Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Burn in Hell

I don’t give a rat’s ass about the economy. Not really. It’s either way over my head or beneath my contempt. Let Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P suffer—Lord knows they have presided over the suffering of others—here and abroad—for quite a while now.

I have to echo the sentiment of Luis Caplan, physician to the poor in the Bronx for decades, now facing eviction as his retirement savings evaporate: Wall Street can “burn in hell.”

What amazes me about the current economic debacle is that, given the nation’s crumbling infrastructure—bridges, levees, highways, dams, public schools, borders, its military reduced to making or mail-ordering its own armor—nobody, nobody in the federal government and nobody in the private sectors, has found a way to turn these crying needs into jobs and opportunities for new productivity.

Instead, the focus has been on propping up Wall Street—financial institutions, in particular credit companies (read: glorified loan sharks) and wealthy speculators (read: smoke and mirrors) to encourage you and me to go to Disney World and break down and buy that widescreen TV we’ve had our eyes on, while CEOs continue pulling in 600 times our annual income, of which they pay a lower percentage in taxes—after bizarre deductions like African safaris passed off as legitimate business expenses.

It, all of it, is incredibly surreal.

So, in the spirit of the hour, I settle down to watch the new Criterion Collection DVD of Luis Buñuel’s 1962 The Exterminating Angel, a delightfully grim apocalyptic fantasy of extravagantly wealthy Mexican arts patrons who, after an evening of sipping champagne and toasting their own importance, find themselves unable to leave the room—even though nothing at all blocks the way.

As madness sets in, and as a bear and a small flock of sheep set up residence in the rest of the mansion, everyday people stand watching outside, equally impotent to storm the house and save the aristocrats.

At one point a doctor in the film tells his rich friends, now contemplating the murder of their hosts, whose hospitality they had just recently enjoyed and whom they now blame for their own failures of will: “Consider the terrible consequences of your actions. This vile act of aggression does not stand alone. It means the very end of human dignity and reverting to savage animals.”

Right now I can’t think of a better metaphor for the Senate fat cats stalemated by their own greed, cowardice, and lack of imagination, okaying a neutered and probably altogether misguided stimulus plan. And of a populace, angry, frustrated, and scared, transfixed by the collapse of the American dream—by which I do not mean widescreen TVs.

Kudos to Criterion for timing this video release just right.

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