Jostled by Pope Gregory in 1582, we shall not, this year of 2009, following the dictum
Every year that is exactly divisible by four is a leap year, except for years that are exactly divisible by 100; the centurial years that are exactly divisible by 400 are still leap years. For example, the year 1900 is not a leap year; the year 2000 is a leap year,
be leaping. Rather we will trudge, trailing in our wake the dismal offal of the millennium’s inauspicious beginning, from the fraudulent if costly alarums of WK2, wherein doomsday was imagined in the errant programming of myriad computers, and on to the equally fraudulent election in the USA of George W. Bush, ensconced on the throne of alleged democratic power by a Supreme Court intervention of a decidedly undemocratic kind, thus turning the Presidency over to the man who secured fewer popular votes than the losing party, and fouling the political waters for the coming years. Hot on the heels of this ascension the mystic numbers 911 arrived, no irony intended that it is the usual emergency telephone shortcut in America, and whatever one’s intuition’s about just how this occurred (mine conclude it was in some manner a distinctly inside job, the investigation of which thus far has left far too many oddities for mere coincidence) this in turn led rapidly to an ideological hysteria which permitted the American Right to cram, or attempt to do so, its values into every nook and cranny of the social-political-economic and ethical landscape. In the name of the victory of so-called Western values over those of Communism, summarized by the collapse of the former Soviet Union, a triumphalist America pigged out, convinced that the Wall Street Way of uber-capitalism, out-sourcing, globalizing, and all the other buzzwords of the corporate masters was indeed the wave of the future. Neo-cons, tucked away in their “think tanks” theorized away, imagining a veritable epoch of American hegemony, uncontested by any other parties, a time in which so-called American values could be imposed globally – American hamburgers, democracy, and economic models dished out, of course in the classic American manner, for the good of the recipients (whether they liked it or not). Evangelicals, courted for their electoral clout, tagged along, dreaming of imposing a reign of their mode of Christianity across the national spectrum. 911 emboldened this view as the world quickly, if briefly, lined up in sympathy, and to the Yankee ear the logic of necessity rang clear: we gotta ‘tack them there before they ‘tack us here, went the Bushian mantra. Along with the other fanciful think-tank palliatives like “democracies never go to war with each other,” and “trading parties never go to war with each other.” It was America uber alles because it was good for us, and if it was good for us it was good for them.
And so, following W‘s lead, we twisted the evidence where needed, and marched gloriously off to war, without the usual annoyances of a draft or the raising of taxes. All that was required of us was “go shopping,” run up the credit card, submit to a cyclical fear-amperage boost and forget about war crimes.
Shop and be afraid.
For a while Americans, or some Americans, even a majority of them, were taken with this new American Imperial vision in which GI’s would traipse around the world’s bad nabes, and do in the bad guys over there while we all partied over here. Even when the hidden bodies began to return home, and the Mission Accomplished soured, and the deal of having the war paid for by Iraqi oil, and all the other think-tank pipe dreams began to curdle in smoke, there was still the booming housing market to buoy things along, and run up the credit card a bit longer. And W won his next lost election, scamming his way to another four years on the claims of being a heroic cod-pieced War President smokin’ ‘em out. Back in 2004 his popularity rating was still in the 60% range, the economy was seemingly cooking, and Katrina had not yet arrived to show that the show was, well, all show, and that bin Laden, the bad guy, might or might not be alive and laughing.
Here Sam Mendes, of the UK, not US, stands with his wife Ms Winslet, preparing a shot for Revolutionary Road, based on a dyspeptic novel of the 1950’s of the same title, taking to critical task the imaginary Nirvana of upper-end suburbia. Reviews suggest the film has “high production values/classy set design” and some good acting, though there doesn’t seem to be any accord that it is actually a good film. One look at this production still, not really greatly different from most production stills, shows the fundamental problem, which reverberates down through the fraudulent sets of Hollywood, on through the multiplex and right across the nation to settle in the dual cesspools of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, Wash., DC. The problem is an essential fakeness of such insidious qualities that more or less all involved don’t see that everything around them, as well as the image in the mirror, is indeed fake. Fraudulent. Phony.
Above, as Mr Mendes counsels Kate about the next shot, we see a crew standing about, holding an umbrella to keep the actual sun from searing our starlet’s blond tints. The lackey, doubtless making $500 or more a day, stands in spotless sneakers, as spotless as the never-worn-but-on-the-set costume of Ms Winslet, all in pristine unsmudged whites, lacking any evident rumples of life. Around them the scrims and diffusion screens and high wattage lights, on a perfectly fine looking sunny day, belie the core falsity of Hollywood, just as do the costumes and the movie-biz pay scales. The trades say the film cost (“a relatively low-budget”) $45,000,000 so we may assume that Mr Mendes and wife picked up a handy 5-10 million between them, while the other stars perhaps got less than their usual, and all the regular Hollywood sorts from DOP to grips got their customary $500-$5,000 a day, plus out-of-town housing, per diem, etc., for their ever so specialized labors. For sure none of the parties involved felt the slightest sense of hypocrisy while the two leads tore at each other acting out the dismal story-line. Rather they doubtless felt they were engaged in a serious piece of socio-critical art, with a “serious” director, and that whatever the critiques laid out for Connecticut suburbia circa 1955, they applied not at all to these denizens of Beverley Hills, Santa Monica or whichever hip enclave in New York, London or Santa Barbara they all call home. Revolutionary Road is but one rather minor film in the parade of equally morally squalid “product” which spills out from Hollywood, never mind the massive toilet of television. Of course, this business is all considered perfectly normal, part of the cultural swirl which is America. In this particular world, we’re all American Idols.
