Eisenbud's Odyssey: Wall Street Spring

As the international economic crisis has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, the whole greed thing doesn’t work out so well, and the chickens have officially come home to roost.

Bankers Cartoon 521 (photo credit: Rick Nease/MCT)
Bankers Cartoon 521
(photo credit: Rick Nease/MCT)
I have long been familiar with, and loathed, that particular breed of sycophantic human being who elevates the ultra-rich to lofty heights based solely on their capacity to amass inordinate amounts of wealth, despite their often deeply flawed characters, and what they did to make their money.
You know these people. They typically come across as reality-show aspirants, live wildly beyond their means and do things like put their retirements and kids’ college savings accounts in peril to drive luxury cars, live in “McMansions,” wear egregiously oversized designer logos and flashy jewelry like badges of honor, vacation only at Facebook-picture worthy locales, and generally judge the value of people based on their earning power.
In short, they’re much like the cast of Jersey Shore, minus the speech impediments, borderline- illiteracy, atrocious hair, Oompa-Loompa skin coloring and STDs. At least I hope so. (Sorry, “The Situation” and “Snooki.” You deserved better.)
HOWEVER, MY contempt for their cubic-zirconium existence is nothing compared to the ire I harbor for the clinically sociopathic human beings they worship. The same people the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are righteously denouncing.
Indeed, I look at the heads of AIG, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Fannie Mae, et al., and don’t see the other side of the rainbow – I see greed and narcissism run amok and a warped value system that appears based on the theory that “he who dies with the most toys, wins.”
Nevertheless, they are entirely the product of popular culture.
TO THIS day, I have vivid memories of listening, as a kid, to countless misguided peers proudly quoting the “Greed is good” mantra of fictitious billionaire-villain Gordon Gekko from the 1987 film Wall Street, as if they were evangelists citing Scripture.
Personally I was far more impressed by the visceral indignation of Martin Sheen’s character when he condemned his son (in real life and the film) Charlie Sheen, as aspiring billionaire “Bud Fox,” for the sin of judging a man “by the size of his wallet.”
Maybe that’s why I got into journalism.
Still, I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t admit that I was intrigued by Tom Wolfe’s portrait of the greedy and ostentatious Zeitgeist that permeated the ’80s in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and the “Masters of the Universe” he so brilliantly captured, who have brought us to this point.
Hell, I’m only human. Sure, it’s fascinating to read about people who bathe in Evian, have a singular Botox-induced facial expression, decorate their homes with the hides of endangered species, own tropical islands and travel in their own jets.
But at the end of the day, the truth is that I always found such extravagant conspicuous consumption to be obnoxious, and little more than a futile attempt to fill an otherwise gaping hole in one’s soul.
EITHER WAY, as the international economic crisis has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, the whole greed thing doesn’t work out so well, and the chickens have officially come home to roost.
Nancy Pelosi once had a brilliant line encapsulating the perpetrators who orchestrated the “quant-jocks” behind the derivatives-based voodoo that led to the economic meltdown: “They want to publicize risk, and privatize reward.”
That said, I find it amusing that the plutocrats and oligarchs, who inbreed their wealth in perpetuity like genes shared among first cousins, dismiss the protesters – now demonstrating in 25 US cities, and internationally – as lazy and ignorant. They’re neither. They’re disgusted.
And rightly so.
They know all too well that the American dream has been co-opted by the Skull & Bones Societies of the world, and they’ve had enough.
Frankly, I’ve had enough, too.
THE BIGGEST lie perpetuated about capitalism is that it’s a meritocracy. That if you work hard and smart, you will achieve all the trappings of success. It’s bullshit.
The game, ladies and gentlemen, is fixed.
It’s fixed by the same sociopaths who run the “too big to fail” corporations that created this mess, and then had the audacity to take billions of dollars allocated by the Troubled Asset Relief Program from hard-earned taxpayer money to bail themselves out.
By the same people who had the shamelessness to pocket millions of dollars in bonuses for their failed enterprises, and sail through the sky with “golden” parachutes made from the blood, sweat and tears of honest men and women – while the general public was going through a bankruptcy and foreclosure crisis.
For my non-Jewish friends, that’s called “chutzpah.”
The vast majority who win at the capitalism game at the aforementioned rarefied levels are predestined to do so by birthright, the color of their skin and the friends of their family. It’s not a meritocracy, it’s a lottery.
Even a kindergartener has the critical reasoning to understand how absurdly unfair this disproportionate allocation of milk and cookies is.
I HAVE watched with astonishment over the past several months as the once nameless and faceless members of Arab society have overthrown their monarchs one by one like demonic dominoes, in a revolution that once seemed unimaginable.
That said, the correlation between what the Arab Spring has come to represent and what Occupy Wall Street represents cannot be ignored.
It’s about justice.
LEST THERE be any confusion, let me be perfectly clear: There is absolutely nothing wrong with hard-earned wealth and success achieved through integrity. Indeed, I’m inspired by the countless men and women who created successful businesses and lives based on ingenuity, hard work and honesty. The late Steve Jobs is a shining example.
As my grandma would say, “What’s not to like?”
However, if you’re one of the former masters of the universe who made your millions by manipulating and exploiting a system in a way that you knew would put others in jeopardy, I’m delighted to say that the party’s just about over, and I hope your hangover serves as a bitter reminder of how shamefully you behaved.
MEANWHILE, WE can only hope that the next generation of professionals will recognize the consequences of flagrant, immoral greed, and instead harbor dreams of success based on a moral foundation that has been profoundly distorted by their party-animal predecessors.
If I could say one thing to the young men and women taking this important stand against greed and immorality, it would be this: Keep fighting this brave, worthy and long overdue fight. This revolution is being televised.
As for the (hopefully) soon-to-be deposed masters of the universe they are denouncing, my suggestion to you is to watch Citizen Kane, and pay close attention to “Rosebud.”
[email protected]