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Go to hell, Grandpa Joe

I love Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  The real one, not that godforsaken Tim Burton/Johnny Depp atrocity.  Gene Wilder is brilliant and though his Willy Wonka is friendly and warm, he is also clearly a little unhinged.  The morality tale is the classic that everyone remembers and adores, and the one I feel is best representative of Roald Dahl's book, which I recently read to my boys and is as brilliant and funny and crazy as you might remember.

That being said, I hate Grandpa Joe.

Charlie is a paragon of virtue throughout the whole tale.  He is honest and open and not subject to all the awfulness and excesses of the other Golden Ticket holders.  I will never understand why he chose to take Grandpa Joe instead of his hardworking and long-suffering mother.  In all other ways (with one notable exception, which I will get into in a second), Charlie makes all the right decisions, and stands for all the virtue and goodness that our parents wanted for us, and that we want for our own children.  Why then did he take this old lazy peer-pressuring vindictive asshole to the factory as his plus one?

Ok, before you get out the torches and pitchforks, maybe I should lay it out for you.

1. Grandpa Joe is a bum.

This guy has been laying in bed for years, for YEARS while Charlie's mother is working her ass off sixteen plus hours a day to feed her kid and the old folk.  She is in the laundry morning noon and night, they can barely afford the crappy little shack they live in, the only thing Charlie gets for his birthday is a single chocolate bar, that he is so grateful to have that he doesn't even eat the thing for weeks, he just sniffs the wrapper.  Meanwhile, while Charlie's mom is putting in a hundred hours a week at the laundry just so everyone doesn't starve to death, Grandpa Joe is chilling in bed, laying about like there's nothing he can do.  Oh yeah, it is said that he's an invalid, unable to do anything to contribute, but who is suddenly leaping about the shack when it seems that there is something in it for him?  Suddenly, when there's a Golden Ticket in the house, Grandpa Joe is dancing around and singing I've got a Golden Ticket, like he was the one that brought it in the house, instead of Charlie.  Oh sure, he's a little wobbly at first, but that's just because he's been laying on his lazy goldbricking ass for so long.  It only takes him a minute, then he is fit as a fiddle, hopping about like Fred Astaire.  I'm thinking: Hey Joe, if you were physically able to go to the Chocolate Factory, how about maybe getting a damn job so everyone is not stuck drinking cabbage water every night?  I don't know, maybe pick up some of the slack, so Charlie's mom isn't searing all the flesh off of her arms with boiling water and lye every night to feed your sloth ass.  How about you stop dancing and pick up a job application instead?

2. Joe is selfish.

This is a related point to him being a bum, but I feel it needs addressed.  OK, so he gives Charlie a chocolate bar for his birthday, right?  And that's very nice, the kid has it hard enough with that haircut, and the questionable teaching methods he is getting at school; he deserves something nice.  Here's the thing about that though: Grandpa Joe says that he paid for the bar from his tobacco money!  TOBACCO MONEY?  Are you shitting me, Joe?  You haven't worked a day in the last decade, and you're holding back tobacco money?  How about maybe instead of buying some nice cherry blend for your evening pipe, you throw that in the grocery kitty so Charlie can get a bit of protein every once in a while?  What do you need to smoke for, Joe?  You need to relax?  You lay in bed all day, Joe.  You haven't had a job in years, Joe.  What could possibly be stressing you out so much?  Guilt maybe?

3. Grandpa Joe peer pressures his own grandson into stealing Fizzy Lifting Drink.

This would be pretty messed up even if it didn't nearly get them killed and cost them the prize, but it did both of those things, pushing this in to unforgivable territory.  Grandpa Joe tells Charlie, It's OK buddy, let's have a sip even though Willy Wonka expressly forbid it moments ago.  Come on little fella, no one's looking.  Charlie, the good boy that he is, trusts his grandpa, the old jackass, and is nearly chopped up in an exhaust fan for his trouble.  This follows a classic scenario:  a creepy old guy tries to get you to ingest something, the real effects of which are unclear, and you think to yourself 'hey he's just an old man, what could be the harm?'  So you choose to ignore the pedo-moustache, and trust that everything will be fine.  But it is only after you start getting higher and higher that you realize that you probably shouldn't have trusted that old man and you begin to feel like you could really die.  "Oh no," you think, "I'm too high! I'm too young to die!"  But then you slowly start coming down and everything seems to be OK again.  Never again, am I right?  I like to think that Charlie, like the rest of us, learned this important lesson the hard way, and it is this very experience that leads him to go against Grandpa Joe's terrible advice near the end of the movie, which brings me to my last point.

4. Grandpa Joe tells Charlie to keep the Everlasting Gobstopper, and nearly costs them the Factory.

This is the worst thing Grandpa does in the movie in my opinion, if only because of the far reaching consequences of his pig-headed vindictiveness.  We know how this plays out right?  Wonka says, you stole Fizzy Lifting Drink! You lose! You get nothing, etc.  And then he finishes with my personal favorite that I use all the time in real life: "I said good day, sir!" Then Grandpa Joe tells Charlie, if Slugworth wants a Gobstopper, we will give him one.  But Charlie is a good boy.  Charlie is everything that all those other kids aren't.  Charlie is everything Joe himself isn't.  He gives the Everlasting Gobstopper back, thus passing Wonka's final test.  It all works out in the end for Charlie, and also for Grandpa Joe, through no help of his own, and it's all glass elevators all around and whathaveyou.  But what if Charlie had listened to Grandpa Joe?  What if he had listened to the very shitbird that had got them into this situation in the first place?  Grandpa Joe urged Charlie to try the Fizzy Lifting Drink, and then to compound this error in judgement, urges him to keep the Gobstopper, and if Charlie had listened to his beloved Grandpa, it would have been back to the shack with the cabbage water and his mom working herself to death.  Grandpa Joe encourages Charlie to be as big of a douchebag as himself, and it nearly costs them everything!  I wonder, maybe old Joe was afraid that living in the factory, he wouldnt be able to go back to bed.  Maybe he was afraid that if he moved into the factory, some Oompa-Loompas would make him work for his tobacco money, instead of being able to lounge around all day.

