Saturday, March 14, 2009

Recession Chic

You knew this was coming: it's now trendy to be in a recession.

In just the seven months since the stock market began to plummet, the recession has aimed its death ray not just at the credit market, the Dow and Detroit, but at the very ethos of conspicuous consumption. Even those with a regular income are reassessing their spending habits, perhaps for the long term. They are shopping their closets, downscaling their vacations and holding off on trading in their cars. If the race to have the latest fashions and gadgets was like an endless, ever-faster video game, then someone has pushed the reset button.

“I do think that maybe now it’s a little bit chic or something to save money, or to be pinching pennies,” [Jennifer Riley, a corporate lawyer] said.
Oy. And while the well-heeled slum it with everyone else by "going shopping" in their very own closets, the tabloid media is also finding boffo ratings covering recession-era goons such as Bernie Madoff and other big Wall Street companies which caused this mess.

A camera crew for “Extra,” the syndicated entertainment show, huddled alongside the BBC and The Associated Press outside the courtroom as Bernard L. Madoff pleaded guilty on Thursday. That night, the show started by calling him “the most hated man in America.” The previous evening, “Inside Edition” profiled one of Mr. Madoff’s victims who testified in court, a 60-year-old woman who lost millions and had to go to work as a maid.

The tabloid media, of course, have always peered into the excesses of the rich and famous with a mix of puritan disapproval and voyeurism. But these outlets and other news organizations are now recording troubling uses of taxpayer money at country clubs, private airports and glamorous retreats and, in so doing, explicitly tapping into a fierce populist anger at corporate America, and even pressuring Congress to hold companies accountable.

TMZ, a Web site better known for unflattering paparazzi shots of Britney Spears and Rihanna, drove mainstream coverage and Congressional outrage with a blog post late last month that exclaimed, “Bailout Bank Blows Millions Partying in L.A.” The site reported that Northern Trust, a bank that received $1.6 billion in taxpayer money, had hosted hundreds of clients and employees at a golf tournament and a series of parties in Southern California. “Your tax dollars, hard at work,” the site wrote.
In fact, the media is even turning on itself. Witness Jon Stewart's smack down of CNBC gabber Jim Cramer last week.
It wasn’t “Brawl Street” or a thrilla in vanilla. It wasn’t a “Daily Show” friendly feud or even much of a discussion. Mostly, the much-hyped Thursday night showdown between the comedian Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer, the mercurial host of “Mad Money” on CNBC, felt like a Senate subcommittee hearing.

Mr. Stewart treated his guest like a C.E.O. subpoenaed to testify before Congress: his point was not to hear Mr. Cramer out, but to act out a cathartic ritual of indignation and castigation.
LOL. I hope the irony of having one millionaire castigate another millionaire over the "economic pain" of the recession isn't lost on you. The fact that our "indignation" and "catharsis" is being telegraphed and achieved on a comedy show is even better.

As with everything, ratings and money drive the tabloid, news and mainstream media outlets, and right now the recession is just another "trend" to be exploited on the altar of capitalism.

Marx would proud. Groucho, I mean.

No comments: