"The Water's Edge,
Alice Austen House Museum
March 1-May 3, 2009
WHEAT, A RARITY;
Industry observers report Hollywood box office and kindred receipts are booming in these days of downturn, just as they did in the Thirties, when Americans distracted themselves from economic misery with Busby Berkeley musicals, madcap comedies and the occasional socially redeeming melodrama.
Though I don’t deny the aptness of comparisons between those days and these, the last thing I yearn for is distraction. Especially not with the mushrooming number of internet, print, cable, radio and broadcast TV news outlets competing for my attention, all with an inflaming urgency I’m learning to ignore.
It seems at times that scouring the media to find out what’s really going on––separating the Superficially Interesting But Ultimately Pointless from the Not So Fascinating But Really Important––has become my real job.
And What It Hasn’t
Through its rapid-fire introduction of multiple programs to solve a series of inherited crises, the Obama administration has shown it understands the interrelated nature of the problems; the fact that to solve only one is to solve none.
Less clearly articulated by the administration is the possibility, even the likelihood, that these solutions, whatever they turn out to be, may not return us to life as we knew it before. Until very recently, only futurists and environmentalists were looking past the recent past and asking,
•In a very different global economic environment, what sorts of changes will be required of us in our daily lives?
•What kinds of institutions––formal/informal, local/nationwide––will we have to develop, to help people cope with change?
•What do the changes imply for local communities?
But in the past week or two, there have been signs of a change in the dialogue. There’s less “When will we get back to normal?” and more “Maybe what ‘normal’ is needs to be rethought.” The recent comments of three writers on politics and culture are hopeful signs:
Thomas Friedman, NY Times, March 7, 2009: “We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese . . . We can’t do this anymore.”
Frank Rich, NY Times, March 8, 2009: “America hasn’t seen such gaping inequality since the Gilded Age and 1920s boom that preceded the Great Depression. . . . Our culture painted halos over celebrity C.E.O.’s, turning the fundamentalist gospel of the market into a national religion that further accelerated the country’s wholesale flight from reality.”
James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, March 9, 2009: “The mandate of clarity requires me to ask: to what state of affairs do we expect to recover? If the answer is a return to an economy based on building ever more suburban sprawl, on credit card over-spending, on routine securitized debt shenanigans in banking, and on consistently lying to ourselves about what reality demands of us, then we are a mortally deluded nation.”