In the last couple years (the “Blame Bush” years) a hyper-spending, hyper-materialistic culture took over the country.
Suddenly everyone was driving a luxury car. You have to remember that when I was a kid, driving a Mercedes or a BMW meant that you were rich.
Ibid: louis vuitton, luxury hotels, $400 dinners, loft apartments, etc.
Otherwise having one of those things was seen as very irresponsible and tacky– like you were trying too hard to be fancy.
Many Americans were making a killing off of the real estate boom. Everyone you knew was suddenly a loan officer, real estate agent, loan processor or a house-flipper in the same tradition of the short term stock traders of the late 90′s (day traders).
That was tech, this was houses.
In both cases what ended up happening was people suddenly weren’t able to sell their worthless or overvalued tech stocks or tract homes— the market was flooded, prices were sky high and reason had taken over and the hysteria calmed down. Most things are hysteria. Economies and fashion especially.
There were TV shows about flipping houses which made it seem as simple as flipping a burger— don’t get me wrong, it was.
A friend of mine stood in a line of 12 couples to see a tract home for sale. He bought the house. Today that house is worth 50% less and its been foreclosed upon, like many other houses in that neighborhood.
Everyone had a big SUV (it’s an important part of new home ownership; Home Depot trips and such) and everyone was going to be little real estate magnates. Apparently, it was also a good idea to build or buy a customized $40k chopper motorcycle, since there were like 10 shows about that. One great thing about television is that it’s our modern day historical record and they keep tapes of everything. Believe me, these shows will embarass my generation 5 years from now.
Now The Economic Recession.
I’m trying to show a causal relationship between where we were then and where we are now. The terror about the failing economy was most present in the hearts of those who had built up a lifestyle that, while not satisfying on any human-languish-for-meaning level, was still better than living a poor meaningless life.
It was the end of days for those people.
Suddenly, we’re morphing into gas-price obsessed (for now under the guise of being green), large-purchase-wary, career-oriented pragmatists.The Green implication is funny because I think it’s less about saving the environment and more about saving money. It reminds me of the hippie-parenting revival movement of my youth where I was only allowed to eat rice cakes, natural food and fruit. At the time that stuff was cheap. See what fashion does to things.
If there’s a city that embodies the last few years it’s Las Vegas. The Bellagio Hotel is not an italian hotel in the same way that your neighborhood (all neighborhood developments took on Italian sounding names during this time period) sub development called Verona is a city on Lake Garda. The same way that watching Al Gore’s global warming movie doesnt make you an expert on ecology, visiting the Luxor will teach you very little about Egyptian culture.
Vegas is full of losers acting like winners. Everyone is a rock-star and everyone is rich and what happens there is supposed to stay there. It’s a place where you can live in relative luxury for $109 per night Monday-Thursday.
What bothers me about Las Vegas is different than what bothers most people about Vegas. People who don’t like Vegas will complain that it’s dingy or depraved or anything along those lines— that’s why I like it. What I don’t like is the bullshit concrete blocks and structural steel with an Italian or French facade: the lie that you can find Class or Culture in Vegas.
I go to Vegas to dive down to the bottom, culturally, for a little while.
And the problem is everyone else is diving down to the bottom there too, they just think they’re diving up.
That is the problem with our culture.
They Kept Us In A Cage For Awhile
Rather quickly now, there is an awareness now that those recent years were very shameful times for our country. It was like a big roman orgy, minus the sex and good music– I sure didn’t have much of that.
I think that in the next few years we will see a return to focus on things middle-classed, pragmatic and authentic rather than the obsession with material objects, watching rich people spend money and how to plan a trip to Vegas with your friends where you’ll likely be told that it’s cool to sleep with someone you don’t know.
I don’t think that most people think about history, society and culture as much as I do. I know for sure we don’t remember it, or at least can’t re-appropriate a lesson unless it correlates directly. Why does America keep having financial and cultural booms then busts? Why do we blame the result of our stupidity and not the cause of it?
Politicians are saying “Americans need to be able to pay their mortgages.” Barack Obama is a very pre recession-culture presidential candidate. Americans who can afford to pay their mortages will be able to. Americans who invested all of their money in the gold rush will have to pack up their house and move back to the rental house. Prices will go down, then they’ll move back in. Everything remains the same. The US economy is a zero-sum game.
Now let’s get to improving our culture. I contributed by writing this essay. Now you.