The Oppressive Values Of Power In Catch 22 And The Checkout

November 9, 2021 by Essay Writer

Whilst Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 condemns the US Air Force’s tyrannical ruling by exposing the superiors’ absurd justification of their actions and the resulting proliferation of cynicism among soldiers, Julian Morrow’s The Checkout elevates the oppressed consumers in the context of modern society, and promotes direct rebellion against the oppressive companies and corporations. Nonetheless, both works are testaments to the power of scathing social commentary which discredit and ridicule oppressive values. Thus, both works reunite in their ways of inducing the audience’ critical reflection on the necessity of challenging oppressive constraints.

Influenced by an underlying sense of distrust that characterised the post WW2 period, composers seek to explore the impacts that oppressive political construct inflict on soldiers. Such is true of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, a Juvenalian satire which points a targeted attack on the problematic personal integrity of the air force’s superiors and their absurd justification of their actions. Through the implementation of satirical techniques, namely subversion, irony, burlesque and exaggeration, Heller effectively lampoons the superiors for their ineptitude in managing the army due to the extent they are blinded by greed and hypocrisy. This is exemplified by the repetitive acts of superiors of subverting moral and professional expectations. Through Captain Black’s ‘patriotic’ Loyalty Oath Crusade, which stems from his hatred towards Major Major’s swift promotion in ranks, Heller creates the tension underlying power and personal morality, whilst highlighting the viciousness of infighting that the leaders exert, in the pursuit of fame and profit.Through Colonel Cathcart’s ‘bravery in volunteering’ the men for continuous flight missions while insisting that it is his job to give ‘spiritual support’ by ‘staying back and praying for the soldiers’, Heller exposes the nonchalance leaders hold while risking others lives. Through Milo’s brazen readiness to cooperate with Germans, Heller exposes Milo’s hypocritical suggestion that it is his ‘contractual obligation’ to protect (the Germans’) rights as shareholders’ and ‘what’s good for the enterprise is good for the army’.

Whilst these immoral acts ultimately result in the suppression of values, the superiors justify their acts as ‘process of a rational mind’ for the concern of (oneself) and for the ‘ultimate goal’. Hence, Heller uses the subversion of heroism and irony to shed light on the distortion of justice, capturing the hypocrisy in the superiors’ aggressive enforcement of ‘catch 22’ as ‘patriotism’; superiors, who behave negligently and harmfully, are encouraged and praised, whilst those who protest against the immoral acts are labelled ‘unpatriotic’.

Consequently, Heller uses this sarcastic revelation to expose the audience to the cynicism that proliferates when individuals display sycophancy and cling to these oppressive values; Individuals start to turn to social conformity to gain identities; Doc Daneeka, who refuses to ground Yossarian in fear of displeasing Colonel Cathcart and getting transferred to the Pacific Ocean, insists that Yossarian should ‘smile and make the best of it’ and ‘a little grease is what makes the world go round’. Through the characterisation of Doc Daneeka, Heller points out the evasive and cynical mindset that individuals possess after they realise the necessity of conformity. Gus and Wes’ s ‘stoic surprise’ in Doc Daneeka’s social death further demonstrates the absurdity of individuals’ tendency to comply with blatant paradoxes. Hence, Heller paints a bleak picture on the progression of the post-war society: a society where the decay of moral engenders the distortion of justice; a society where people are pleased with the justification of a ‘catch 22’, conform, and refuse to confront the absurd and restrictive expectations imposed upon them.

Heller further highlights the results of the superiors’ paradoxical justification through portraying the dehumanisation of soldiers. Heller’s extensive use of strong motifs emphasise the physical and emotional burdens that are placed on soldiers as a result of the oppressive political construct. This is evident in Yossarian’s constant recount of Snowden’s death, Hungry Joe’s constant suffering from shellshock, and the appearance of The Soldier in White in the hospital. Heller uses these key moments to accentuate the helplessness soldiers feel towards social conformity to dictated truths, thus compelling the audience to reflect critically on the paradoxical explanations of the army’s superiors and inducing their urge to counteract social conformity to the oppressive values.

In caricaturing the sexual characteristics of women: the ‘nubile breasts’,’the squashy thighs’ ‘the voluptuous flesh’ and the employment of Gallows humour in these women’s cruel treatments and deaths, Heller exposes the misogyny that is prevalent, condemning the soldiers for objectifying women as ‘instruments of pleasure’, whilst emphasising the extent to which they are willinging of blurring the boundary between love and lust and using ‘seeking mental comfort’ as a ‘catch 22’ to get away with their cynical justification.

