Tag Archives: Debt Ceiling

The Price of Entertainment

Re-redistributing the Wealth.

In recent months, I’ve been branded a “serious” person.  I suppose it’s because, in spite of myself, I get turned on by big words and political debates.  I watch documentaries about World Wars and the commercialization of food — I use phrases like “the commercialization of food.”  I think I can comfortably assume that when folks characterize someone as “serious,” they do so with little or no ill-intention.  They mean to distinguish you from the masses for whom everyday life out in the world is serious enough — the people who choose not to compound their personal problems with foreign peoples’ shit or U.S. Congressional back and forth over some arbitrary issue.  Life is hard out here, y’all.  And folks really just wanna be entertained.

But entertainment in lieu of information comes with a hefty price tag.    If we were capable of both, I’d bypass my soapbox  and turn to The Bachelorette to keep up with pop culture.  But we aren’t capable of both.  How else do you account for Flavor of Love?  Soulja Boy?  Kim Kardashian?  And what the fuck is a Bad Girls Club?  What’s so special about them that they get to be on tv?  Who are these hoes    “bad girls”?

I firmly believe that life and art are symbiotically related; they feed off one another, for better or for worse.    There was a time when artistry was defined by the voice it gave to the reality its artists lived.  Jazz from Black musicians during the 40s was syncopated rebellion against inequality and discrimination, and upbeat swing that might lead you to believe shit was actually cool for folks.  Likewise, the condition of urban life in some of America’s best known cities gave birth to hip hop music and hip hop culture.  Brothas and sistas rapped about selling dope, and about “gang banging” to survive and to establish some semblance of family and protection, because this was the life they knew — the only life they knew.  There are some contemporary moments that hearken back to that era, too.  On Say Hello from the American Gangster album, Jay-Z’s like:

 We aint thugs for the sake of just bein thugs/nobody do that where we grew at, nigga duh/the poverty line we not above, so out come the mask and gloves cause we aint feelin the love/ we aint doin crime for the sake of doin crimes/ we movin dimes cause we aint doin fine/one outta three of us is locked up doin time/you know what that type of shit can do to a nigga’s mind…

There was once substance in what also entertained us.  And where there was substance, there existed the potential for information and education.  It appears that what drives us now is our need to be entertained.  We live to see manufactured drama unfold, to watch cats shuck and jive for our limited attention spans.  “Reality” tv shows, for example, aren’t even shows about real people anymore.  Their casts are now chock full of caricatures of personalities, which must include:  the promiscuous gay guy; the kinda sorta lesbian that will do it to a dude given the right vodka proof; the bitch; the Black; the loose white girl; the one who’s a little off and might have some undealt-with mental/emotional situations, and the white boy (who is either country-boy-virginal, or frat-boy-asshole — there are no in betweens in reality tv).  This isn’t the real world; it’s a real-type world created for our amusement.

Last week, someone tweeted this Daily Show clip of Don Lemon lamenting that the news network he reports for — the “most trusted name in news” —  severely shorts its trustworthiness with attempts to entertain intermingled with its job to inform.

I get Lemon’s irritation.  Because it’s all fun and games until you get hoodwinked by the shuck and jive.  And that’s the price we pay.  We get exhausted at the notion of learning something new, and disenchanted with intellectual curiosity.  We get so wrapped up in what happens in fake life that we can barely come up for air when real life lays in the balance.  I’m a political scientist, and I have a fetish for learning so I admit to being a bit biased.  However, I don’t have to be either of those things to notice that what I don’t know, can most certainly hurt me.

I wrote last week about the debt ceiling debate that had been unnecessarily holding our economy hostage.  Let me be clearer about that:  it was Republicans holding the economy hostage, and it was a Republican ideologically-oriented “deal” that was passed to avert another economic disaster.  It’s important to know this because the economic forecast as a result of the passage of the “bipartisan” deal is cloudy than a muthafucka.  Yesterday, the markets plummeted in reaction, and today our nation sits at the precipice of recession 2.0.  If and when the shit hits the fan is too late to remember that you voted for the people who made these decisions.  Or that you didn’t vote for the people who would have made different ones (which, in essence, was a vote for your opposition).

