Something’s Wrong Somewhere

Pimps, Whores, and the Glitterati Who Game the Global Empire

Something’s wrong somewhere.

– Clifford Odets (Golden Boy, 1937)

Something’s wrong somewhere.

– William Saroyan (My Heart’s in the Highlands, 1939)

It’s unlikely that Michelle or Barack Obama have read or given much thought to American playwrights Clifford Odets and William Saroyan. Both men found their soaring voices during the Great Depression—great grand-daddy of the “Great Recession.” (Frankly, I prefer to call it what it is, “Great Depression II.”) Then, as now, it took gutsy artists to cut through the rich-slime world of Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers Hollywood fantasies, to announce that the Emperor and Empress were wearing nothing but their vanity.

Perhaps it was easier then! Americans still read and the informed and urbane actually went to see plays with bite and social relevance. There was a labor movement, and men would stand up in their union halls and they learned how to hone their truths with hard-edged words about “bosses” and “the working man.” Women would read Hans Christian Andersen’s fables to their kids, and teach their children frugality and compassion for the less fortunate. They told the old stories–folk tales about right and wrong, monsters, and decency. Poets like Edna St. Vincent Millay took up the cause of Sacco and Vanzetti when they were scape-goated as anarchists. One of the most popular men in the country was Will Rogers, who would spin his lasso over the floor, and wryly comment that he only believed what he read in the papers—and everyone knew that meant he didn’t believe a word of it—and neither should they!

No one twirls the lasso anymore; Americans may be the most de-contextualized people on the planet. About a month ago I caught a TV glimpse of Mother Michelle down on a beach on the oil-slicked Gulf of Mexico, urging her countrymen to come on down: enjoy the water, gulp the gumbo, support the economy! A couple of weeks later, there she is in low-cut evening wear—nice cleavage, First Lady!–trying to out-cougar Naomi Campbell! Seems there’s a gala at the White House, starring billionaire beetle, Paul McCartney. Flash-forward a couple of weeks, and there she is with 10-year-old Sasha at the most expensive hotel in Spain. Word is the First Family is picking up the tab for their “personal expenses,” but tax-payers are out at least $375,000 for fuel for Air Force 2, expenses for accompanying Secret Service, staff, etc. (A mere $6500 per night for the hotel—not counting room service!)

Hey, what’s a lousy $375,000 these days?—chump-change for a little mom-daughter bonding. Ask the unemployed oyster-shuckers on the Gulf Coast what it’s worth. Ask Mr. and Mrs. Dispossessed American, losing their house to the bailed-out banks.

Just don’t ask the Clintons. Apparently, they’ve no problem shucking $2,000,000 for daughter Chelsea’s wedding. Remember when Hillary’s failed presidential bid ran up a huge debt? The Dems boo-hooed: Help poor Hillary pay back her stiletto-heeled dupes! Remember the Haiti earthquake of 6 months ago? There was Bill and new pal, George Warmonger Bush, doing their soft-shoe routine in the rubble of Port-Au-Prince, holding out their hats for American kids to send their pennies to the starving kids of Haiti.

Last I heard, there’s still a lot of starving kids in Haiti, and a whole lot more of them in Iraq since the American invasion and occupation. How many kids could $2,000,000 feed?

Moscow is choking, Pakistan is drowning, Gaza is withering, war clouds gather over Iran and Korea… dead zones in the oceans… but, rejoice! Chelsea has married her investment banker!

Something’s wrong somewhere!

Nine years after 9/11, and no one has bothered to build scale models of the twin towers and shoot scale-model jets into them to show how such a free-fall collapse could or could not have occurred! We’re lost in the spin machines, “science” and “truth” serve the state and money, and we can laugh with Bush over missing weapons of mass destruction—and missing limbs on Iraqi kids!

We have no context for the hurrying images of our post-modern, technological existence: merely a fading mythological memory of Herculean heroes—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln—all of whom, on closer inspection, had feet of clay. The long-sustaining, post-war vision of the future—the dream of a brave and independent people creating lives of fulfillment and security—recedes as we approach, and we find ourselves in a hell-hall of mirrors with nothing but distorted images of corrugated figures of “the working man,” “blue-collar,” “professionals,” “progressives,” “conservatives,” “man,” “woman”—and looming over all, like gods, giants and the Biblical Nephilim—our “celebrities,” the Colossi of fame and fortune whom we love and fear and worship, for they possess the power of life and death.