All of these serve to explicitly satirise the superiors’ oppressive ruling: the prioritisation of the fulfillment of the leaders over the experience of victims of war, also the resulting cynicism that begins to proliferate among individuals. Thus, Heller calls into question the reliability of the superiors, inducing the readers’ empathetic immersion in the characters’ struggles and their reflection on the soldiers’ lack of initiative in challenging the oppressive values.

Influenced by a climate of anxiety due to the irrational justification of the oppressors, Heller further seeks to capture individuals’ struggles to retain personal identity whilst enduring the expectation of social conformity. This is evident in the novel’s distinct portrayal of the juxtaposition between the philosophical values of cynicism and optimism.

Whilst Yossarian remains a symbol of impotence in the face of ‘duty’, Orr and Chaplain Tappman successfully resolve the catch 22 conundrum. Through the chaplain’s progression from struggling to maintain faith in God to the rejection of social conformity and Orr’s constant practices in crash-landing and eventual escape to Sweden, Orr and Chaplain Tappman act as the embodiment of persistence and willingness of risking one’s life to retain one’s unique values. Hence, Heller uses the juxtaposition between these two characters and others to reinforce the necessity of challenging oppressive construct, and the success of achieving autonomy and individualism if an individual persistently retains his values.

Heller’s assertion against social conformity and cynicism is further encapsulated through the destruction of Rome. It is through the old woman’s explanation of a ‘catch 22’ makes the soldiers chase the girls away that Yossarian further sees the ‘sanctimonious, ruthless sense of right and dedication’ of the oppressive superiors. It is through seeing’ a boy with a pale, sickly face’that Yossarian is reminded of ‘the (crippled), the hungry…the dumb and passive, that he is reminded of the fragility of human. It is through the repetitive questioning of ‘How many happy endings (are) unhappy ending? How many honest men were liars … how many sainted men were corrupt?’ that Yossarian truly realises the destruction that catch 22 wreaks beyond the battlefront. Hence, Heller intensifies the feeling of loss of individuality and values that result from the absurd logic of ‘catch 22’, whilst prompting the audience to question the pragmatism of the justification of oppressive values and the cynicism of social conformity.

The necessity of this engagement in defying the oppressors is effectively urged through Yossarian’s final revisit of Snowden’s death. Each repetition in ‘I am cold’, ‘There, there’ accentuates the inevitability of death and the purpose of life being to retain one’s unique identity, the ‘spirit’, for ‘the spirit gone’, man is garbage’. Hence, Heller empowers the characters to resist the denial of autonomy they are coerced to accept. Therefore, the audience alongside Yossarian, are encouraged to see value in themselves and defy these dictations. This central way of thinking which asserts a value in the human spirit instead of arbitrary expectations has therefore, been revealed when Yossarian resolves to retain his values and flee to Sweden, even if it means defying authority and risking his own life.

As the tendency towards social conformity is tied to these struggles of retaining one’s unique identity, Heller points a satirical attack on the oppressors’ absurd political construct, whilst elucidating the necessity of preserving individuals’ values and inducing the audience’s critical reflection on the progression of society if the oppressive superiors are left unchallenged. Julian Morrow extends this by elevating the oppressed and encourages the audience to directly voice their complaints and confront the oppressors in The Checkout.

Exemplifying as a satirical comedy, in the current climate of frequently-observed misconduct in the Australian workplace, Julian Morrow’s The Checkout exposes the audience to the unethical conduct that oppressive companies adopt to gain profit and the resulting breach of consumer rights, thus positioning the audience to question and challenge the actions of these companies.

Morrow effectively informs the audience through the power of the presenters to relate to and engage with the audience using satirical techniques.

This is evident in the scene where presenters expose health product companies’ immoral acts. Morrow highlights the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)’s inadequacy in dealing with companies’ ethical conduct. Whilst it is stated that applicants for selling a product must ‘hold evidence to support indications made about it’, presenter Craig exposes the ‘loopholes’ that companies exploit, a major one being ‘Claims can be made based on evidence of traditional use’, as long as the ‘indications must not imply efficacy’. The paradoxical justification about the product therefore, reveals the evasive mindsets that companies can take ie. to change the term ‘scientifically researched’ to ‘traditionally used’, in order to gain profit, whilst exposing the leniency of the TGA in dealing with these acts.

