Thursday, July 18, 2013

Let Them Eat Big Macs


During the feverish days leading up to the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette is supposed to have remarked “let them eat cake,” when told about the peasants starving in the streets. She never said it, of course, but despite that, the remark has come down through the ages as symbolic of the fact that the French aristocratic classes had absolutely no understanding of the realities of life for the mass of suffering, miserable peasants they ruled over (the idea of “democracy” and “citizens” being still in the future). The phrase was just so redolent of the “bubble” that the French aristocracy lived in prior to the Revolution, that Antoinette’s apocryphal remarks caught on. It was just so perfectly symbolic of that level of cluelessness, despite their historical inaccuracy. Today the phrase “let them eat cake” has become a convenient shorthand for the attitudes of out-of-touch elites.

So can there be any doubt that today’s elites are, if anything, even more divorced from the day-to-day realities of people whom they “manage” than during the days before the French Revolution? This includes elites in business, government and the mainstream big media conglomerates. This is despite the fact that we are post-French revolution, where we have the ideas of “citizen” and democracy”, where elites are supposedly elected by the people that they “serve” and their power derives from the consent of the governed.

So the latest exhibit is the McDonalds promotional site telling employees how to “budget” their meager incomes. Someone in the executive suites apparently thought this was a good idea, but it has backfired as it has gone viral on the Internet. Basically, McDonalds themselves have documented that it is nearly impossible to live a first-world lifestyle on their salary:

McDonald's Can't Figure Out How Its Workers Survive on Minimum Wage (The Atlantic)

McDonalds Tells Workers to Toil 70 Hours a Week, Use Ripoff Payroll Cards as Part of “Financial Literacy” (Naked Capitalism)

McDonalds’ suggested budget for employees shows just how impossible it is to get by on minimum wage (Deathandtaxes)

McDonald's to Employees: Get a Second Job or Drop Dead (Gawker)

As the Atlantic points out, these are what most jobs in the future are going to be. Most people think they won’t ever have them, but they will. It has nothing to do with intelligence, it’s just a numbers game. Thanks to opportunity hoarding by the upper classes, McJobs are going to be the only option for most people, regardless of their intelligence. Of course anyone not in these jobs will feel smug and superior to those that are, just as people who make it through a minefield feel about the people who have been blown to bits. Note that Walmart and McDonalds are the first and third largest employers in the United States. How long are we going to pretend that these are just bored housewives or teenagers with a summer job?

Let them eat Big Macs.

What’s amazing is how many Americans will defend this. We are truly a nation of sociopaths. We've  covered this before with this article: Job fair shocks governor Raskin. And let's not forget the Potemkin's Village constructed in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland for the G8 summit leaders. Out of touch elites? Check and double-check.

Meanwhile, David Brooks uses a John Wayne analogy to describe the end of men:
As Cantor notes, “The Searchers” is about this moment of transition. Civilization is coming. New sorts of people are bringing education, refinement, marriage and institutionalized justice. Crimes are no longer to be punished by the righteous gunfighter but by law.

Ethan Edwards made this world possible, but he is unfit to live in it. At the end of the movie, after seven years of effort, he brings the abducted young woman home. The girl is ushered inside, but, in one of the iconic images in Hollywood history, Edwards can’t cross the threshold. Because he is tainted by violence, he can’t be part of domestic joy he made possible. He is framed by the doorway and eventually walks away.

That image of the man outside the doorway is germane today, in a different and even more tragic manner. Over the past few decades, millions of men have been caught on the wrong side of a historic transition, unable to cross the threshold into the new economy.

But, surely, there has been some ineffable shift in the definition of dignity. Many men were raised with a certain image of male dignity, which emphasized autonomy, reticence, ruggedness, invulnerability and the competitive virtues. Now, thanks to a communications economy, they find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues.

Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating. A high school student doesn’t want to persist in a school where he feels looked down on. A guy in his 50s doesn’t want to find work in a place where he’ll be told what to do by savvy young things.
Matt Taibbi rightly pillories this column, pointing out the lack of jobs has nothing to do with “refusing work.” He correctly identifies this as yet another instance of the right-wing attempting to blame the lack of jobs on the workers themselves rather than the economic system ( i.e. “the economy would work fine if it weren’t for the damn people!”):
It's not just Brooks. These days you can't throw a rock without hitting some muddle-headed affluent white dude who spends his nights stroking his multiple chins and pondering the question of the lazy poor, convinced as he is that there are plenty of jobs and the problem is that prideful or uncommitted or historically anachronistic (that's Brooks' take) folks just won't suck it up and take them.

It's amazing how many educated people really believe that the unemployed just don't like to work. I remember seeing Jon Voight, of all people, reading one of his infamous letters on Mike Huckabee's show, talking about the "very poor and needy, who live to be taken care of," who have been fed "poison" by our president, giving them the idea that they're "entitled to take from the wealthy, who have lived and worked in a democracy."

Here's a guy lucky enough to have a job in a fantasy-land business where people hurl money at him round the clock for a few hours of work a day, who somehow finds the time to work himself into creepily genuine anger towards a group of people who have to fight to get jobs cleaning toilets or working fry-o-lators. Talk about a guy who needs a new hobby, or a puppy, something!

Remember that scene in American Psycho where Christian Bale stabs Reg E. Cathey's homeless "Al" character? The part where he's like, "Get a job, Al – you've got a negative attitude, that's what's holding you back!" Fellas, Mssrs. Brooks and Voight, that was satire. About the last thing the millions of broke Americans out there need is someone like you telling them their problem is that they need a more positive attitude. Actually their problem is much more simple: not enough jobs. Really, that's pretty much it. It's not a mystery.
However, I think Brooks may have stumbled on a good point that Taibbi missed. It’s less about gender than class. The lower classes used to imported into the United States by the truckload from all over the world because there was a boundless need for strong backs and sweaty brows to build this country. Now, having done that, and with millions of Asian peasants at their beck and call across the ocean, corporate America wants to abandon these inconvenient people and wash their hands of them so they can go off and die and decrease the surplus population. Luckily for them, the lower classes, hopped-up on guns and Jesus, and consumed by a crabs-in-a-bucket mentality, are enthusiastically committing suicide, sometimes literally.

And I'm sorry, but most men truly are ill-equipped by temperament for this economy. Mopping aisles, serving coffee, teaching second-grade, and changing catheters just doesn’t appeal to men the way driving trucks, building houses, and computer programming do, and I’m sorry, they never will. It’s less about refusing work than using any means at your disposal to get out of having to these awful jobs, which is why disability rolls are soaring.

1 comment:

  1. It’s less about refusing work than using any means at your disposal to get out of having to these awful jobs

    Especially given that most such jobs won't support a family at what American's view as a reasonable standard of living. If you can't achieve that anyways, why bother?

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