The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Culture Corner:
The Knick & The 42nd Parallel

Sep 4, 2023

TV Series: The Knick, 2014—2015, now streaming on Max

The Knick tells the story of medical practices in a fictionalized version of the actual Knickerbocker hospital in Harlem at the very beginning of the 20th century. The episodes depict so many issues of the day: ambulance drivers facing physical fights over patients, the fight for safe birth control and pregnancy care and the fight for access to health care for Black, immigrant and poor populations. And the arrogance of doctors and hospital administrators in the midst of this struggle. Looking at this history, you can say in some ways, we’ve come a long way. But in other ways, nothing has changed.

Book: The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos, 1930

This book is the first in his trilogy U.S.A. and tells the story of a number of fictional people from 1900 up to the beginning of WWI. His writing captures America in the violent throes of capitalist expansion. Dos Passos focuses on ordinary people caught in and chewed up by these tumultuous waves. He satirizes the underbelly of the great American dream, where everyone is out for a buck before “the whole thing goes belly up.”

Unemployment, injuries on the job, high costs of housing, racism, sexism, treatment of the elderly, rip-off scams and how to make a quick buck, and finally world war in all its horror are all laid out as everyday life in this modern America. The book has stood the test of time and even today raises issues that are still not yet solved: do we continue to put up with the chaos of predatory capitalism or do we build a society where our labor is used to meet our needs?