Perhaps if we had a literary history, perhaps if we were still a people who read and thought, and supported activist theater… perhaps then we would be a people who could learn and grow in maturity and depth of vision. Then we might understand plays like Odets’ and Saroyan’s, and Eugene O’Neil’s The Hairy Ape—poem-dramas about the dignity, even heroism, of “the little people.” Then we might be wide-angle people with some comprehension of the breadth of human history; even our own–short, blood-drenched, and syncopated with acts of courage. We could meet and tell each other our stories. We’d gear our education, and evaluate it, not on the sham of No Kid Left Behind programs, and the equal sham and shame of Bush-era test-oriented “teaching,” but on how well we told our stories, how well we acted under pressure; and the core, humane values we shared.

But we have no literary sense of ourselves. We do not see the great plays of the past acted on our wide-screen HDTVs, with their endless sports, killings, canned-laughter, packaged news and commentaries, unreality shows. We have Law and Order re-runs and spin-offs to teach us of the dangers of our streets and our sole salvation in the surrendering of self to official—and, increasingly officious and intrusive—authority. Mindless sitcoms demean life and trivialize the struggles of the “common folk” (actually, the majority). We no longer know how to talk to one another, to hear the simple eloquence of truth and moral character. We’re a nation of pretense—hollow men and women, parading like mannequins in the malls of our children’s nightmares.

I know that the past can acquire rosy hues. I don’t bemoan any loss of the worst of it—the waste, ignorance and abuse. But… what cataracts have we grown that we can’t even see through the glitterati who possess and oppress us now?

Gary Corseri's work has appeared at Dissident Voice, Common Dreams, CounterPunch, the New York Times, Village Voice and hundreds of other venues. His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library and Museum. His books include novels and poetry collections. He can be reached at: gary_corseri@comcast.net. Read other articles by Gary.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Ron Horn said on August 10th, 2010 at 10:41am #

    The author’s profoundly perceptive essay looks at the destruction that the capitalist system imposes upon a nation’s culture which seems even worse than the economic exploitation of working people. It is culture that gives meaning, understanding, and hope to a people. Without these, a people are virtually helpless against an exploiting foe. What an incredible and insightful writer!

  2. Don Hawkins said on August 10th, 2010 at 1:40pm #

    I ain’t on oith and I ain’t in Heaven, get me? I’m in de middel tryin’ to separate em, takin all de woist punches from bot’ of ‘em. Maybe dat’s whay dey call Hell, huh?

    Thus, O’Neill does not suggest “refuge” in either capitalism or socialism for Yank, but reveals how each can be destructive to the individual. Yank has been assaulted by a society that has no tolerance for “not belonging” and is consequently left in “de middel” as close to hell as Yank can imagine.

    Oh yes takin all de woist punches from bot’ of ‘em and Mr. President if we had anymore candy Kido’s like you around maybe we could get up to date. Newt in 2012 oh my God.

  3. Gary S. Corseri said on August 10th, 2010 at 2:55pm #

    Ron, Thank you very much!

    Don, Thank you for your succinct, erudite and thoughtful comment. It spurs further reflection.

    There are lots of great passages from “The Hairy Ape.” You have used one of them. … But I don’t agree that your citation signifies Yank being caught in the middle between capitalism and socialism.

    Yank does go to a Socialist meeting, but he’s caught up in his own violent proclivities, his rage against that pretty white elitist girl who fainted when she saw his sweaty, hairy, half-naked body–too real, too raw for her refinements! He wants to throw bombs; so, sensibly, the Socialists suspect he may be an agent-provocateur and they expel him from their meeting.

    After his rejection and humiliation by that girl, Yank’s a would-be anarchist… but he’s not really that, either. At any rate, he has no theories, no ideology to guide him.

    He’s a brute, the “hairy ape,” the slave laborer who has done the worst work for humankind for millennia. His conceit has been that he’s the real engine–the sine qua non–of industrial society, what gives it speed and power. It’s only when he sees himself through the eyes of that pretty elitist in her spotless white dress that he has his revelation about what society really thinks of him and his kind.

    (Yanks’ second revelation is when he’s at the zoo, trying to dialogue with the gorilla who winds up crushing his ribs, killing him. Yank, O’Neill tells us, “mutters painfully”: “Even him didn’t tink I belonged… . Christ, where do I get off at? Where do I fit in?” A lesser artist would have ended it there, but Yank is determined to at least die with some dignity, and he tells himself: “Aw, what de hell! No squawkin’, see! No quittin’, get me! Croak wit your boots on!”)

