St. Philip’s Catholic Church in Battle Creek, Michigan. Temples like this serve as empty refuges from the crucified American Dream.
Battle Creek, Michigan used to have factories. It doesn’t have many of them anymore. As The Guardian’s Chris Arnade writes in his profile of Battle Creek’s disenchanted voters, “with the economic backbone broken, with hope in the future dimming, faith has become more central as a source of community, solace and hope.”
American society has reached a very real tipping point. Capitalism’s creative destruction has left millions of people with nothing more than amorphous notions of “faith” to lead them through the penury-stricken Land of the Free. Those just retiring are hoping to scrounge together what little benefits they have left, while those just starting out are facing the bleak reality of a future without any retirement at all. If you were a betting person, however, you’d know that rolling the dice on faith usually means giving away your chips to the House.
Left: the non-native wild hog that inhabits Florida’s remaining brush. Right: a Trump-Pence campaign sign in Pasco County, Florida. Trump is also a species of fauna that is non-native to the Sunshine State.
The hogs seemed terrified that night. A few days after Christmas 2016, I decided to take an evening walk in the balmy December air that, for a few weeks a year, makes the state of Florida a bearable place to inhabit. The problem is that Wesley Chapel, the Pasco County census-designated place (CDP) where my in-laws live, isn’t especially hospitable to the notion of pedestrian traffic. There are some sidewalks, but not enough of them, and most of the time you’d be hard-pressed to see them populated by anything but the odd Acura RL piloted by one of the state’s billions of confused retirees.
Nevertheless, there’s a long stretch of sidewalk snaking alongside Wesley Chapel Blvd., the multi-lane thoroughfare that connects the town’s residents with their sacred auto dealerships, buffet chains, and a Wal-Mart Supercenter the size of Estonia. I decided to make use of this sidewalk for a bit of evening exercise. With my iPod blaring the synthwave sound of 80s retro-future act Gunship, I ambled along as the gas-guzzlers blew past until I arrived at a bridge that separated the marshy natural bushland from the seemingly endless sea of new pavement and big boxes. Suddenly, along the roadside where cement gave way to scrub grass and treeline, two wild hogs — a common wildlife sight in Florida and throughout the South — scurried from the roadside brush and disappeared back into the trees.
Those hogs were as lost, scared, and confused as America was in 2016.
The Florida Man Twitter feed is the most American thing ever, because Florida is the most American thing ever.
America is the place where people from all over the word come to live the American Dream. But in America itself, people move southward to live out something far more American than the American Dream: the Florida Dream.
Florida is where the runoff from America’s cultural stream settles into a fetid, stagnant pool of low taxes, cheap property prices, an endless supply of immigrant labor, cold weather-fleeing geriatrics, and trigger-happy right-wing politics. For decades, Sunshine State boosters have wrapped up the Florida Dream in a carefully marketed vision of an overly humid, sunburned paradise bolstered by an economic tripartite of hospitals, condominiums, and a gigantic, anthropomorphic mouse. And Americans can’t get enough of it.
“Bosses of the Senate.” by Joseph Keppler, 1889. At the height of the Gilded Age, private oligopolies became as powerful as, if not more so than, states. The more things change…
Alas, capitalism, we hardly knew ye! Actually, we’ve known ye all along, and we know that you can sometimes be a real sumbitch.’ But thanks to the not-surprising-yet-still-infuriating revelations highlighted in the Panama Papers, we know at lot more about the world’s most notorious open secret: global capitalism has allowed private interests to thrive unencumbered by the whims of states, democratic or otherwise.
In fact, you might say that capitalism as practiced by the neoliberal global order is really just a front for perpetuating a modern feudal system. The Road to Serfdom indeed.
