Film Club: “Repo Man” Turns 25

The cult classic film “Repo Man” turns 25 this year, and I’d like to mark the occasion by quoting this exchange between two of the lead characters. The context here is the moral justification for taking away people’s cars by stealth and subterfuge–an activity that looks very much like simple auto theft–when those people fail to make their contractual payments. According to Bud, the wizened Yoda to Otto’s Luke, repo work not only isn’t “stealing,” it’s a blow for justice and the American Way:

Bud: Credit is a sacred trust, it’s what our free society is founded on. Do you think they give a damn about their bills in Russia? I said, do you think they give a damn about their bills in Russia?

Otto: They don’t pay bills in Russia, it’s all free.

There’s something poignant now, even charmingly retro in the post-apocalyptic financescape of 2009, about the phrase “Credit is a sacred trust.” It seems to belong to another world.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan might have been thinking of Bud when he said in a 1990 commencement address at Harvard College,

Trust is at the root of any economic system based on mutually beneficial exchange. In virtually all transactions, we rely on the word of those with whom we do business…If a significant number of business people violated the trust upon which our interac­tions are based, our court system and our economy would be swamped into immo­bility.

Prophecy, or just a gloss of the Gospel According to “Repo Man?” You decide.

As for Otto’s utopian vision of the Russian socio-economic complex, credit cards and cowboy capitalism put an end to all that. For an excellent account (no pun intended), see Prof. Alya Guseva’s recent book, Into the Red (Stanford University Press, 2008).

Meanwhile, Happy Birthday “Repo Man!”



Filed under essay

2 responses to “Film Club: “Repo Man” Turns 25

  1. Repo Man may have turned 25 this year but Repo! The Genetic Opera was just recently released. It too has a number of great scenes for economic sociology (especially about the creation of black markets, and also about the social role played by debt and health). It’s a ridiculous movie only playing in a few spots around the country, but worth watching if you get a chance.

    • feminaeconomica

      Dear Dan,
      I live in Germany, so seeing American films of any sort on the big screen is a huge hassle…the films take about two months to reach theatres here, *and* the Germans dub virtually everything. (Keeps their actors employed, I suppose.) So the chances are virtually nil that I’ll be able to see “The Genetic Opera” in the conventional way. Perhaps if someone makes it available online…
      In the meantime, I have to thank you profusely for the link on your site to…that site is literally the incarnation of my sociology-meets-pop-culture fantasies.
      Yours in market mockery,

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