Wonka is traced on his journey to 'Loompaland' where he plans to happily take whatever he wants, and, it turns out, takes some natives to his factory to imprison them, enslave them, and experiment on them. In Tim Burton's version, all the Oompa-Loompas look exactly alike, as they are played by one actor…as if the story could get MORE racist. Before you say, well, it's just a movie, Roald Dahl himself actually revised the story in 1973 to blunt some of the racist elements, due to changing social attitudes of the time. Burton chose, quite consciously, to go back to the original "pygmy" story. There are other elements in the book that we do not see in the movies, yet the second movie still manages to turn up the dial a bit.

In Burton's version, but not in the book, Grandpa Joe had been an employee of the chocolate factory, which Wonka closed, no doubt laying off several hundred or more workers, and sending the town into a terrible recession. What does Wonka do? He imports slaves, of course! As Jacob M. Held points out in Roald Dahl and Philosophy: A Little Nonsense Now and Then, it is, perhaps, a bit odd that the local populace would view the Oompa-Loompas with fascination rather than, albeit misplaced, ANGER.

Dahl makes the closing of the factory, in a way, the hero. Wonka re-opens the factory and the townspeople rush back to return to their jobs, only to find the gates barred before them and the Oompa-Loompas looking down at them through windows. There is not even a hint of a suggestion that the workers have a right to be a little perturbed by this development. Keep in mind that worker rights, class tensions, and civil rights were all subjects that were being tackled actively during the time when the book was written. Raold used these elements as nothing more than a canvass upon which to trace a children's story, seeming to spare not a thought for the issues that were brought up.

Do we really need to debunk whether a candy bar can be teleported? Or, do we need to challenge the idea that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was anything more than a heap of racist, imperialistic, and exploitative trash? Willy Wonka was not a gentle and eccentric benefactor. Far from it! He was, in most respects, an embodiment of all the negative aspects of Western civilization, including racism, greed, superiority, unquestionable privilege, and more.

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