Rankin/Bass studios created a curiously materialistic, yet relentlessly classic take on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Not long after the television established itself as a common sight in American homes in the 1960s, the annual Christmas special became a seasonal staple of manufactured yule-tide cheer. Faced with the prospect of spending unwanted time with unwanted relatives, Americans found that they could bear the unbearable December reunions by gathering around the glowing cube of faux-escapism and enduring the company of kith and kin while drowning in the cheerful seasonal bliss embodied in what we now consider cherished holiday tv classics. Classics such as the beloved stop-motion chestnut, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Produced by Rankin/Bass productions, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer first aired on December 6, 1964, and in the 51 years since this original airing, it’s become a well-established part of many viewers’ Christmas traditions. The special eventually became a cultural icon, but there’s equal parts darkness and light in this seemingly charming holiday tale. While Rudolph is undoubtedly an enduring tv classic, it’s also a disturbing showcase of isolationism, unrestricted capitalism, patriarchy, sexism, and stifling conformity overcome not by the gifts of uncompromised individuality, but by the cajoled assimilation of thoughtless materialism. Continue Reading
Pope Francis has rankled right-wing toadstools because American conservatives are Marxists when it comes to the issue of economic materialism.
Break out your Papal Tiaras, rock your rosaries, and stoke your stigmatas, because the one-and-only steward to the sanctified seat of Saint Peter; the Internationally Infallible Grand Poobah of Apostolic awesomeness himself — Pope Francis — is touring America.
This fall’s papal visit marks the first time that the Argentine-born Francis (née Jorge Mario Bergoglio) has placed his slippered paws onto U.S. soil, and he’s causing quite a stir, especially among American wingnuts who haven’t taken kindly to Francis’ refusal to act like Ayn Rand in a white beanie.
In 21st century America, meet the new “neighborhood” town center.
Few institutions represent the bloated, socially stratified, natural-environment-degrading, corporation-worshipping, beached on a mile-wide parking-lot corpse that is 21st-century America better than Walmart. The voracious Aspidochelone from Arkansas is not only the current twentieth most valuable brand on Earth, it’s also the largest employer in America, providing dynamic, food-stamp-assisted careers to some 1.3 million people. Unless you’ve been living under a boulder shamelessly draped with the American flag, you know that Walmart has for years been the subject of controversy. For some, it represents the essence of American freedom, to others, it’s the ultimate symbol of the ethically challenged, cheapness-obsessed, soul-degrading state of modern capitalism.
Inside a meatpacking plant in Nebraska. These chambers of slaughter often rely on the illegal immigrants that Americans love to loathe.
In Chapter 4 of The Jungle — Upton Sinclair’s searing 1906 exposé of the American meatpacking industry — Lithuanian immigrant Jurgis Rudkus arrives at the steaming blood chambers of Chicago’s slaughterhouses and follows his boss to the “killing beds.” He’s given a large broom to “follow down the line the man who drew out the smoking entrails from the carcass of the steer” and sweep the innards into a trap “so that no one might slip into it.” As the screams of animals whose hides were being peeled from their still-living bodies echoes off of the gut-splattered walls, Rudkus wades through pools of coagulating blood and tries to avoid losing a limb to the same gnashing blades that turned cattle into steak. This is a job primarily reserved for immigrants, and Rudkus is glad to have it: at least it promises a future — it promises the American Dream.
Former Massey Energy CEO — and world-class asshat — Don Blankenship, wraps himself in the flag to give the impression that he cares more about the red, white, and blue than he does the green.
Americans like to talk a good deal about their twin-commitments to both capitalism and democracy, but the relationship between the two systems is, shall we say, fraught with tension. Democracy tries to remind capitalism about the importance of freedom and individual human rights, but, like an anti-domestic violence group trying to lecture the NFL about the importance of respecting women, its success rate is mixed, to say the least. The resulting conflict between corporate profit and human flourishing has burned with the intensity of a coal fire throughout U.S. history — which brings us to Don Blankenship.
Just keep on running, American consumers, because you’ll catch up with the plutocrats and end up rich, some day…
Americans love to shop. More than a mere mundane exercise in the exchange of script for goods and services, shopping in the U.S. has long been a kind of secular ritual. During this ongoing rite, the trembling, plastic and paper contents of Americans’ collective purses and wallets are gleefully drawn and quartered through millions of soulless, retail card-swipe machines or fed into the ravenous, gaping maws of insatiable cash registers in an orgiastic display of consumerist debauchery that would make Caligula blush. Indeed, so intense is the American consumer’s desire to please the market and retail gods that we even have a term, “citizen-consumer,” to describe how Americans want to define and project their personal identities via the buying of goods and services.