According to our friends the economists, things are looking up. After all, only 502,000 Americans, newly unemployed, and looking for work, signed up for unemployment benefits this past month. This is 8,000 less than the bean counters had anticipated, so it must be things are getting better. Less less is better than more less, so say the economists. Keep on a smiling face.
Warhol’s 200 1 dollar bills, knocked down happily by Sotheby’s for $43.7 million
As if to celebrate this uptick in the nation’s fiscal fortunes, someone just paid up 43.7 million dollars for a silkscreen print of 200 $1 bills, signed by Andy Warhol. If the 200 dollar bills were convertible to actual money, then the “work of art” would be worth two hundred bucks. I’d say the buyer got shorted by a mere 43.698 million. But “art” is weird, and this piece of canvas with an easily replicable image of two hundred one buck bills arranged in a ho-hum grid, is mystically worth 43 mil because someone a bit dead now, who certainly knew how to play the celebrity world of the 1960’s like a violin, purportedly signed “Andy Warhol” on it. This is decadence writ large and on silkscreen.
Buyers at Sotheby’s when the low 6 million bid was immediately doubled
Back then, as the world slipped from the seemingly somnambulent 1950’s, the center of gravity of the world’s political, financial and cultural realms seemed to shift to America, and in the latter two instances, to the Big Apple, though Swinging London shared a bit of the spotlight with the Fab Four, Jagger and Twiggy, et al.
So the fabled 60’s, which for many of my older friends glows in the light of nostalgia, began. JFK, the Beatles, Dylan, hippies and abstract art and then pop. Things were popping indeed, and the media hyped it all. But in hindsight the glamor of those times looks a bit shabby, tawdry and provincial. Of course then it seemed different – a swirl of energy and activity which seemed to leap across the globe, ignited by waves of film, new arts, literature and theater, political voices, all clamoring for space.
Marilyn, who committed suicide in 1962, whose lover…
By 1963 the decade was already traumatized, and while there was an avalanche of good stuff to come, the poisoning had already begun. All you need is love, love, love, except….
Malcolm X, 1963
Louisville Kentucky, 1968, after Martin Luther King’s Assassination
Abbie Hoffman arrested in Chicago, August 1968
And what began with a grid of dollar bills and Warholian aesthetics sort of ends with one. Jumping ahead a bit in the time-track of history we note that Abbie Hoffman subsequently committed suicide, Nixon withdrew from office rather than face certain conviction in impeachment hearings, and other players in these stories evaporated from the planet. As the decade drew to a close, I was living in Ben Lomond, California, and was invited to go to Altamont and I passed. I never have liked large groups and mass gatherings and their inherent hysteria. No “out to the ball park” for me, thanks. So I missed one of my generation’s milestone events, the one that brought down the curtain on the 1960’s, and foreshadowed the darker world to come. As if those ten years hadn’t been dark enough. But strangely they seem remembered by many as a jolt of light, even if they were anything but.
Kent State, May 1970
Today, instead of Warhol we have Jeff Koons:
In the last decade or perhaps a bit more, there’s been a kind of retro-style among young people, perhaps a reflection of post-modernism in which it seems regurgitating bits and pieces of the past, out of context, has become a fashion. So while we’ve been “at war” now since 2001, in Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been no riots on the streets, no broad and clamoring anti-war movement, and most of the social shifting seems to have happened on the internet. Twitter, baby.
This is in part because one of the lessons learned from the Vietnam war by our powers-that-be is that the citizenry don’t really have much stomach for it and its costs, albeit they like the pay-off from our imperial domain. So there is no draft, and instead a sliver of the populace, primarily those most economically deprived, “volunteer” for service, and are kept as best possible out of sight. Meantime the media, now wholly owned and controlled by the corporations benefiting from war-as-policy, make sure the news covers as little as possible – unless in a rah rah embedded instant victory roll, as in the early days of the so-called Iraq war – and absolutely as little as possible of the real mayhem, carnage, etc. which accompanies war. The dead and wounded are returned in silence and we pretend war is as sterile and surgical as our Predator strikes, which are anything but. Collateral damage from on high is the policy. Preferably the corporate media hype distractions, like Michael Jackson’s departure, rather than mention the unhappy process of war at all.
Further, rather than raise taxes to pay for the Iraq war, a slick used-car sales spiel from its promoters assured one and all it would cost almost nothing and that would all be paid for by the country we invaded and decimated by charging them for it in oil. This was going to be a freebie war, with everything covered with a nearly infinite Warhol of printed trillions of dollars, and everyone was told to do their patriotic duty and just go shopping. And they did. The mall became the social hang-out, shopping became the raison d’etre for being. The politicians were happy, as were the banks, who punish those who don’t run up credit card negatives and their charges.
Today, as Wall Street once again thumps its chest and talks of renewed profit-making (thanks to umpteen trillion unaccountable dollars printed up and pumped into it by the Feds) but the rest of the country lies flat on its back, with 20% un- and “under” employment (a real figure is more likely around 30%), mortgage defaults continue along, and no jobs are visible on the horizon, the political anger rises. Perhaps in some new manner we’ll see something of the 60’s again, slowly burbling up from the suppressed and ripped off populace. Or perhaps in a 1984 manner, the masses will slumber on, drugged legally and illegally, their anger managed with pharmaceuticals and psywar run by the Department of Defense.
[For more on the 60’s see this blog: Chicago, ’68]