However fraudulent, in the last decades has come the complaint from Hollywood that the money-changers have taken over the biz, that bean-counters have replaced those enamored of the movies, and it’s been a downhill skid ever since. This was said as Wall Street souls had entered the inner sanctums of the studios, buying up (along with Sony) the fabled MGM, Warner Brothers, and Paramount. Filthy numbers had replaced the less tangible matters of art, and the good old Hwd had been bought like a whore. Laughable as this lament may have been, indeed the hyperized pressures of the new capitalism have in fact left a lot less space for the quirky emergence of anything like art, and have replaced them with a quasi-scientific attempt to quantify every aspect of this most commercial of businesses. But, the numbers did indeed shoot up, and the cost of making, marketing and exhibiting a film have leapt, along with the pay-scales of nearly all attached to the enterprise. Alas, this ballooning scarcely measures next to that of Wall Street, where CEO’s whose names fail to register on any marquee, are accorded payment which dwarfs that of any hot Hollywood star, or even the entire budget of a carefully calculated mega-monster BO buster. Compared to their brethren in New York, the moguls of LA are decidedly minor league.
(Enter Henry “Hank” Paulson, stage Right)
In the autumn of 2008, as the cumulative fraud of the United States’ economy unveiled itself as an Enron scam exponentially beyond any recognition, Henry Paulson, US Secretary of the Treasury, former CEO of Goldman Sachs (where he picked up a mere $700 million for his labors – to say for his involvement in the development of those exotic fiscal Ponzi schemes called “derivatives,” – not to mention his extra departing bonuses as he moved on to Federal service) announced that despite his not so long ago assurances (January 2008) that “the fundamentals of the US economy were sound,” that instead he was Chicken Little and The Sky Was Falling. He demanded that he be given a mere $700 billion to pass out to his errant banking buddies, and that under no circumstances should there be any accounting or even any manner in which to account for this, otherwise he sagely said, The Sky Will Fall. After some modest negotiation with an ectoplasmic Congress, this deal was cut and he was duly given his $700 billion, to pass out ostensibly to grease the fiscal system to loan again, though in fact this did not occur. Instead the systemic freeze on loaning money remained gelid, and at least $350 billion went somewhere, unaccounted, into the vaults of – would you have ever guessed? – Goldman Sachs, and other banks and fiscal entities such as American International General, all of which had Ponzi’ed themselves into a deep accounting negative, playing mostly with the vaunted “derivatives” – debt sold as a positive value – which had not panned out. Pity the poor bankers. Being who they were they didn’t imagine that holding half-million dollar parties with the Federal bailout funds while “folks” were being evicted from their foreclosed homes would be anything but normal, and hardly could they imagine any shame attached to such behavior. So party they did. Now some months have passed, and while billions have been printed and shoved in the hands of those who provoked this crisis, little has changed (well, except that the banks refilled their coffers and party funds, and some million or so lost their jobs, and some 100,000’s lost their homes, and….) and the sky has not yet fallen, though it threatens to do so any moment. Those august persons in authority again admonish us:
Shop and be afraid.
As the house of cards which is America begins to shudder in the breeze, there is a sudden arrival of accounting. The pundits of the press and the television talking heads all rush in to analyze the problems besetting us, each and every one side-stepping their role in setting up exactly those problems. Those who cheered on a tax-cut and a draftless war (more or less all of them) now lament a lazy you-want-something-for-nothing public which fell for this line. Not them, of course. No, their public wisdoms are meant to evaporate with the morning dew, each day providing a virgin canvas for new visions never accountable to the thoughts of the past. Thomas Friedman is an exemplary of this tendency, who having energetically cheered on the illegal invasion/occupation/war in Iraq, was a major Bush booster, then went on to applaud globalization and all its effects (outsourcing, down-sizing), now stridently insists we need to re-boot America – the economy, our politics, our morals, ethics, etc. etc. – as if he had had nothing whatsoever to do with our slurping in the troughs of corruptions of all kinds. He represents the tonier end of such sentiments, but has many with whom he shares company.
And so America, having preached the virtues of honesty, democracy, and proper ethics, etc. to those abroad – even if we never practiced it at home – has now fallen into the depravity of the worst of corruptions of all kinds – political, economic, ethical, moral. We are a nation of torturers, of thieves in pin-stripes (or surely some other costume these days), of Elmer Gantry’s who preach and wantonly fuck, and of ordinary people who think glamor is properly rewarded with millions and only lament that they are not in on the take. We trundle to Vegas thinking it our due that the wheel of fortune should shine on us, even if we have done nothing whatsoever to deserve it outside putting a chip on red or black. We send our sons and daughters to universities of costly kinds and expect they should get an A across the board even if they have only narcissistically filled their Facebook with imaginary friends and never learned how to spell or count. We partake of a thoroughly corrupted system and cannot imagine that we ourselves are stained. We are “the good Americans” and now, as Bush prepares to take his leave, Obama will absolve us all, and everything will magically be OK.
But it won’t.
The fraud of our culture is reflected in the films of Hollywood, in its phony light which we have long acknowledged as “the dream factory,” and its output, if vaguely accurate, shows that our dreams are a tawdry kind, devoid of our reality even when, as in Revolutionary Road, imagining to be deeply rooted in it, just as it is reflected in our politics, in which those who survive its system are as plastic as the costumes of Hollywood. And those who accept this, and vote for it, compliant and submissive, are as plastic as their “wealth.” Which in these days has proven to be illusory.