September 21, 2008

Beyond The Bailout: Sidewalk To Nowhere

Wilson Merced

Wilson Merced 2

A one followed by thirteen zeros.

That’s what we’re talking about in this mostly taken-for-granted bailout plan.  The best analogy I’ve read this morning is how this mammoth financial gesture — at least, on the part of the Congress — mirrors the knee-jerk reaction and blank-check authority the Congress gave to the Administration immediately after 9/11 to suspend constitutional rights and, later, launch preemptive war on Saddam Hussein.

The pieces of writing I’ve been particularly drawn to in the last twelve hours include Paul Krugman’s “No Deal” and Glenn Greenwald’s bullshit-calling “The complete (though ever-changing) elite consensus over the financial collapse.”  The piece that speaks most tellingly, however, to the inherently irrational (or, better, anti-rational) psychological darkness that has befallen America is the one written by Jonathan Lethem in this morning’s NYT WIR titled “Art of Darkness.”

Once you’ve breathed in Lethem’s piece you can better understand why America’s artists and photographers are best positioned to defy all the “ones and zeros” of Econ 101-sounding pure guesstimation, and the abuse of intellectual and governing authority through the miasma of fear and intellectualization to actually “look” and throw a little some bit of light on the face of “the man” and the human effects of his steamrolling machine.

Part of the agenda of “the man,” I must point out, is to anesthetize us with photos we’ve seen a thousand times already, of one more generic-looking house with a for-sale or repo sign out front, or still another dumb gas pump. Over the coming days, weeks and, unfortunately but likely, years, I will strive to bring you otherwise isolated views through the bunker slits of what — having ignited this week — is a full-blown economic and propaganda war of attrition between America’s haves and have-nots. 

The photos above are from a NYT slide show titled “Where Housing Crashed Hardest.”  The images by photographer Jim Wilson and the accompany article detail the plight of Merced, California, an emerging “poster town” for the mortgage cataclysm.  (I should necessarily add, by the way, that “below-middle class” America — a society largely without a media — would find these scenes profoundly unremarkable.)

Welcome to the modern ruin, otherwise known as the deceased housing development.  The recent repetition of the phrase “bridge to nowhere” is echoed here in “the sidewalk to nowhere,” the second shot offering evidence of the dead foundation (or “slab”) with the dead patio juxtaposed with the dead cul-de-sac.  What makes the image that much more deadly, however, as well as universal to the moment, is the ambiguity over whether we are facing a dawn or a dusk.

Slide show: Where Housing Crashed Hardest (NYT)

(images: Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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