Either way, the lesson going forward should be:  you can watch what happens live, but you must also watch what happens — to our lives — when our collective desire for a court jester supersedes our collective desire to know shit.

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The Debt Ceiling: Manufactured Chaos

Ideology:  a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture; b: a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture; c: the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program.  In other words, one’s personal and/or political ideology is defined by her beliefs about what she thinks will allow society to function better.

In recent years, politicians and pundits have cautioned us against reverting to our respective ideological corners, and refusing to engage in compromise.  They say that no one wins when we are incapable of working together for the collective good, and I tend to agree with this assertion.  Where these same people err, however, is in affirming the idea that the ends of each ideological spectrum are equally detrimental to the continued prosperity of “the American people.”

The debt ceiling “crisis” which looms over the American economy like a dark and foreboding cloud represents clearly the ideological divide that has the American political system stuck in neutral, and slipping steadily into reverse.  But this chasm isn’t “new.”  It started roughly 30 yeas ago with  the Reagan administration (which raised the debt ceiling, by the way, more than a dozen times without having to check its conservatism at the door).  Reagan and his neoconservative progeny relentlessly imposed on the populace the idea that government was big and bad and pretty unnecessary.  Inevitably, government would drain you of your freedoms — all of them.   In their view, the government and those who were of the government would raise your taxes year after year and you would have nothing to show for it.  Government would destroy your ability to achieve the American dream.

Indeed, with expansive government control, you’d be unfairly subjected to a public school system, a national postal service, an ambulance or fire truck should you ever have the need, an agency that ensures your burgers don’t routinely come with lettuce, tomatoes, and e.coli.  It provides for an environmental protection agency which ensures that Business X can’t dump its toxic waste where you fish, and a national infrastructure that isn’t bursting at the seems, or crumbling beneath the surface…actually, scratch that one.  But, you understand the point.  Obviously, this is merely a minor difference in perspective.

Except that it isn’t minor at all.  As the Pew Racial Wealth Gap Study recently pointed out, the economic policies largely championed by anti-government lawmakers in the last 25 years have severely affected the livelihoods of Americans who have been well-served by the “intrusive” hand of government.  Because without it, persons of those groups remained both separate and perpetually unequal.  And here is where the current ideological divide got its start:  it was in the audacity of minorities to want to be equal, to want access to opportunity.

But for folks, granting access to the outsiders resulted in their own loss.  They misinterpreted Civil Rights as minority rights or Black rights or poor rights or women’s rights — namely, everyone’s rights except for theirs.  It was terrifying for the powers-that-be to acquiesce to the persistent erosion of their own power — driven by “big government.”

Enter 2011 party politics, and the debt ceiling debate.  There is no real debate, no real crisis of which to speak.  Congressional Republicans are holding up a routine practice for the sole purpose of political posturing — so that they can finally cut government spending (which is a legitimate issue) by gutting programs designed to aid the nation’s most vulnerable, and its middle class alike.  Indeed, one side of the aisle still believes in expanding the opportunity to achieve the American dream; on the other side, if you don’t already have it, or plan to inherit it, then you shit outta luck.

And sadly, poor or middle class people concerned with “runaway government passing on debt to their children and grandchildren” have bought into a narrative that serves no one’s interests, unless they are wealthy ones.  Make no mistake about it, this is class warfare.  The problem is that many Americans unfortunately are disillusioned about which class they actually are in.

In the last few days, I learned about the current Governor of North Carolina, Bev Perdue.  North Carolina has traditionally been a politically divided state, sometimes led by a Democratic Governor, but legislatively controlled by Republicans.  In this ruinous Tea Party era, Governor Perdue has vetoed Republican bills that seek to roll back protections on abortion, off-shore oil drilling, jury awards in medical malpractice suits, environmental restrictions, and bills which give businesses more freedom to deny benefits to unemployed workers.  Now, because her state legislature is Republican, nearly all Governor Perdue’s vetoes have been overturned.  But her purpose in vetoing these bills hasn’t been to win.  No, Governor Perdue wants to go on record having made a clear distinction about where she stood when North Carolina made a U-turn on progress.

I suspect that if no deal is reached in the debt ceiling debacle, and the country’s economy plummets into default, at least I’ll know where my President stood.  And who stood against him.

Pay.  Attention.