Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Best Line

From Matt Taibbi's recent article on the Bank Bailout from Rolling Stone

The most galling thing about this financial crisis is that so many Wall Street types think they actually deserve not only their huge bonuses and lavish lifestyles but the awesome political power their own mistakes have left them in possession of. When challenged, they talk about how hard they work, the 90-hour weeks, the stress, the failed marriages, the hemorrhoids and gallstones they all get before they hit 40.

"But wait a minute," you say to them. "No one ever asked you to stay up all night eight days a week trying to get filthy rich shorting what's left of the American auto industry or selling $600 billion in toxic, irredeemable mortgages to ex-strippers on work release and Taco Bell clerks. Actually, come to think of it, why are we even giving taxpayer money to you people? Why are we not throwing your ass in jail instead?"

Word. I hate how people use, "I worked really hard," as their justification for every goddamn unjust thing they do in this country. "Sure, I'm brutally exploiting people, but it is hard work." "Hey man, its true that my job pays me obscene sums to devise ways to keep insurance companies from having to pay sick people but I work really hard." "Designing new SUVs that will capture public interest, thus ensuring the continued burning of unsustainable amounts of fossil fuels is a lot of work."

I'm not gonna strain myself too much saying this, but fuck you. Maybe its time for us, as a society, to stand up and actually make some goddamn informed decisions about what sort of work does and does not deserve reward, instead of just blindly following some Puritan impulse to throw money at anyone who can make a convincing case for having followed some BS protestant capitalist work ethic.

If you'll excuse me I'm going to go back to goofing off listening to NPR's Saturday Afternoon Opera and slowly writing my government funded dissertation. Look at it this way. At least I'm not working hard to blow up the economy or doom the fucking planet.

Friday, March 13, 2009

None of Us Are Free, If One of Us is Chained

House is a terribly silly television program, but I love it for its performances, and for turning me on to Solomon Burke:

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Nostalgia for Industry

There was a great moment on Battlestar Galactica this past week. Starbuck is briefing the pilots of the fleet on their duties. Among them, searching for any habitable planet the fleet might call home. The reward for any pilot that makes such a stupendous find? A tube of toothpaste. "The last tube of Felgercarb Toothpaste existing in the known Universe," she announces in a worn deadpan, presenting the unique treasure.

I thought this was a well drawn moment, showing the larger loss in a telling detail. Even more, the detail chosen suggests what the fallout of losing an industrial civilization might look like. Once common commodities, mass-produced objects like bars of soap, cans of soup, tubes of toothpaste, become precious and unique objects. Treasures of a lost world. Like Walter Benjamin's "Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" running in reverse.

The world has never really lost a whole industrial civilization before. The collapse of the Soviet sphere might be the closest analogue. I wonder if Russians my age ever have nostalgia for the state-produced products (however poorly made they might have been) that were the common artifacts of their youth. I suspect they do. I read a study somewhere once, that said they found people who grew up in the mid-twentieth century or later associated strong childhood memories with the smells and flavors of manufactured objects - the chemical smell of playdough, the impossible sweetness of kool-aid. I, for one, am reminded of my Grandmother by the flavor of plain Colgate, a staple at her house growing up. The scent of a particular laundry detergent calls forth the memory of a young woman I was once in love with, makes me remember both her and how I once felt about her with a terrible urgency. If this detergent is on sale, I will pass it by, to avoid walking around in a cloud of lonesome memory for weeks.

All this is made more pertinent by the fact that an awful lot of very smart people seem to be concerned that the world may be, in fact, right now in the process of losing an industrial civilization. Namely ours. Bruce Sterling has an interesting post along those lines here. I had the chance to spend some time with another prominent media scholar this weekend. He was less dire than Bruce, but did argue that the surplus we have enjoyed as Americans for the last fifty years was a historical aberration, and was likely in the process of going away.

Of course he also made the point that said surplus had been managed and spent poorly. I would agree. I would add that it was often gained unjustly. My point is not to glorify industrial culture. I deeply hope we can build something better out of its ruins. My point is simply relate to you, my friends, the ways in which I have been anticipating my coming nostalgia. For the luxuries we take for granted. Oranges in Northwest Ohio. Blueberries in Winter. For bottles of oily blue washing detergent that smells like teen angst.

To think this way, makes you see the world as it is, strange and unprecedented. I walked into Kroger supermarket in my fugue of anticipatory nostalgia and found a magical and impossible place. Brightly lit, smelling of fresh bread, coffee stacked in rows, long aisles of our unlikely surplus. The likes of which will never be seen again, at least, not in the everyday lives of poor students and workers. Perhaps the ultra rich will keep a few as preserves. Trade the last can of Chock Full o' Nuts coffee amongst themselves, commenting on its cheerful yellow exterior, the uniformity of the machine-ground beans within.

And maybe, just maybe, a haggard President Obama, nearing the close of his second term, will address a nation huddled in extended families around a handful of still operational television sets. "My fellow Americans," he will announce in a worn deadpan, "we are still looking for any sustainable method of political economy. For the citizen who finds it, I offer this reward: the last tube of regular flavor Colgate toothpaste existing in the Universe."