Who will defend capitalism now? We have no visual record from the major news media of the greed, incompetence, and lies that brought Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers to public attention. No reporter or blogger captured a lasting image of the federal government’s saving the fanny of Fannie Mae. Now, we have a man on Long Island dead, trampled by Black Friday shoppers. That image many people can conjure, since the shopping stampedes appear on news stations every Black Friday, predictable as coverage of the running of the bulls in Pamploma.
People have been hurt in previous runnings of the consumers, and it was simple to anticipate that more severe harm could easily result from the manufactured hysteria over Black Friday sales. People engage in potentially lethal aggression at the prospect of grabbing the first Tickle Me Elmo. Next year, the capitalist catalyst might be a Billious Barbie doll or Callous Ken. The object of manufactured hysteria is almost irrelevant, and almost necessarily impractical. What was the Wal-Mart in Long Island offering at 5 a.m. that could justify the consumers’ behavior? Expect some commentators will find ways to rationalize Jdimytai Damour’s death.
Journalists, for the most part, cling to a 19th-century view of capitalism in which the deaths of servants or workers can be praised when those terminations further the capitalist cause and its celebrities. Thus, the amazing headline in the London Times: “Bombay: Wealthy Owe Lives to Hotel’s Cummerbund Heroes.” The headline’s article accepts a calculus that turns master/servant relationships into a Jeeves-takes-a-bullet-for-Wooster narrative. The following description sounds as if it were drawn from the London Times of the Victorian period: “The Taj Mahal had been renowned for its sublime service for decades. Few of the hotel’s wealthy patrons would have predicted, however, that the men and women who delivered their meals and carried their bags – people earning a fraction of the sums of those they served – would display such courage….” And did the surviving business tycoons leave the dead hotel workers a tip for such sublime service?
The article names some of the rich and famous, but the workers end up as a generalized pronoun: “Everything about them was just so, from the impressive moustaches of the impeccably dressed porters who opened guests’ car doors, to the perfectly pressed waistcoats of the bartenders and to the silk saris of the female concierge staff.” Apparently, sublime service would have included dying without wrinkling or bloodying one’s work uniform. It is just so with the proponents of capitalism who will never wonder why the business tycoons and wealthy guests of the Taj Mahal failed to throw their bodies in front of bullets intended for the hotel’s staff. Mr. Damour’s death will likely be forgotten in order to highlight the sales statistics for Black Friday, numbers produced, in part, by the Long Island stampeders accomplishing their mission of shopping at any cost. Who can forget the lesson of 2001 that the most important thing upon which to focus during times of great national tragedy is shopping?
Earlier this year, our politicians preached that socialism is a self-evident evil. Those speeches preceded the bailout of AIG and Citigroup. Those bailouts undermine the rhetoric of free market capitalism, causing media pundits and economists to deny what looks like an unprecedented socialist moment on the grounds that we (no longer the us versus them discourse) are in the midst of an unprecedented moment when markets will no longer be free, but quite expensive.
Maybe this constitutes an unprecedented moment, a day the earth stands still, to reconsider our relationship to capitalism, to stop the running of the consumers, to cease rationalizations for saving the rich and the corrupt of Wall Street, Fleet Street, and Mumbai via indebting the masses for the rest of their lives, and to end tales of virtue involving the poor taking bullets for the rich. Let Bertie take his own bullet.
P.S. Peter Goodman wrote the same day that the piece above was sent off to another venue that did not want it. Goodman must have sensed too that a cultural shift might have been possible, and I wish that his piece had received wider attention.