It’s good to commemorate the past, as people are doing today, but the future matters as well. Time and again, people assume big, old institutions, ostensibly “too big to fail,” will always be around, until they suddenly aren’t. If you want to avoid being startled by history, don’t do these seven things disastrous things:
1. Don’t assume current media-consumption patterns can’t change.
There are more than three TV networks these days. Thus, I was part of a three-week experiment in recording political discussion panels called The Run at BENnetwork.com, and I have no idea what the fully-realized site will look like, but at least at 1 minute into this promo clip, you get to hear a couple seconds of me explaining how humble the ambitions of anti-federal-government activists really are these days.
Now that Letterman’s gone, someone should probably hire me to be the stiff-yet-funny voice of America, like a Conan O’Brien but with politics. Or at least join me and other political nerds in seeing Rand Paul tomorrow (Tuesday, May 26, doors 7pm) at the Strand (third floor, rare books room, admission with purchase of his book Taking a Stand).
2. Don’t assume that familiar financial institutions will -- or should -- always be there.
If Rand Paul succeeds in his heroic almost-one-man effort to alter the PATRIOT ACT and stop the NSA from listening in on everyone, we will still have to explain how Andrew Ross Sorkin was able to transcribe so many verbatim comments from financial bigwigs during the initial financial crisis.
Maybe we should just grant him some poetic license, but in any case he presents what is purportedly a detailed, surprisingly intimate, and accurate picture of what the major players were doing, saying, sweating, and thinking during the 2008 meltdown on Wall Street in his hefty tome (some might call it “too big to read” -- ha ha!) Too Big to Fail, written just a couple years later (h/t Malinda Boothe).
The main lesson I draw is that what was regarded as the most apocalyptic outcome by the financial bigwigs -- and by politicians of both parties, and by most pundits and activists -- is the outcome that should have been allowed to happen, namely all of these giant, entitled, government-subsidized, bailed-out, cozy, crony, Federal-Reserve-watching, legalese-enshrouded, and, yes, regulated institutions being allowed to crash and die so that better ones might flourish.
That option would have meant intense short-term pain, and the other option was the protracted pain you’re still feeling seven years later and will probably feel more intensely in the near future thanks to the same rich imbeciles. Welcome to Plan B. On a related note...
3. Don’t just applaud “success” regardless of how that success came about.
Winning isn’t everything, no, not even in meritocratic America, and winning in the wrong way can create a bad precedent for future action. Honor soldiers but don’t excuse war crimes. Applaud CIA cleverness but don’t endorse their torture and terror tactics, not to mention their stealthy subversion of the democracy that pays their bills. You have to wonder what the elites are up to when we aren’t looking.
Admit it, even if you’re a gay leftist, wouldn't you have been a little creeped out back when Robert Gates was CIA director for Bush the Elder if I told you that someday he’d not only be Secretary of Defense for both Bush the Younger and Obama but would then go on to run the Boy Scouts and make nearly his first move the allowing, at long last, of gay Scoutmasters? Admit it, you would. (I say this as a Bowie-idolizing atheist who lives in NYC, you understand.)
And you’d fear Hillary Clinton’s Libya and lucrative foundation-donation shenanigans if she were a Republican, too. Well, at least if she makes it to the White House, I can probably look forward to her being under perpetual indictment while she’s ruling us. (Better to ditch the entire military/intelligence/police complex and do the inexpensive and more limited job of self-defense yourself, though, I suspect.)
4. Don’t assume the project they gave you is the one that matters in the long run.
It appears my friend Joann’s brother, Joseph Kahn, is a director who wants to do big sci-fi or superhero movies at some point (and nearly directed a movie version of Neuromancer, a cyberpunk project which seems somehow apt for a high-tech Texan nerd descended from Korean immigrants). He has already given the world a popular unauthorized Power Rangers short and an indie time-travel comedy.
But just because “the man” says Kahn’s real job is directing cool rock videos like the one for U2’s “Elevation” or odd, heavily studio-managed projects like the motorcycle adventure Torque doesn’t mean he can’t sneak in (awesome) comics/sci-fi material in surprising places, possibly laying groundwork for the future. Thus that striking new Taylor Swift video he directed.
The more years I spend in NYC, the more convinced I am that the future is often built by people who, say, find a way to convince the higher-ups that an elaborate puppet musical was just what they always wanted for their new ad campaign (because it is the thing the underling has been dying to pour his heart into since childhood, and it’s finally actually going to work out this time).
5. Never assume any current trend will continue, be it crime, sex, culture, temperatures, or anything else.
Speaking of rock videos, I have a zillion opinions about 80s rock videos and several about 00s rock videos, as you know, but now that I’m unyoung, my main reaction to 90s rock videos is that they were the most disturbing ones, and I’m not sure why. I mean, it can’t simply be that things always keep getting grosser and more perverse because, I’m telling you, things look tamer now than they did twenty years ago in that area.
Here’s “Push It” by Garbage, which I never saw back in the day but is fairly typical. But there was a lot of similarly twisted stuff from Bowie, Nirvana, and almost everyone else then. Every video would be a Satanic mass-child-sacrifice by now if aesthetics really just kept moving in one direction (not that I’m knocking Garbage, and I wouldn’t want to piss off the lead singer, who is of course a liquid-metal Terminator to boot).
6. Don’t forget about death.
B.B. King, R.I.P.
7. Don’t forget that time flies.
Approximately yesterday, I started setting the VCR to tape Letterman’s new show, Late Night, on NBC so I could watch it in the morning before discussing it with smart nerdy humorous friends at school who are doing the same thing. And then suddenly it’s fucking 2015. What the hell happened?
I remember complaining that it was getting a bit stale around the time of the “Late Night ’87” jokes, and I was worried, seemingly moments ago, that the CBS transition made him a bit more “Vegas” and arrogant, but then somehow three decades had gone by while I was still adjusting to it all and now he’s retired. Blink of an eye, man. Treasure things while you’ve got them and don’t let people shame you for the indulgence.
And if you missed the final minutes of his finale because the show ran long, here’s the amazing closing montage to the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” (h/t Jeffrey Wendt).
Since time flies, I have also of course neglected to find a companion to see Lloyd Cole in concert this Saturday (May 30, 7pm) at Brooklyn’s Bell House. So let me know if you want to be my guest. It could be your last chance to see a human perform rock before the cyborgs get all the gigs. Seriously. Assume nothing.