“The House of Paper” as a social critique

The Professor bending over his “House of Paper”. From La Casa de Papel, Season 1 – 4 available on Netflix.

I love La Casa de Papel because of its blatantly subversive nature. It takes a lot guts to be different, and more to act different. La Casa de Papel has something to say about our society and is skilful in saying it. In a world where the freedom of speech cannot be taken for granted in many countries, the honesty and bravery demonstrated by La Casa de Papel should be appreciated and preserved.

La Casa de Papel literally means the “House of Paper”. In the series, there is literally a house made of card boards – the model of the Royal Mint that the Professor uses in the planning of the heist. This house also forms the focus of opening sequence (which I think its a very engaging piece of art). So the house of paper takes on several roles in the narrative. It is a the title of the series, a symbol of a social system, a prop, AND a music video.

This is a brilliant name for the series with layers of subtexts that only slowly reveal themselves to the audience as the plot progresses. The “House of Paper” refers to the Royal Mint of Spain in the first two seasons, where Euro bank notes are printed*. Therefore, the Mint is literally the House of Money, the origin of money and the beating heart of the economy. As the Professor stresses more than once, these colourful little pieces of paper that many would die for, are just a piece of paper! Materialistically it is of very little value. Its value is symbolic, and like all symbols, it is arbitrary and contingent. Its value relies on the fact that some people are allowed to create them and most are not. A “house” is an institution, symbolising the family and the basic unit of a society. But a house made of paper threatens to collapse by the slightest blow and would leave its occupants exposed and vulnerable. And that is exactly what La Casa de Papel is doing. Through the personal stories of the characters, the meticulous execution of the heist as well as the incompetence of the police, La Casa de Papel questions the vulnerability of an impersonal social structure and challenges it with utopian optimism that inequality can be overcome.

That brings me to one criticism of the series. Both the translations “Haus des Geldes” in German and “Money Heist” fail to do the original version justice. It is obvious that the Spanish producers deliberately avoid the word “money” in naming the series. But some translators chose to ignore it. What are some motives to downplay the subversive tone of this series? The fear of criticism? The desire to fit in mass media culture?

Red – the colour of revolution, blood, and passion, forms a very engaging visual for the series “La Casa de Papel“, Season 1-4 available on Netflix.

The popularity of La Casa de Papel surged in the last two years, which says a lot about the Netflix generation. The series gained enormous popularity because its social critique and utopian vision resonate well among its audience. As audience we enjoy the voyeurism of looking into a crime, itself a subversive action, through the lens of a camera at the ease of our home. We are comforted and excited by the prospects of breaking away from an established system, toppling hierarchies, rewriting the rules, reestablishing the values and changing our fate. We hope that Nairobi, Tokyo, Helsinki, Rio and maybe even Berlin will be able to find peace and security in a new life offered by the heist. We hope they will succeed. It is not just because we sympathise with their suffering as a marginalised group of the society, but also because we project this kind of optimism into our lives – we too, want to write our own rules and take our destiny into our own hands, we too want to break away from what we are taught / told to do and find peace with our unique identities. These visions resonate with the Netflix generation because, like the characters with city names, we are disappointed in our systems and crave for a change.

But most of us are too afraid to be the change, so instead we watch series like La Casa de Papel to admire the courage that we wish to have.

*This is a fictional plot device. The Royal Mint of Spain in Madrid is in reality only responsible for the manufacturing of coins and the Royal Mint in Burgos is responsible for the banknotes. Also, the first two seasons of the series are not filmed in the real Royal Mint but the Spanish National Research Council. 

Posted in TV

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