Back in mid-October, I wrote about an IM conversation with a friend. He’d heard about my getting laid off from b5media and offered to take me out for a beer. I told him that I’d accepted an offer and would announce it publicly a couple of days later. He then got called into a meeting, and IM’d me ten minutes later to tell me that he’d been laid off.
It was one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” moments brought about by the current economic crisis, and since then, I’ve kept stumbling into stories about the strange things that happen as a result of strange times. It’s not exactly the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon – that’s the “that’s odd, I just heard about that the other day” feeling you get when you come across some obscure piece of information and soon start seeing references to it everywhere – but it’s close enough. I just keep finding stories about the weird ways in which the economy is affecting people – not on the macroeconomic, stimulus package, governmental level, but on a more personal, “how am I going to weather this” scale.
Gimme Some Sugar, Baby
Saturday’s Boston Globe featured a piece that was essentially a list of tips on how to stretch your dollar in these recessionary times. It was a piece written largely to fill up some space, and as a blogger, I have no right to sneer at the “laundry list” article format; when you have to write an article and you’re pressed for time, it’s an approach that gets the job done and gets the reader’s interest. Some of the tips in the article were sound, but the one that they featured on the front page above the masthead was just plain bad and jumped out at me: it suggested taking extra sugar packets from the coffee shop for your stash at home.
My first thought was “So it’s come to this.” It reminded me of those movie scenes where the poor street urchin or war survivor gets invited to a banquet and pockets some extra dinner rolls for later consumption. Not only is this kind of desperation unwarranted, but advice like this – the kind that says “Go ahead! Mess with the social contract! Times are tough, and it’s okay!” — may be the “butterfly wing” that leads us down to the path to Third World behaviour. It’s a world where merchants have to double duty as customer cops and counter “shrinkage” by adjusting prices and taking measures like rationing sugar and chaining the salt and pepper shakers to the table (I’ve seen this in the Philippines). The customers in turn feel criminalized by the businesses they patronize, the customer-business relationship becomes adversarial, and the very thing that will most likely see us through any crisis – a sense of community and trust – goes right out the window.
(There’s also the matter of a couple of free sugar packets being a case of “penny wise and pound foolish”. There are far better and less dickish ways to save money.)
Rockin’ the Recession
These days, the only time I listen to terrestrial (that is, non-satellite, non-internet) radio is in the car. One of my presets is the local classic rock station, Q107, because sometimes only AC/DC, Rush or Trooper will do.
Of all the stations on the dial, Q107 seems to use the current economic situation in its promotions the most. The DJs are always talking about “Derringer’s Economic Bailout”, which is a contest-for-cash presented by Derringer, the host of their “morning drive” program. They’ve even got a YouTube promo:
That’s not unexpected. What is, is the public service announcement that they sometimes run during commercial breaks where they try to convince us that everything hasn’t gone to hell in a handbasket. The basic message of the ad is that 7% unemployment means that 93% of the country still has a job. That’s all there is to the message: it doesn’t seem to be sponsored by an accounting, financial planning or recovery-from-debt company nor any government agency; it just seems to be a reassuring message from the radio station that likes to play a lot of Pink Floyd.
Leggo My Eggo
In the latest installment of Dear Prudence, Slate’s advice column, an 30-year-old advice-seeker going by the name of “Leggo My Eggo” and his 24-year-old wife are going through some financial difficulties. She has suggested egg donation; the listings suggest that they could “make $6,000 to $8,000 a shot”. Her argument for this course of action is that it would be win-win: they’d help a couple have a baby, and they’d get money for something that she’d just be “flushing down the toilet every month” anyway. Any reaction to the plan or its rationale is left as an exercise for the reader.
When Porn Companies Take the Moral High Ground
Everyone has a few guilty pleasures, and I will admit that one of mine is the reality show Porno Valley (which is directed by Q. Allan Brocka, creator of the hilarious animated series Rick and Steve, the Happiest Gay Couple in All the World), which purports to give the audience a glimpse into the making of adult videos at Vivid Entertainment, the largest producer of adult videos in the world.
Vivid recently offered Nadya “Octomom” Suleman USD$1 million for a starring role in an adult film, and she turned it down. The truly surprising thing is Vivid’s response to her rejection – Vivid’s amusingly sleazy co-chair Steve Hirsch said in their press release:
"If Nadya really rejects this offer it’s a shame because by accepting it she could have saved the taxpayers a cool million bucks," Hirsch added. "We hope she will reconsider because this would be a great way for her to take financial responsibility for her own actions."
Get with the program Nadya! You’ll become self-sufficient, save the taxpayers money…and think of all the packages you’ll be stimulating!