Eliding the pain and misery

NPR ran an interesting but daft segment a few weeks ago about the supposed comeback of leftovers as a hip trend in American home cooking. Its gloss alternated at a disorienting pace between attributing Americans’ interest in leftovers to economically necessitated thrift and attributing it to the glorious moral clarity and principle of the socially conscious. The latter gloss gave NPR an excuse to perform excellent rim jobs on WWI trendsetters for having the ascetic moral courage to unite themselves to the passion of Europe’s starving children, and on today’s trendsetters (Millennials and older mimickers, probably) for having the moral clarity and principle to eat last week’s food instead of today’s out of a desire to protect the earth from excessive factory farming and whatnot.

A couple of noteworthy contexts were missing from this orgy of brownnosing. One was the shameful refusal, barely a generation after the Treaty of Versailles, of the US government to admit Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, resulting in their wholesale repatriation to Continental Europe, where they were systematically starved. Even worse, from a present-day civic perspective, was the studied ignorance of the household budgeting decisions being made by cash-strapped Americans today, even though the very same host and guest blamed tight household finances for the kitchen thrift of the Great Depression and the Baby Boom.

The subliminal takeaway here, of course, is that we aren’t in any sort of depression today, post-2008. Never mind that the current depression set in so close to the eighty-year periodicity used in the Fourth Turning model that its arrival a year (or maybe two) before the eighty-year anniversary of Black Tuesday amounted to a rounding error, or that it delivered a lasting body blow to workforce participation rates and household savings. No, it’s the Great Recession, and it’s over, except that it obviously is not, and everyone saying otherwise is either a lunatic, a PR flack, a huckster, or a specimen of callow privilege.

This, not the cool story about how Leave It to Beaver housewives made molded mashed carrots into the shape of carrots or wrapped bananas in ham slices and drizzled them with cheese sauce (because fresh bananas shipped from some Central American CIA client state to Worthington, Ohio are totally an example of Ohioans making do with shit that was lying around the house), is the key thing to grasp about this leftover segment. NPR is eerily skilled, of course, at burying its ledes in plain sight. It assumes that its audience is too addled, uncritical, and absentminded to notice that it’s being fed a shit sandwich, and it’s largely correct in this assumption. The stupider sorts of NPR listeners are exceptionally and inexcusably stupid because they are consumed with the self-satisfaction of their own high educational attainment and cultural refinement. That is, they’re too arrogant to imagine that they might possibly be manipulated, and, God forbid, crudely so, by other city slickers doing dirty work for shadowy elites far beyond their socioeconomic station. The target demographic here is the same one that falls for affected downtowners preening to them about how Cokie Roberts just said a big grownup word on the radio thingy, a word that no one at WOGL is educated enough to utter on air, and oh by the way give us your money. Put that in your totebag, Mr. Chips.

The false paradox of household cooking today, that Americans are trying harder to trim their grocery expenses even as food becomes cheaper and takes up less of their budgets, is ridiculously easy to explain: Americans have been besieged by rentiers who extort the everloving shit out of them in housing, employment, education, and medical care, so they economize where they can, and food is much more competitively and fairly priced than the really expensive things just mentioned. NPR can’t lay any of this out, though, because it’s politically incorrect, and Massa would get mad. This is why it feeds us a bogus narrative about hipsters reusing old food for cool bougie points instead.

This superficially innocuous bullshit is part of a stunning battery of social controls arrayed to sweettalk or shame Americans into putting a positive spin on truly negative circumstances. Refusing to polish a turd is a party foul in a way that taking a dump on one’s subordinates or general inferiors is not. This is how we end up with memes like “funemployment.” Get it? It’s like unemployment, but it’s fun! Snork snork! “Funemployment” totally didn’t become a Millennial socioeconomic meme just as the economy and the labor market started to go into a tailspin. Similarly, advice to young people to find rewarding, passion-inspiring careers instead of stable, lucrative ones totally didn’t start cropping up years earlier as the MBA’s started crapifying relatively stable and equitable corporate cultures into crazymaking free-for-alls dominated by contingent employment for low salaries, or for no salary at all via illegal unpaid “internships.” Nor did the rise of the “sharing economy” have anything to do with desperate, increasingly dispossessed people trying to replace reliable jobs with jitney cab and boardinghouse gigs in a period of falling social engagement and trust, just like in the Great Depression. No. None of this has anything to do with anything else.

