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In the movie "Don't look up"(2021) when the main protagonists are waiting in the White House to talk to the President, the older uniformed general that is waiting with them sells them snacks.

Later they find out the snacks were actually free.

This incident bugs the main character Kate Dibiasky, and she discusses it with others a few times in the remainder of the movie.

Does this scam reference anything in American movies or popular culture in general? Is it just random? It could be a reference to human greed and abuse of power in general, and thus fit in with the main theme of the movie.

2 Answers 2

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To me it was just another way of showing the false sense of attention the different protagonists are putting on things. Low attention span and an ill-focused behaviour on both sides.

  1. the general should have a comfortable income to not rely on selling snacks to anybody
  2. the general should have the self-value to not belittle himself to a petty scam
  3. the general should have more important duties to attend to than selling snacks
  4. the end of the world is at stake and there should be nothing more important to him
  5. the scientists should also not lose their focus, yet they do. the snacks distract them first and later the scam

It is also a way of showing that many things in todays society might be coated as politeness, decency and generousity, yet when you look behind the facade, the provider is actually the main beneficiary.

Having said that, the movie does play a game of hit and miss when it comes to references and metaphors. I would chalk this one up as one of the more low-brow parts of the movie. Unless some deeper meaning eluded me.

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    Could there also be a comment about the value that many Americans place on capitalism, materialism, and money in this scene? Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 18:46
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    How dare you attack my people with apt observations. Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 18:57
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    I think your observations are correct. It also adds an element of absurdist humor. It's funny because it doesn't make any sense. I mean really, why would a general in the US Army sell free snacks to guests in the White House???
    – Seth R
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 3:00
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    One could argue it's an example of how the government's resources are being sold off in a bid for capitalist privatization and self-enrichment by high placed officials (similar claims have recently been made in the real world), which contributes to the core plot of everyone having selfish priorities over the common good. However, it's not 100% clear if that was in the writers' minds or not. I reckon it was, but I cannot prove that.
    – Flater
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 3:33
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    It's not surprising that a metaphor or two fell short. The movie is hilarious, but its central metaphor is a little lacking. It's meant to be a satire of people's attitudes towards climate change, an anthropogenic catastrophe that, according to reputable estimates, could cause 100 million deaths by 2100, disproportionately in lower-income countries. So naturally, the film is about a natural catastrophe that will kill everyone equally on a very short timetable. Transplanting a variety of people and ideas from the first situation to the second means that they end up making less sense.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 16:25
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It could be a reference to human greed and abuse of power in general, and thus fit in with the main theme of the movie.

The general is listed in the credits as "General Themes" so the filmmakers are telling us that he does represent the main themes of the movie, and not a pop-culture reference.

We can see the meaning of this theme from Kate Dibiasky's pondering:

"He’s a three-star general. He works at the Pentagon. Why would he charge us for free snacks?"
"He knew eventually that I was going to find out that the snacks were free. You know what I mean? So it was just like a power play"

The general represents powerful people who needlessly take advantage of people for profit, despite not needing the money in any way. Other reviewers have made similar analyses.

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