Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WTF- Anti-corporatism, District 9, the Economic Meltdown, Basic Math, and Matt Taibbi. Kitchen Sink Optional.

Another brief moment on District 9, but not really. Actually this is something I rarely do, that popular blog format- the point by point snipe. But it isn’t actually that either. It’s just that something reviewer Daniel Engber wrote in his review of District 9 for Slate.com well and truly pissed me off:

And so the film abandons any pretense of exploring the dynamics of social upheaval. Instead we're treated to yet another take on the evils of corporatism. Could there be a more egregious sci-fi cliché? In Moon we had Lunar Industries Ltd.; in Wall-E it was Buy N Large; Blade Runner featured the Tyrell Corp. And let's not forget the executives from the bio-weapons division of Weyland-Yutani, who cause all the carnage in Aliens.

It's a little odd, if you think about it, that District 9—and the whole sci-fi genre—should be so hung up on this one issue. Especially since creatures that arrive from another planet so clearly stand in for humans who arrive from another country: space aliens, illegal aliens. On the io9 blog, Charlie Jane Anders has argued that the archetypes of science-fiction are refugees; indeed, a long list of sci-fi novels explore the theme of immigration in great detail.

Duh! Most Golden Age SF was written by Jews and the genre emerged just before and after the second world war. How oblivious can Mr. Engber be?

Film directors, too, have in the past used stories of marooned aliens to examine race relations (e.g. Brother From Another Planet, Alien Nation) and assimilation (e.g. The Man Who Fell to Earth, Superman). Yet recent sci-fi cinema continues to dwell on the corporate menace.”

Obviously the answer to my previous questions is: completely. Personally, I don’t find anything odd at all that SF is interested in corporatism. Corporations as they exist in the modern world are a virtually unparalleled organization in human history. Huge completely amoral social structures, without geographic boundaries, immensely influential and wealthy, often more powerful than governments, with no motive other than avarice, and a organizational structure which is basically a meritocracy where merit consists of being Machiavellian in the pursuit of personal ambition and power.

In fact, it seems that if corporations didn’t exist, SF would have had to invent them.

Corporate intrigue really hit mainstream SF with the advent of Cyberpunk. There had been cautionary tales of large business interests in SF before that- Cyril Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl’s classic The Space Merchants pretty much laid the groundwork for the idea that business interests would surpass both government and religion as the dominant organizational structure in human society. But with Cyberpunk, corporations became a SF staple right along with space travel, aliens, and technological advancement. It makes perfect sense. Corporatism has that wonderful Frankenstein monster duality that drama depends on. As technology becomes more complex it requires more resources to improve that technology. Yet as society progresses we expect government (naively) to become more responsive to the citizenry. Thus we become caught in a catch-22 of high-tech capitalism requiring decisive innovative organization while high-tech democracy requires more slow moving bureaucracy. In a Darwinian sense it’s easy to see why the natural selection of the marketplace, which reassesses feedback four times a year, would result in more powerful social organizations than government which are naturally and contrivedly resistant to change even in a democracy.

The result seems to be the system we currently find ourselves in. I haven’t commented for awhile on what Matt Taibbi has been writing in Rolling Stone over the last two months but it is the most cogent and clear explanation of the economic situation over the last 12 months that I’ve found. If I were to consider myself a diminutive Diogenes, Taibbi is perhaps the last honest man I’ve found in the media. He is non-partisan, hellishly smart, unrelenting in his pursuit of a story, and perhaps the funniest writer anywhere in the mainstream media. He often gets compared to Hunter S. Thompson and rails against the comparison. And for good reason. He may be as funny and irreverent as Thompson, but what he is practicing isn’t gonzo journalism- it’s real journalism. It’s just that in our Pepsi drinking, McDonalds eating, GAP wearing, plastic culture, where real debate is ignored and faux debate is ubiquitous, where “news” reporting has the same relationship to real news that the WWF has to real sport, he’s an oddity. Someone who looks deep into the world and reports on what he sees and is flabbergasted that his society is so completely stupid and gullible.

A couple of months ago he wrote an article for Rolling Stone that pretty much laid out one (just ONE) aspect of how the government came to give so much of the American population’s money to a few obscenely rich private organizations for no reason other than that they were a big part of the status quo that is turning this country into a slave state. Since then he’s been shouted down by any number of corporate shills (slate rears it's ugly head again- who says there aren't callbacks in my writing?) defending Goldman Sachs for both infiltrating our government and taking TRILLIONS of dollars out of taxpayer’s pockets. Now it looks like Taibbi may resemble that character in DISTRICT 9 awaiting trial for revealing his company's illegal business.

A democracy cannot stand without an informed electorate. And the lack of basic math skills in America is apalling. Here is a short primer of what you are being told without realizing it:

There are about 330 million people in the US.

An average family consists of 4 people.

So there are 82.5 million American families.

A trillion dollars is a thousand billion dollars. And a billion is a thousand million dollars. So a trillion is a million million. (Yeah, I know this is stupid, but what are you going to do?)

So every time you hear the word trillion, if you are a member of the average America family needs to think, “They just used TWELVE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY ONE of my dollars.

That’s right but even that may be a little abstract. So instead, every time you hear trillion on the news remember that your family just bought somebody a 2008 Honda Accord!

(Look it up on kbb.com, the Kelly Blue Book site. I put in parameters for several cars and was non-plussed that last year’s Accord, at the base level, with 60,000 miles (as my top number- basically unlimited mileage on a one year old car), in good shape, resulted in about 13 thousand dollars. It seems a wildly low number. But OTOH I have a confession to make. I’m a middle-aged single man who makes what I consider a decent living and I can’t understand how an average American family lives on 50K a year with kids in school and cell phones for everybody. So I sure can’t realize how our government indebts every family for a year old Honda Accord for every trillion dollars they spend when the average family can’t afford to DRIVE year old Honda Accords.)

Anyway, a trillion dollars is every American family buying a car for somebody who already has more money than they could ever dream of. Last I heard, 50% of the wealth in this country is now controlled by the top 1% of the population. It is nothing short of obscene feudalism. And of all the corporate media, I’ve found only Matt Taibbi and a couple of others with the wavos to call our “representatives” out on it. Read his articles. Read his blog on True/Slant. He’s trying to clue you in.

Anyway, we’ve traveled far and wide in this post. And that’s why this blog has degenerated to movie reviews and random insaneness. The world is a complex place. And to really examine the problems in it takes complexity. A blog may not be the format for that and there may not be any place for it in an America that not only thinks there are simple answers to complex questions but can’t understand complex answers in the first place. Who knows. Matt is trying and SF continues to present cautionary tales of our own excess.

Next: facts about health care and the best superhero movie ever made.

Stay tuned…

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