    There’s a little more after that. … The point is, for me, that we all need to belong, to have a sense of leading purposeful lives, and that’s the real definitiion of being human; further, that pissed-on humanity eventually awakens and takes action. It’s often violent and misguided action, often self-destructive. What I’ve called “pimps, whores and glitterati” create and profit from the social conditions that dehumanize and brutalize the masses. In our days, in the advanced societies, it’s about manipulation as much as brutalization–though there’s plenty of the latter, too (and steadily increasing with Great Depression II). So, I think it’s critical that those who can still think clearly, and have in some ways been privileged with time and circumstances–even with the experience of suffering that brings greater awareness and kindredship–that they speak out, share insights, proclaim, listen and learn. The arts–real art, real dialogue of the kind Saroyan, O’Neill, Arthur Miller and others advanced–can provide a sounding board and a common language that can mute the garbage spewing from TVs and radios, and help us to rediscover our essential selves.

  4. Don Hawkins said on August 10th, 2010 at 4:56pm #

    The greatest story ever told is being written this very day by people who are nether rich or famous we don’t see them on TV much if at all because they tell the truth and can still think clearly and yes the system tries and suck them in with dreams of fame and fortune does it work sometimes. It look’s like the battle has started and they the few who know will need our help. It will take a lot of us and I think it’s starting to happen the real reality show and boring this will not be.

  5. lizburbank said on August 10th, 2010 at 5:14pm #

    keeping ‘good german’ americans ignorant and indifferent with the relentless ‘soft’ psywar propaganda called ‘news’, ‘culture’, religion and entertainment, insured to keep most ‘personally informed’ and narcissistically engrossed twittering and tweeting as the racist, murdering masters, in our names, with our labor, destroy the world in order to dominate it —- all starts here and goes downhill thereafter:

    The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation into the Problem of Modern Schooling
    by John Taylor Gatto
    http://www.thememoryhole.org/edu/school-mission.htm

  6. PatrickSMcNally said on August 10th, 2010 at 8:09pm #

    > by John Taylor Gatto

    Unfortunately, Gatto goes a bit overboard on some key points. Any review of the last century will show that the growth of public schools contributed to a much more, not less, critical populace. Ever notice how the wave of antiwar demonstrations in the 1960s grew up around college and university campuses through organizations like SDS? That’s because having more students drawn into school made more people able to criticize the government. While the Reaganite tendency to cut public school funding was certainly guided in the broad sense by the demands for tax cuts to the rich, it also partly reflected the fact that publicly funded schools had become breeding grounds for dissent.

    Gatto seems to idealize the 19th century, but people then had much more unquestioning faith in the government. When Gatto portrays this as an era of independent thinkers what he means is that this was a time when stealing some land from the natives and bringing in a few slaves could allow someone to open up their own independent enterprise. Apart from that however, the 19th century was not really a time of independent critical thinking among the masses. In a relative sense, the 20th century has been a big leap in that direction. Many more Joe Blows are more likely today to attempt to form some type of independent opinion than was the case before 1900.

  7. Don Hawkins said on August 11th, 2010 at 4:00am #

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cif-green/2010/aug/11/peak-oil-villain-governments-need

    I mean you can’t make this kind of stuff up then again maybe a few can.

  8. Don Hawkins said on August 11th, 2010 at 5:37am #

    Sent this to the greatest minds in human history

    The greatest story never told,
    Little has been said on television — the main source of news for most Russians — about the disastrous effects of the heat and smoke choking the capital on human health.
    Internet and foreign press reports from Moscow of death tolls doubling and morgues overflowing with bodies have not been carried on air at all.
    “There is a general discrediting of the political class who were not able to react adequately … and who, many think, live differently — in different houses, in air-conditioned rooms or abroad,” he said.
    “The middle class are less calm and more confident in themselves, they are getting angry. They want things to be properly organized. If they think the leadership is handling things badly, they will handle things themselves … but they are hardly likely to do this as a political protest.” Reu
    In his message, Hu, on behalf of the Chinese government and the people, conveyed to Medvedev his profound condolences for the victims and sincere sympathies to the families of those killed in the blazes.
    Hu said at this critical moment, the Chinese people are feeling the same as the Russian people do. China is willing to offer emergency disaster aid to Russia and support the Russians in fighting the wildfires.
    Local media reported Sunday that areas under fire in central Russia has increased to 190,000 hectares and a total of 564 wildfire scenes were detected across Russia, as the country endured its hottest summer on record. Xinhua
    MOSCOW — Anger mounted in Russia’s press Wednesday over the official response to the worst wildfires in the country’s history, with questions asked even over the PR tactics of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
    In typical strongman style, Putin had the day earlier taken to the air in a water bombing jet to douse fires in one of the worst effected regions, his latest trip to emphasise the authorities were on top of the situation.
    “His PR-engineers can think of nothing more other than to yet again sit him behind the controls of an aircraft,” leading business daily Vedomosti commented bitterly.
    “Or a tractor, or a submarine, or to stroke a bear in the Far North, or save tigers in the Far East,” it added, recalling other famous stunts by the prime minister in recent times.
    “This is a tunnel vision of the PR-makers who believe that a TV picture of Putin behind the wheel of something is an eternal panacea for a falling rating,” it added.
    The newspaper noted that Medvedev earlier this week warned political opponents not to try and profit from the crisis by carrying out “political PR”.
    “But Putin’s flight shows that the authorities are willingly using this method. The necessity for the premier to put out a fire was nothing other than one of PR,” it said. AFP
    ——————————————————————————————————————————————————–
    Ah ha it does appear many are getting on the same page and will it last good question let’s see how the PR goes. Of course it will be winter soon and back to normal.

