The term “the Fifth Estate” was used many times during the coverage of the WikiLeaks saga, so when this week’s Julian Assange movie was titled The Fifth Estate, you probably thought, Well, naturally. And yet, when pressed, do you know what the other four estates are? Many of us didn’t, and we’re tired of living in fear that someone will call us on it. So, here’s a quick primer on estates one through four — as well as a bonus suggestion of other movies you can watch based on each one. Check them all out before going to see the new Benedict Cumberbatch movie and give yourself an Estate quintuple feature.
The idea of a fifth estate is a relatively modern addition to terminology that was in use in medieval and early modern Europe, when many kingdoms were divided into three so-called “estates of the realm” — groupings based on one’s role in society. The first estate was the Roman Catholic clergy. The second estate was the nobility. The third estate was everyone else. (When France’s third estate picked a fight with the other two estates, it kicked off the French Revolution.) The “fourth estate” wasn’t an official thing — that term started being used around the time of the Revolution to euphemistically refer to the press, because they were sort of their own power center, set apart from everyone else. Now that you know all that, you are officially ready to ace the AP European History exam.
The fifth estate, then, is yet another euphemism, but a much more modern one. It’s been used in the past few decades to describe folks who are even more outside the system than journalists: bloggers, grassroots activists, and, most relevant, here, the informational anarchists of WikiLeaks.
So, ready for your Estate film festival?
- For the first estate, start your day spending some quality time with the clergy of Sister Act. Whoopi Goldberg’s adventures while trying to liven up a cloister will teach you about the Church and reveal the unlocked musical potential within each and every Catholic nun. If the first estate knew how to have this much fun back in 1789, maybe the French Revolution would’ve been a lot more danceable!
- For your second estate (aristocracy) movie, break out the antidepressants and try to get through the misery of Michael Haneke’s 2009 epic The White Ribbon! Thrill as a member of the pre-WWI German nobility completely loses control of the people he governs! Cry out with misery as you see rebellious children commit horrific acts in defiance of the baron’s will! It’s a wild romp through the collapse of aristocratic authority and the rise of fascism.
- Your third estate film? Well, even though No. 3 technically includes the vast majority of society, in the context of the French Revolution it usually refers to the bourgeoisie. So get bougie and watch Wall Street! It’s fun to revel in the glories of eighties capitalism — especially if you’re the kind of egotistical jerk who misunderstands the ironic intent of the “greed is good” speech.
- Almost done! It’s time for the fourth estate, with its plucky journalists who answer to no one but the truth. We suppose you could go with something famous like All the President’s Men, but the most realistic depiction of modern-day media work probably came in 2003’s Shattered Glass, which depicted the Stephen Glass fabricated-stories scandal at the New Republic. The clashes between the various fourth-estaters in that flick are cringe-inducingly plausible.
And now it’s time to leave the house to go see The Fifth Estate. Not only will you have spent a relaxing weekend vegging out in front of your TV or laptop, but you’ll have educated yourself about an antiquated form of social categorization. Thank us whenever.