The Philosophical Bond of Resistance
Caterina Del Sordo
Money Heist originally appeared as a Spanish TV show called “La Casa de Papel”. Netflix acquired global streaming rights in December 2017, and within a few months the series became one of the most watched TV shows in the world and the most watched non-English language series on Netflix. The creator and executive producer of Money Heist, Álex Pina, comments on the unexpected world-wide success of his series, saying, “We realized that people had a bond with the show that was beyond just entertainment. […] This was another level. […] It was almost like a philosophical bond” (Money Heist: The Phenomenon). Pina is right. A philosophy of resistance bonds Money Heist and its audience together.
Red jumpsuits, Salvador Dalì masks, and the song “Bella Ciao” capture the public’s attention both in the show and in the real world. As one can see in the Netflix documentary Money Heist: The Phenomenon, the mask, the costume, and the song have been adopted and repurposed all over the world as symbols of civil rights protests and in the service of causes like feminism and environmental justice.
According to the Netflix documentary, one of the fans’ favorite characters is Andrés de Fonollosa, aka Berlin, who is often obnoxious, misogynistic, and narcissistic. Berlin sharply diverges from one of the other favourite characters, Sergio Marquina aka The Professor. The Professor strictly observes behavioral norms—e.g. do not kill, do not shed blood. By contrast, Berlin seems to accept the same norms but violates them whenever it suits him. Despite their differences, these two characters are bound by the theme of resistance.
Resistance is a pervasive concept. It occurs in electromagnetism, as the measure of an object’s opposition to a certain flow of electric current; in human history, as the physical and moral endurance in warfare and contests; in political philosophy and jurisprudence, as the right to oppose illegitimate authority; in physical exercises, as the body works out against weights, bands or forces; and so forth. In philosophy, resistance can be taken as an aspect of phrónesis, or practical wisdom.
José Medina’s Epistemology of Resistance (2013) develops a virtue-based ethics of knowing in which resistance is a dianoetic virtue, an admirable character trait that any knower should nurture. An epistemic agent is virtuously resistant when, under conditions of oppression or disadvantage, he or she manages to gain momentum and put into doubt feelings of inferiority. Resistance fosters the understanding of different cognitive and epistemic perspectives (Medina 2013, pp.40-50, passim). Widening epistemic horizons may bring about improvements in affective as well as cognitive life conditions of people who are subjugated, discriminated against, or marginalized (ibid., James 1977, pp. 271-3).
Berlin and The Professor undoubtedly represent disadvantaged subjects. Following the Money Heist story line, we discover that they are brothers from a poor and unfortunate family. They both have suffered from serious, disabling illnesses. Their father spent his time planning robberies to provide his sons with the best medical treatments, and he was killed in front of a bank while carrying out a heist. Resistance emerges as Berlin and The Professor react to their negative life conditions with creativity and force. Their situation of disadvantage has fostered their epistemic virtues, including critical thought, lucidity, and practical wisdom.
Their heists are carried out after a deep study and examination of the mechanism of money circulation. The result is a redistribution of wealth and knowledge among a group of poorly educated and marginalized people. In their resistance, Berlin and The Professor can thus be seen as virtuous and praiseworthy individuals from the point of view of an ethics of resistance.
So, we have an explanation of the philosophical bond that Álex Pina noted. There is an unconscious and collective approval among the audience for a resistance-based ethics that transforms the “bad guys” of Money Heist into widely celebrated heroes.
Caterina Del Sordo Ph.D., is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florence, Italy. She has obtained a double Ph.D. at the University of Urbino (Italy) and at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU (Spain). Her research is mainly focused on the epistemology and ontology of neutral monism and their historical and theoretical connection with the philosophy of the early logical empiricism.
James, W. (1977), The Writings of William James (McDermott, J. J. ed.) University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Medina, J. (2013), The Epistemology of Resistance. Gender and Racial Oppression, Epistemic Injustice and Resistance Imaginations, Oxford University Press, New York.