General Motors has
announced that it lost billions of dollars last quarter. Delphi, GM's
primary parts supplier, has demanded that its workers cut their salaries
by half or more and reduce their health care benefits. Ford will lay off
30,000 blue collar employees and close factories. Daimler-Chrysler will
lay off 6,000 white collar employees. Throughout the country, American
industry is curtailing pension funds or eliminating them altogether.
The naked pursuit of profit
causes companies to cannibalize themselves and to decimate their work
forces. Wall Street cheers while business cuts labor to the bone in the
name of shareholder value.
But while it rains pink slips on the workingmen and women of Motor City,
Detroit hosts the Super Bowl. The Chief Executive Officers, the captains
of industry, the bankers, the politicians, the financiers, the business
gurus and show biz glitterati, the movers and shakers of our times, will
pack the luxury boxes dining and wining like Roman patricians. The
proles, sitting in the bleachers or at their big screen televisions
(purchased on revolving credit at 18% interest), will watch the
spectacle and lustily indulge in the party.
Eat. Drink. Be merry. For tomorrow we lose everything.
There is nothing wrong with a good party. In fact, the harder times are,
the better the reasons to party. There were so many speakeasies and
dance marathons during the Great Depression. People needed to make merry
to forget. The current political and economic circumstances portend,
perhaps, an even greater party time ahead.
So let us ignore the irony of Detroit. Let us ignore the fabulously
wealthy ascending to heights of luxury contrasted with the working
middle class descending into the lower class. Let us ignore the contrast
of the easy-living owners in the box seats with the workers down below
who will have no retirement, no affordable health care, no good
education for their children. Like in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World,
it is Super Bowl time as much as it is Soma Bowl time.
As the ranks of the unemployed swell, let us all have a good time. Let
us cheer on “our” teams -- these outlandishly proportioned
gladiator-mercenaries who are emblems of 21st Century American excess.
Let us enjoy the spectacle of Consumption, Power, Beauty, Sex and
Violence, and ignore the irony that most of the cities that host these
itinerant professional sports teams actually rent them from the
teams' corporate owners for the hollow pride of calling them the city's
I enjoy sports and good health as much as anyone else. At the
professional level, however, the visceral pleasure of watching powerful,
well-chiseled men and women perform at their physical peak is destroyed
by the irony that these people are now icons for Imperial America. These
super-sized athletes and their cheerleaders, are they naturally strong,
lithesome and beautiful, or are they products of surgery, medical
manipulation, and steroids? Are they big by nature, or is that bovine
look due to eating too much rbGH-growth hormone in their meat and dairy?
Will they live long and healthful lives, as you might expect, or will
they die young, like so many high-performance athletes, whose over-doped
cardiovascular systems burn out in their middle years?
The players wear helmets and armor. They mouth off, they strut, they
talk trash to their opponents. In short, they talk and act like
America's occupation storm troopers. Both soldiers and pro athletes have
been trained to hit, gang tackle and diss their opponents. Off the field
of play, the players abuse women, get in fights, hurt innocents; on the
field, they do anything and everything to win. Ironically, they often
play like America's military fights: cruel and dirty. Is it “courage”
when a bigger man in padded armor crushes a smaller man on the field of
play, or is it just plain mean? Is it “courage” when a bigger, better
equipped, high-tech soldiery crushes a smaller, low-tech opponent on the
battlefield, or is it savagery? Do our athletes run amok on the field of
play like America's military runs amok in the Middle East?
We are asked to support our troops.
We are asked to support our teams.
The irony takes the pleasure out of pro sports.
But the ironies do not begin or end in Detroit.
America's leadership force-feeds “democracy” to a skeptical world with
all the subtlety of a tube shoved down humankind's throat. Democracy,
American style, apparently means the American form of limited
selection, controlled choice “democracy” (little “d”), such as in
dictatorial Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, the former Soviet
Union, and the United States. Meanwhile, where Democracy really has
broken out -- in pre-coup Haiti, in pre-Shah Iran, in Palestine,
Venezuela, Bolivia, Iran and Chile, for instance -- America declares
that the people are not sufficiently politically mature. It then
browbeats the winners and subverts the “immature” body politic with
bribes, false NGOs, faux rebellions, covert plots and economic
How ironic that America castigates theocratic Iran, denounces militant
Hamas and frets about Islamic terrorists and fundamentalism. America
itself, however, packs its courts and its government with its own brand
of religious fundamentalists, and who can deny the irony of America's
own terrorism unleashed on the world? America's Religious Right preaches
political assassination in the cause of peace, violence in the name of
Love, exceptionalism in the name of universal truth -- how ironic,
therefore, that America's Religious Right denounces other religious
zealots for its very own vices.
How ironic that while America strives to prevent any other nation from
building nuclear power generators, from North Korea to Iran, America's
president embarks on the construction of many more nuclear reactors. No
more countries shall build nuclear weapons, preach America's leaders,
while, in self-parody, it itself secretly funds research into new, more
powerful, more devastating nuclear weapons.
America touts itself as the protector of liberty and freedom of speech.
Ironically, it defends its liberty with torture, kidnaps in the name of
the law, and incarcerates without trial for the sake of freedom.
America promotes human rights and civil rights... for China and
Russia. In America, however, the politicians promote “security”
uber alles. America supports separatism for Taiwan, Korea, the
Ukraine, Georgia and the Kurds. Ironically, it will never allow
independence for its own colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, Iraq or
America touts itself as the high priest of free enterprise.
Nevertheless, America's economy is dominated by the few, paid for by the
many, and regulated with the intention to throttle any enterprise
not beholden to the capital markets. The Stock Market, still widely
regarded as a leading economic indicator, no longer serves its primary
purpose as an indicator of corporate bond value and strength. Bond
prices move up, gold prices jump higher, oil future prices and natural
gas prices skyrocket, the economy “recovers” but no jobs are created,
short and long term interest rates converge -- but the Stock Market,
counter-intuitively, as if lifted by an Invisible Hand, rises as well.
Like in Oz, the people believe in the miracle of The Market and they
will not look for the manipulation behind the curtain. Their paper stock
wealth goes up while their quality of life goes down. How ironic.
Yet, through it all Americans seem to be happy, or at least, oblivious.
We strive to be happy, or at least, oblivious. The media, the
advertisers, the sports-casters, the ministers and politicians and
pundits all promote happiness, or oblivion. It is a national past-time,
being happy, or oblivious, even when, objectively, our make-believe
world of rights and liberties and prosperity and moral piety is crashing
all around us.
It is Super Bowel time. A time of communal myth, making merry and
A supercilious nation watches the Super Bowel. It is the cathedral of
our values. It is the metaphor for everything 21st Century America has
come to stand for. How ironic.
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