Anyone who’s been there and is honest about it will admit that unemployment is fun for maybe the first week or two, or the first month at the outside, before turning into a living hell. The transition is much quicker for people who truly need a paycheck: those who don’t have rainy day funds set aside, have student loans, have children to feed and clothe, or ailing older relatives, etc. It’s relatively enjoyable for childless recent graduates from affluent families, or at least it can be. But even rich kids (that is, those who are rich by mainstream standards) can quickly run into real financial limitations, especially if they aren’t total boneheads with absolutely no future-time orientation. It’s quite feasible to exhaust, say, $50,000 in inheritance money and residual savings on a comfortable, culturally enriched lifestyle in the hope that another job will come along in due course of time, but it’s also quite stupid. If a chunk of this fund has to go to rent every month (or, worse, every week), there goes all the cool stuff that a truly financially secure, or recklessly spendthrift, unemployed person can afford: the bar-hopping, the concerts, the plays, the museum admissions, the nice restaurants, the bespoke clothes, the extra gas money and train fare.

For the merely affluent unemployed not crashing with family, or with friends who don’t mind having the occasional Kato Kaelin in their lives, the very concept of funemployment is a losing proposition to maintain a Downton Abbey lifestyle on a Last of the Summer Wine budget. It just doesn’t work. The unemployed who have to watch their budgets, or who want to do so out of some sense of prudence or decency, end up retreating into their apartments. The positive feedback loop intensifies. When this happens in cultures where the poors are induced to envy or compare themselves to people whose parents summer in the Hamptons, we shouldn’t wonder why this cycle causes shame and self-loathing. When this happens in a deranged hybrid culture of repressed neopuritan primness and plantation chattel slavery, we should be even less surprised. We order people to work and don’t allow them to get jobs, and then, for the money shot, we wonder why they aren’t as self-confident as they might be. Or we wonder why they take Donald Trump’s explicit promises to limit Red Queen’s Race competition from a foreign peasantry working in the shadows more seriously than the mealymouthed, entitled shit constantly emanating from Jeb Bush’s piehole. Gee, Poirot, you filthy condescending Franco-Belgian bastard, can you possibly solve a mystery like this?

Edwardian Eurotrash: Not Even Once.

Then we have the meme that trustfunders are all layabouts spoiled by endless moral hazard, which has been extended quite liberally to Millennials as an age cohort. This is a great opportunity to reverse cause and effect and do some self-righteous victim-blaming. In point of fact, trust fund beneficiaries often have an exceptionally easy time finding work, especially the wealthiest (and presumably most spoiled) ones. Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter once used his Clark Rockefeller act to walk into a bond sales office and get a job as a salesman on the spot. He wasn’t even a fucking Rockefeller. No one did a mental check, like, hey, have I ever read about this guy in the society pages? He didn’t even assume a real toff’s identity; he just made some shit up, and people believed him because he cleaned up well and dressed the part. The number of sinecures available for truly wealthy trustfunders is however many the beneficiary pool wants it to be, and the merely affluent are doing better as a class than the poor.

Oh, but rich people use drugs. Yeah. And so do poor people. Being a wealthy cokehead is the difference between living in one’s parents’ basement in Etobicoke into one’s forties and ending up sprawled out on the Low Track in the rain because no one really gives a shit. Or you could end up like Rob Ford. The Mayor enjoys a sip of that sweet, sweet sauce and a puff of that most righteous rock, but riding the electric speed train to Rock Road didn’t keep him from getting onto the city council. When push comes to shove, only a tiny fringe of sadists and sociopaths truly want even their most fucked up grown children sleeping in a puddle of community bodily fluids on skid row. Joe Dirtbag and the Family Shrew have been cool with my sleeping in my car because I inadvertently got them butthurt, but I checked the Mayo Clinic diagnostic criteria, and they have personality disorders. #TCOT is probably cool with putting the little grown brats out on the street because they don’t have that hustle, but blood is thicker than #TCOT. Usually.

