Though generally reluctant to pile on the conspicuously deceased, we at Generation Bubble couldn’t allow some recent remarks by notorious peak-oiler and secular apocalyptician James Howard Kunstler escape our readers’ notice. On his blog, the colorfully titled Clusterf*ck Nation, he observes Michael Jackson’s passing. But Kunstler, playing Antony to Jackson’s Caesar, wishes to bury the King of Pop, not to praise him.
Kunstler forges an elaborate analogy between Jackson’s career and the United States’ economic plight. In recent years, Jackson’s fortune transformed into a gaping hole of debt. “Like the United States, Michael Jackson was spectacularly bankrupt, reportedly in the range of $800-million, which is rather a lot for an individual,” Kunstler writes:
Had he lived on a few more years, he might have qualified for his own TARP program — another piece of expensive dead-weight down in the economy’s bilges — since it is our established policy now to throw immense sums of so-called “money” at gigantic failing enterprises.
Kunstler downplays the really staggering figures in Jackson’s case. The upper nine figures, which he deems “rather a lot for an individual,” is an absolutely enormous sum, especially when one considers that this is the amount Jackson was to the bad (the bad, ya know it). This amount, in other words, represents the credit hole Jackson spent himself into. Yet, despite this enormous overhang, he somehow managed to enjoy a standard of living most folks can only dream about. As Kunstler puts it:
Michael Jackson was on the receiving end of one huge bank loan after another long after his pattern of profligacy was set and obvious. They threw money at him for the same reason that the federal government throws money at entities like CitiBank: the desperate hope that some miracle will allow debt servicing to resume. Michael could burn through $50-million in half a year. It didn’t seem to affect his credibility as a borrower. When his heart stopped last week, he was living in a Hollywood mansion that rented for several hundred thousand dollars a month. You wonder how the landlord cashed those checks.
Jackson’s sordid final years, as Kunstler characterizes them, present a portrait of the way Americans live now. Admittedly, Jackson’s tastes and habits were extravagant, as tastes and habits among the filthy rich are wont to be. This would seem to put him a class of his own. But lop a few zeros off Jackson’s expenses, and they begin to resemble those of the nation’s Joe and Jane Sixpacks,’ the expenses of folks jumbo-mortgaged to the hilt, kiting one credit card with another, dyspeptic every time the car won’t start or the next round of layoffs begins — all because for many years now the United States has had little to offer the world beyond smart bombs and finance (which is arguably just another type of smart bomb).
The country really doesn’t produce much besides debtors anymore, because, in a service economy, the only way to make it to the top of the heap — if one can’t croon a tuneful falsetto while moonwalking and gripping his‘nads — is by offering financial services to various and sundry service-mongers in the larger economy. The Reagan administration, in additon to giving the nation an inactivist government, saddled it with HBS and Wharton hordes, mad for rents and seigniorage, on the lookout for some opportunity to skim a little cream from others’ toil. The US economy became the very inverse of the oogy symbol on the dollar, the one which sets conspiriologists’ fantods a-howling. It became an inverted pyramid where one’s wage had stories of claimants set above it, each angling to wrest it from the rightful owner’s grasp. Debt became nearly a physical principle, a fifth force to keep markets humming and fat cats fat. Jackson’s own career took on a similar cast. Or so says Kunstler:
[Jackson] spent the last years of his life wandering a few steps ahead of his creditors, gulling concert promoters into “comeback” schemes (with walking-around money up front), and with three bought-and-paid-for children, obviously not his own, for consolation.
For Jackson, trading on his wilting celebrity for a plush per diem and additional lines of credit was a priori. In this he showed himself a true son of the soil. Behind the American dream lurk myriad Americans’s schemes, each as exotic as the next, yet each truly only a variation on a familiar Ponzi theme. Bernie Madoff gets sent up the river; Michael Jackson buys the farm. What unites them, beyond a general dodginess of person, is that neither of them need worry of being put out of a place to sleep.
Kunstler’s peroration tropes Jackson’s song, “The Man in the Mirror.” In the King of Pop’s countenance, nipped, tucked, and nipped, and tucked again, one discovers a nation bleached, deracinated, hermaphrodized, bearing little resemblance to its former self:
When he dropped dead last week, the nation’s morbidly maudlin response suggested a cover story for the relief of being rid of him and all the embarrassment he provoked. One CNN reporter called him a genius the equal of Mozart. That’s a little like calling Rachel Maddow the reincarnation of Eleanor Roosevelt. A nation addicted to lying to itself tells itself fairy tales instead of facing a pathology report. Yet, like Michael Jackson, the undertone of horror story still pulses darkly in the background. The little boy who grew up to be the simulation of a girl was really a werewolf. The nation that defeated manifest evil in World War Two woke up one day years later to find itself stripped of its manhood, mentally enslaved to cheap entertainments, and hostage to its own grandiosity. Maybe in grieving so exorbitantly over this freak America is grieving for itself. All the loose talk about “love” from the media and the fans gives off the odor of self-love. America is “the man in the mirror,” the gigantic, floundering Narcissus, sailing into the stormy seas of history.
To borrow the words of Z-Man, the villain of Russ Meyer’s immortal Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, pop superstardom was Michael Jackson’s happening, and it freaked him — as well as us — out.
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Postscript: Rob over at Marginal Utility has linked to this post. Check out his comments here. — 4:26 PM