    http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/images3/glbSSTProbSea.gif

    So what’s the talk of the town today wait don’t tell me more on Hurd and when do we get to see Bush junior in a golf cart waving in Haiti? Maybe Obama another hope change is on the way speech. He got the change on the way part right. What do you think Newt in 2012 in the greatest nation on Earth or someone in that general area of thinking. Now there’s change you can believe in. Did you find that shocking well it looks like more our finding many things shocking. PR more PR. Remember in America when the going get’s tuff the tuff go shopping more PR have you tried the orange chichen. You have to admit it is amazing to see all this once you know. I wonder could the truth the knowledge not illusion of knowledge be helpful?

    Don

  9. Don Hawkins said on August 11th, 2010 at 5:41am #

    Then this one

    I got it,

    A new an improved PR campaign the greatest minds in human history from now on dress down a little when out in public dig holes or something seem like your working pretend like your changing kind of like now just get better at it think of it as refined bullshit I know not as much fun but some sacrifices have to be made. Just a ruff draft I have to think more on this and remember after the new and improved PR when not in the public eye dress up run around the house with a glass of champagne listening to old Frank Sanatra albums wait don’t tell me, “Oh the shark has pretty teeth dear”, am losing it is the quotation mark before or after at the end of a sentence?

    Don

  10. lichen said on August 11th, 2010 at 2:59pm #

    I agree with PatrickSMcNally. People are better educated, less violent, less racist and homophobic than at any other time in american history. While I’m not into celebrities, television, etc. it’s obvious that the author is a part of the problem himself because he knows intimately the movements of michelle obama; I hadn’t heard of them until this article. Why pay attention to it?

    But really, I know plenty of young people who engage with pop culture but are still politically motivated leftists. And we do have a literary history–I myself studied it in a few classes at college. I personally don’t think that everyone in the U.S., however, has to read the same books, see the same plays, etc. I think indeed that is one of the problems with mass media–it’s too widespread. Let us all have our own ‘literary histories’ that need not coincide with everyone else.

  11. teafoe2 said on August 11th, 2010 at 3:28pm #

    http://www.eaazi.org/ThorsProvoni/JudoniaComplete/JudoniaCompleteA.htm#_Toc199522957

    I’m not sure I agree with this scholar’s views on all points, but the page certainly contains a wealth of information.

    One thing I’m looking into is the convergences and divergences between Friedman & Neoliberalism on the one hand, and the Zionist Neocons on the other…

  12. teafoe2 said on August 11th, 2010 at 3:41pm #

    “back home, in cultural dissonance…”

    aka Donna Lee. If you can hum it all the way through I’ll accept you as a cultured person.

  13. hayate said on August 11th, 2010 at 10:50pm #

    Don Hawkins said on August 11th, 2010 at 5:37am

    The people in Russia are making the guv sweat. The media in Russia is making the guv sweat. The Russian guv was totally unprepared for those fires. Heads are already rolling in the military for their screw ups.

    How many heads rolled after Katrina? How many are rolling now after the disaster with the leaking oil well in the gulf? Hell, you cant even get any real news of the latter in the mainstream (zionist run – never forget who brings you the disinfo) media in the usa. You have to hit the web for alternative sites to find out any real info.

    The difference, here, is that after one of these disasters in Russia, things do change, and people, ordinary people are able to effect, influence that change. Not nearly as much as should be happening, but a hell of a lot more than what happens in the banana republic’s banana republic, the usa. Where nothing changes, except to get worse, much worse, and where the zionist media never does anything useful till it’s far too late.