For many Americans a tooth can make the difference between security and destitution. That’s right: lose a tooth in the United States and you lose your chance to live the dream. Poverty and emotional desolation follow soon upon the unfortunate loss. For in the land of veneers and gratuitous orthodontia, “untouchable” status is a shed bicuspid away.
Middle-class comfort, so long anathema to the “tenured radicals” of the academy (who, of course, hurl their invective from the bourgeois redoubt of the easy chair), although agonizingly, fitfully slow in doing so, has finally died. Yet from its corpse no revolutionary class has mushroomed forth. Rather we’re left with atomized biota terrified of losing everything it holds dear, too terrified to think even of reform, let alone of revolution. Cognitive laborer and day laborer find themselves equal members of an all-consuming new class category: the precariat.
Thirteen years ago, when I began my collection of seventies-era cookbooks, how-to guides, and life manuals, the economy was bustling along, nourished by the manna of dotcom stock jobbing profits. This manna also fueled the dullest undergraduate’s daydreams, which danced through his head enrobed in all the finery a salary in the high five figures can command. Today, however, these books sitting around my apartment seem documents from a vanished world — Work and Leisure in Ultima Thule, perhaps, or Homemaking in Atlantis — one which was pried away by force of massive low-interest leverage, or was patiently ladled out of the ship of state during various bailouts. These tomes represent a collective memento mori of a variety of prosperity and equality that is not likely to return in my lifetime.
Unemployment in Desert City hovers at nine percent. What jobs exist are mostly temporary and lacking benefits. Some 11,000 houses huddle empty, having been foreclosed or never occupied. Vast portions of the population sit idle. They have given up on the very idea of employment. The state legislature, its carving knives sharp and poised, stands ready to scrape the bones of already spavined public sector.
State parks, national monuments, public libraries — these spaces ask nothing of us save that we enjoy them in a respectful, sensible manner (sadly, universities are already lost). The keepers of them do not try to pry into our psyches and hearts to discern how to better manipulate our covetousness. The spaces themselves do not beckon us to consume for consumption’s sake, to sicken and impoverish ourselves in an attempt to satisfy desires that do not originate in our hearts and minds but from the innumerable screens and billboards that surround us at any given moment.
Even Mr. End-of-History himself, Francis Fukuyama, admits (albeit in a cautious, highly qualified manner) that the great political experiment our founding fathers set in motion has essentially devolved into a plutocracy. This means goodbye social mobility, liberty, sovereignty, and just about everything else Idaho militia men find so sexy about the constitution. Money obeys only one imperative: to make more of itself. On its way to doing so it will trample everything you and I hold dear.
Exceptionalism tends to be a way station on the path to full-blown paranoia, as the poem of the United States of America gets rewritten as The Road to Serfdom. There must be a better way than this to imagine a utopia.
Americans young and old have sold their souls for a bill of dubious goods — and services. But at least the baby boomers were alive and kicking during decades that saw real revolutionary spirit in play; many of them got to participate in protests that were more than just excuses to don organic-fiber keffiyehs and declare a universal right to equity realization (all while shaking ineffectual fists at Wall Street). That’s got to count for something, right? That’s fodder for man’s (or woman’s) search of meaning, yes?
It seems like almost everyone know that fashionistas are also fascists, even if they can’t define the term. But it is interesting how we seem stuck in some eternal return of the same twentieth century horror. Whether it’s corporate fascism, or simply a Versace spread in a magazine, it seems we can’t get out of some infernal loop begun well over a century ago. To dwell on how fascism and fashion go hand in hand seems trivial nowadays, given the fact that one can longer deny that we live in a fascist state.
To me, very little distinguishes Mike’s romantic maneuverings from Goldman Sachs’ behavior in finance markets. What difference is there, for instance, between Mike’s surreptitiously approaching other women than the ones he’s entertaining in his beach house and Goldman Sachs’ dealing with the Greece’s bond market, in which Goldman Sachs gave Greece financial advice while at the same time short selling Greek bonds? Fucking or finance, it’s all the same — just business.