It all works out in the end for Charlie, but only because he was strong enough to step up and ignore the poor advice he is given by an adult.  In a way, Charlie is the best kind of rebel: honest open and thoughtful, but not afraid to do the right thing in the face of mindless authority.

God bless you, Charlie Bucket.

Grandpa Joe, you suck.      

 Still Writing,



  1. I believe the point of Grampa Joe is to show the goodness of Charlie. I believe that I see Grampa Joe in most of us, so he's still a good character. But, point taken.

    1. Joe as a counterpoint to Charlie's goodness? Interesting. I hadn't really thought of that, that he was a literary device to accentuate the virtue of our protagonist. OK, I like it. Dude is still a jackhole, though.


  2. Devil's advocate:

    There's a lot of history behind Ol' Joe. Remember, he was laid off when Willie Wonka axed all the local workers and found some cheaper labor (Oompa Loompas).

    Maybe Joe was harboring some animosity over that. "Fuck that robber baron mother fucker. Don't listen to him! Lets drink his fizzy stuff and steal his gobstopper!"

    Maybe Joe is a case of social entitlement. Disillusioned by failure and unwilling to play the game, he opted to do nothing at all – at the expense of his family, of course, but don't social ills always affect the least deserving?

    Maybe Charlie's virtue is really just fear-driven obedience. What did he really do anyways?...Get lucky and obey? At least Joe worked at the factory at some point. What do the hard working little orange guys get?

    Joe is a victim of capitalism who got beat down by life and was ultimately reduced to a welfare case. Wonka is a greedy opportunist. The Oompa Loompas are the exploited labor force.

    Charlie is the bullshit lie we're all supposed to believe. "Even when things are tough, just obey and be patient. It will pay off." Everyone else in that story is a victim Wonka's greedy ambition, including Joe and Charlie's poor mom.

    Joe is a nice little scapegoat but so are the welfare cases in this country. We're all so distracted by our squabbling for crumbs that we forget about the people who stole the rest of the loaf.

    Grandpa Joe, go to hell. You are old, weak willed, and a burden to your family. Charlie, you are a nice boy, and someday you might grow some balls. Willy Wonka, FUCK YOU!!!!!

    1. Wonka shut down the factory and got rid of all his human labor because he was tired of all his secrets being stolen through industrial espionage. It wasn't a cash grab, like Burger King moving their corporate offices offshore to avoid paying taxes. He was just tired of getting ripped off. Given Joe's quick willingness to sell the gobstopper to Slugworth I have to imagine he didn't get laid off, he got busted with his hand in the till.

      I can't get behind the idea of Charlie as a model for obedience; He ultimately disobeys the known authority in his life, Grandpa Joe, and does the right thing. I cannot believe the notion of honesty, perseverance, and hard work paying off is necessarily a lie, either. I believe we get to choose how we live, how we interact with the people around us, and that that will be reflected in the quality of your life and relationships. It may not always look like you want it to, or as you daydreamed it to be, but you will in the end get the world of your own making, be it horrible or loving.

      Wonka as a Robber Baron is a thought I have had, especially when it comes to the Oompa Loompas. It does seem a little "Big Daddy White Boss knows best" to displace an entire indigenous population and make them live and work in your chocolate factor "for their own safety." There had to be dissent amongst the Loompas when this happened, a group of them that argued for finding a Loompa solution to a Loompa problem, rather than losing their autonomy and homeland. "We can handle schnozzwangers and vermicious knids," they must have said, "but once relinquished, we can never regain our culture and homes." But we see more and more that fear and the illusion of safety wins out over freedom and individual rights.

  3. Wonka built a candy empire through hard work and smart business. What’s wrong with that? He should be rewarded for his labor, and if he want’s to give his company to Charlie Bieber, well, that’s his call and no one else’s. The Ooompa loompas don’t seem to be complaining about having a job. Joe was probably slacking on the job, so Wonka fired him and got some workers with a better attitude.

    Entitlements are killing America, not capitalism. If you want to know how well communism works out, just look at the USSR. That worked out reeeaaalll well. It’s a good thing we only have a little more time with Obama or we might find ourselves there soon enough.

    We need less Grandpa Joes and more Joe the plumbers. If you don’t want to to work, get on a plane and go to Russia. Say hi to Snowden for me.

    1. OK. So I agree that the factory is Wonka's and is the result of his evident genius. He is very welcome to give his factory to whomever he chooses.

      However, first of all, it is Charlie Bucket, not Charlie Bieber, who I can only assume is Justin's little brother, and is of no relevance to this discussion.

      Also,the Oompa Loompas essentially represent outsourcing, the loss of jobs at home to a cheaper and more pliable foreign workforce. Given your later statements, it seems that this is a concept that should be distasteful to you.

      Joe the Plumber is, in my mind, associated with Sarah Palin, and therefore cannot be taken seriously.

      Entitlements were conceived in the 1930's after the unchecked capitalism and greed that you seem to be supporting crashed the American economy (the first time), and we literally had Americans starving to death.

      Snowden is in exile because he exposed the government's illegal spying on American citizens, amongst other abuses of privacy and freedom. I would think someone who leans right would be supportive of a check on government overreach.

      Also, the "Murica. love it or leave it" argument is not an argument at all but a way to shut down a reasoned discussion.

      Furthermore, politics are boring.


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