This attitude of distrust towards oppressive companies is amplified through Morrow’s frequent use of parody. A slogan used by Craig: ‘Government-approved is good, celebrity-proved is better’ makes an intertextual reference to the famous line of Orwell’s Animal Farm, which not only produces comic relief, but also plays on many consumers’ belief that celebrities are to be trusted based on their fame. However, Morrow highlights how companies have been capitalising on the fame of celebrities unethically as an advertising campaign; In order to evade the TGA’s regulations, companies often use the terms ‘Official clinical study’ and ‘independently tested’ to sound convincing. But Morrow uses irony in the fact that the testing institutes are funded by the companies, with the testers paid by the companies, to expose the immoral acts of these companies, thus prompting the audience to question the reliability and legitimacy of their advertisements.

Morrow explores individual’s response to a state of powerlessness by reflecting a pervasive climate of anxiety amidst an age of unreliable advertising practices. This is done effectively through parody in Kirsten’s encounter with the toaster salesperson. The salesperson’s hurried tone and steady bombardment of the toaster’s incentives ‘four loaves of multigrain toast’,’great for crumpets’ establishes him as knowledgeable and ‘trustworthy’, thus compelling the consumer to purchase the toaster, only to miss important information such as ‘locked to us as the bread provider’. The laconic responses from Kirsten highlights the powerful effect of the salesperson’s assertive manner and ‘persuasive’ languages. However, Morrow uses the contrast in reality: Kirsten’s frustration at the toaster being a ‘typical Vodatoast’, to emphasise the salesperson’s brazen readiness to compromise the trust that the consumers invest in him, thus highlighting the extent oppressive companies are blinded by profit to use misleading advertising strategies that breaches consumer rights.

Consequently, Morrow also satirises oppressive companies for their defensive behaviour that they adopt in an effort to obscure their unethical conduct. This is evident in the reporters’ real life confrontations with the large corporations. By integrating the context of Coles and woolworths using their intellectual property to get away with undercutting brands, Craig challenges their actions by inventing brands ‘Cules’ and ‘Woolworthless’ in the companies’ territories to sell ‘undercutted’ brands. His use of condescending tone and rhetorical questions towards the companies’ managers eg. ‘You are not going to use your market market to clamp down on competition, are you?’ emphasises an ironic effect when they deem Craig’s advertising ‘unethical’. The laconic responses and blank facial expressions of the companies’ managers further contrast with the Craig’s assertiveness, which are indicative of the guilt that they feel towards their own unjust advertising campaign.

To enhance this pervasive atmosphere of distrust towards the oppressive companies, the implementation of exaggeration and parody through the ‘rational consumer’ scene, which features a conversation between Craig and Dr. Harrison, further targets oppressive companies for the psychological impacts their unethical conduct inflict on the consumers. Throughout the conversation, Dr. Harrison constantly expounds on ‘cognitive effects of deceptive advertising’, the prospect theory ‘risk seeking in choices involving sure losses’, and ‘mood states influence affect consumer behaviour’, urging that Craig should make rational choices in a society where misleading advertising is common. Whilst the exaggeration and humour infused engages the audience, Craig’s frequent reliance on the professor’ suggestions and ‘annoyance’ towards psychological theories effectively reflect the doubtful mind that consumers have, thus accentuating the sense of insecurity that consumers feel due to the frequent, misleading advertising behaviours of oppressive companies.

Furthermore, with the inclusion of the channel ‘Fu Tube’, which shares stories of citizens encountering cases of companies behaving unethically, Morrow accentuates the helplessness that the consumers feel, and highlights how they could use social media to voice their complaints and challenge the oppressors.

Thus, The Checkout challenges the inherently flawed mindset of the large corporations as they gain fame and profit whilst breaching consumers’ rights and compromising consumers’ trust. Likewise, Heller’s Catch 22 exposes the oppressive ruling of the superiors, critiques individuals’ malleability and inclination to adhere and showcases the necessity to confront the oppressors, even if it means defying oppositions. Hence, both texts are united in the authors’ perspectives on challenging the oppressors as their characters ultimately amplify the audience’s questioning of the reliability of the oppressors and induce their reflection on the potential for change and achieving justice if individuals decide to challenge the oppressive acts.


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