Oh, but rich hipsters on allowances from their parents spend all the live-long day in coffeeshops, not looking for work. No shit, Inspector Lewis. It’s because there isn’t any work for them. Many of them have clinical depression or anxiety, probably aggravated by their shitty circumstances; hipster shtick just allows them to pretend that they’re ironically unemployed, not earnestly unemployed. It’s temporarily less troubling than admitting that they’re last in, first out against both the Mexicans and their Type A prep school and college classmates. It’s just how they choose to polish the turd. In their defense, though, they aren’t trying to hustle me nail jobs like the metrosexual Slavo-Arab fuckheads at the mall, or inside-information stock tricks from James Altucher, like Doug Casey and his crew keep dumping into my inbox when they aren’t accusing me of being too lazy to get a job and too imprudent to set aside savings in their investment scams.

The coffeeshop regulars aren’t spending too much on coffee; they’re spending too much on rent because housing is treated as a speculative asset class, not a utility. The private householders and the slumlords are the ones who know how to play gimmedat politics to their unending success; some loser, or perceived loser, spending all day at Starbucks because it’s the cheapest option immediately available is failing at gimmedat politics.

Don’t let some schmuck tell you to get a job; tell him to gimme one. Forget coffee; Gobias some public housing. And, by all means, if NPR shows up, mention the great deal you got on Fancy Feast at Grocery Outlet, and offer to share a few cans. M’Lady, do you prefer tuna, or chicken?

Please to the table.

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2 thoughts on “Eliding the pain and misery

  1. Thanks for the link. I had almost forgotten that I had a blog and that I used to actually write stuff on it.

    I was unemployed twice since I started working full time. The first time I was in my late 20s, unmarried and childless, and splitting the rent with my then-girlfriend (now wife). I wouldn’t say it was “fun,” but with unemployment insurance I was able to make my half of the rent and still have enough left over to go out once or twice a week. Day to day was pretty uneventful, though. I’d hang around the apartment alone working on short stories that never got published and occasionally sending out a resume. And when my insurance was almost up (you were allotted six months’ worth of payments back then, if I recall) I quickly found another job and right back to the cubicle rat maze.

    The second time, however, I had a 4-month old child and a mortgage, and it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to cover the monthly household expenses, let alone health insurance for the kid, on what I was getting in unemployment. Luckily a friend who’s a house painter hooked me up with some under the table work that held me over until I was able to find a permanent job with benefits a month or so later. But yeah, there was a definite moment of panic when I did the math and realized I was barely going to have enough money to pay the mortgage and nothing else.

    One last thing–the other day I pulled up alongside a car–a Volvo station wagon, what else?–with a bumper sticker on it that said, “A PBS Mind in a Fox News World.” Must be so hard being one of the enlightened few in a world full of benighted fools.

    • That’s a more fucked up bumper sticker than most. It expresses the feelings that much of the NPR/PBS audience quietly feels but has the decency and shame not to express, because they’re repulsive and should never be uttered in public.

      Then there’s the conceit that NPR and PBS are in fact vigorous, independent-minded, left-of-center outlets. LOL. The NewsHour was whoring itself out to ADM by the late nineties, when I was still in high school, and both networks run bog-standard government propaganda on a regular basis. High Arka hit NPR and the unctuous house voice used by its hosts squarely on the head. There are exceptions that prove the rule, like Scott Simon, and for that matter, Bob Edwards, who was fired from Morning Edition ca. 1999 and replaced by a swelling pool of cyborgs. It’s still pretty good radio in spite of these ballsuckers (and Scott Simon is world-class), but it’s pathetic to feel smug and superior for listening to it.

      People don’t indulge in this sort of preening if they expect that they’ll have to interact socially with members of other classes, or feel that they should interact socially with the poories. I’m just glad that my parents didn’t and don’t fly that PBS mind bumper sticker. They’ve had a few embarrassing class-signifier bumper stickers (i.e., not for political campaigns, which at least serve a civic purpose), but nothing like that. Nobody with the self-importance to put shit like that on his car should be raising children. It’s just bad, bad socialization.

      The bougie cultural memes in circulation these days are fucking disgraceful. These “Keep Calm and [Diddle Yourself]” posters with the Union Jack from WWII Great Britain have become all too popular. My parents got me a T-shirt for a restaurant in Vermont (of course) that misappropriated this war propaganda as a marketing meme. I might wear it under another shirt if I ever come across it; I have no idea where it is right now, but that’s just as well, because I don’t want to be seen in public, or even in private, wearing that sort of embarrassing Vermont Brahmin swag. It got Englishmen through the blitzes of London and Coventry, and now it directs Bougie to some twee-ass restaurant in Vermont. Dear Lord. Then there was the chopstick sleeve my parents and I came across at Noodles and Company bragging about the superiority of chopsticks users to “the fork people.” My parents found this “cute” and thought me a spoilsport for objecting to it, but for God’s sake, no one should tip the high hat to anyone else for not knowing how to use chopsticks. It’s too obnoxious for words, and it accomplishes nothing positive at all. When bougies make fun of flyover country rednecks for being useful idiots in the Republican Party, there’s at least some civic objective in sight, even if it will never be achieved because the bougies are needlessly pissing off people with legitimate grievances.

      Then there are those European-style white oval bumper stickers that have been proliferating on the backs of yuppie cars for the past decade or so. The first wave of them featured airport codes for suitably posh vacation spots (which is why I kind of want one saying “EWR,” and might even put it on my car). Then the 26.2 and 13.1 stickers started showing up for the in-your-face marathoners, and the Mile 0 stickers for the Cape May crowd, and pink ovals for breast cancer, ad nauseam. Anyway, a few weeks ago, I saw a Subaru on the Adirondack Northway near Saratoga Springs that had at least NINE of these stickers on its rear bumper and windshield. I recall there being two or three rectangular bumper stickers back there as well. The car had North Carolina plates, allowing a bitch to take that shit back to Asheville or the Research Triangle (or maybe Charlotte) and get much street cred for having made pilgrimages for all these diverse cool changes.

      The classic right-wing answer to this horseshit is an excessive interest in professional sports. These are the people who drive the use of eminent domain to build white elephant minor league ballparks in places like York, PA. This summer a lifelong Republican friend of mine, who always seemed to be in favor of generally limited government, waxed eloquent in favor of the York Revolution as a downtown economic development project when I, normally a tax-and-spend liberal, argued that it was a huge waste on behalf of constituencies that don’t need the help. Then, this fall, my parents and I went to a party hosted by a family friend in her mansion in South York: probably 4,500 square feet of finished living space on at least a full acre of grounds, perched on defensible high ground near the Country Club like Little Round Top. Her husband, a hail-fellow-well-met roaring drunk (and I mean literally roaring; he was repeatedly yelling at me to eat and drink more all night, and getting another quasi-alcoholic friend of ours completely trashed), has a designated man cave in their basement, with a competition-grade pool table surrounded by probably ten or twenty thousand dollars’ worth of sports memorabilia. Anyway, this guy is one of these Go Galt soapbox types. At one point he was carrying on about how he sometimes goes to the Walmart in a bad part of South York where none of the Mexicans in line in front of him speaks English and they’re all paying with EBT cards. Verbatim, he said, “I look at them, and think, I’m paying for YOU, I’m paying for YOU….” This is because he pays taxes and he thinks they don’t. Later that night, he led an extended round of drunk old boys screaming racial slurs around the pool table.

      I didn’t feel like opening a can of worms by telling this guy with the mansion that if the Mexicans at Walmart have done any farm work lately, they’re my colleagues and he isn’t one. I had already had to spend much of the party dancing around the truth that I’ve basically been homeless for several years. For that matter, if these Mexicans are voting illegally, they’re probably doing less damage to my economic interests than this blowhard with all the sports memorabilia is doing with his own franchise, and I’m certainly not about to join a pity party for this poor fellow having maybe half a percent of the tax bill on his mansion being with the mansion having maybe half a percent of his tax bill appropriated to provide grocery benefits to the indigent.

      This is awfully long for a moderator response, but most of this stuff wouldn’t fit logically into a dedicated post. I can almost never write anything as concise and on-topic as the things you’ve published on your blog.

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