Saturday, January 5, 2013

Gérard Depardieu is a Douche, and You are a Slave Owner

Since the presidential election, I’ve been in a blissful state of media blackout.  Immediately after it was confirmed that Barry was going to serve another four years, the focus of all news turned to the fiscal cliff.  One of the main ingredients in the fiscal cliff stew was the question of who should pay how much in taxes.  Concerned citizens seemed generally to concur that the rich should pay more.  And so the discussion turned to what constitutes being rich.  The threshold annual family income number that initially got tossed around was $250,000.  Then we all had to decide whether that was right.  And then I started hearing a sentiment over and over again that made me start to lose my shit, and, ultimately, just tune out all media.  The sentiment was some incarnation of, “well yes, I make $250k but I’m not rich.” 

In the end, that point of view prevailed.  The bottom line of what our elected officials decided is that rich means having annual income of $400,000 for an individual or $450,000 for married taxpayers filing together.  The tax those folks will have to pay on amounts over the threshold has increased from 35% to 39.6%.  A hardly-scraping-by middle class individual who makes $350,000 a year won’t have to pay any more in federal taxes.   

Almost nobody thinks they’re rich.  For a big-city-living couple with a few kids and a $250k annual income, once checks are written for private school, the mortgage, two car leases and the other standard bla bla bla things you need to live in the modern world, there’s hardly enough left over for a winter trip to Florida. At the end of the day, $250k makes you feel like you’re just scraping by.  What word would people living that use to describe their lifestyle?  The one I hear over and over is “comfortable.”

Rich seems to mean having a vacation home and a yacht and flying on a private jet.  How did that come to be?  How is it that people who make 100 times more than the vast majority of everyone living on earth don’t feel like they’re rich?  I blame TV.  I know, I tend to blame everything on TV.  To be more specific, I blame TV ads, which are a by-product of the whole consumption-based economy that can only survive if the masses are brainwashed into thinking that buying more and more and more stuff will make them happier, more interesting, better looking and (for part of the population) better equipped to please their wives in bed.  During any given holiday season NFL game, once you strip away the light beer ads, it seems like about 80% of all remaining ads are for BMWs, Mercedeses, Audis and Lexuses.  I’m positive that the average football watcher does not drive one of those brands of car, but the economics of luxury car ads must be that if one in 10,000 people is moved to buy one, it’s worth the spend.  If a by-product is that 9,999 other people start subtly, imperceptibly to believe that every average Joe watching football drives a BMW, and that having to slum it in a Nissan means that they’re just getting by, well that’s an issue for someone else to meditate on. 

So let’s do a little deconstructing of the idea of living a “comfortable” life.  To be comfortable, you have to be able to afford to heat your house.  Which means you have a house.  And a heater.  If a kid is sick or a friend comes to town to visit, you can take an afternoon off from work.  If you’ve had a real grueling stretch at work and you really need to just get away for a few days, you can motor up to some cozy but unpretentious B&B and read a book for a weekend.  That all seems real average, middle of the road.  But I propose this: that it’s not.  And that perhaps we all need to recalibrate and appreciate that what “comfortable” very often means is “compared to almost everyone who has lived anywhere on Earth at any time in history, filthy, stinking, parasitic capitalist-ly in your face RICH.”     

Here’s another way I would frame it.  A comfortable life is a life lived in the front of house.  Back of house is the grungy part of a restaurant where all the hard work gets done to make the patrons in the front of house – the dining room – feel calm and well cared for.  And if things are working the way they’re supposed to, back of house is completely invisible.  This analogy applies to almost everything that makes a comfortable life possible.  In particular, everything that is manufactured.  The astonishingly successful Wal-Martification of the world has us all convinced that we have a god given right to everyday low priced $29.99 DVD players.  Every once in a while there is some spectacularly horrific event – a sweatshop fire, a photo of suicide prevention nets surrounding a factory dormitory, whatever – that causes the curtain to be pulled back and us to have to confront the fact that the special sauce that goes into the cheap merchandise that is the backbone of our comfortable existence is, essentially, slavery.

It’s not legal anymore to own a person and we’re very proud as a nation to have overcome our grizzly past where you once could.  We believe in freedom.  But if freedom means that, no, nobody holds legal title to your body, but the only choice you’re free to make is between earning $1,000 a year building iPhone parts and starving, it starts to seem like we may not have made so much progress after all.  If you live in the front of house, even if you never see the back of house domestic and international network of invisible slaves that makes it possible for you to be “comfortable” you’re not absolved from being a slave owner.

OK, that’s all pretty damning.  But, more importantly, what does Gérard Depardieu have to do with all this?  Well even in my attempt at a media black-out, some news creeped in.  When I get to work every morning, I have to 1) pass by a huge TV in the lobby that always seems to be on the 24 hour Jim Cramer Mad Money Financial Screaming Heads McNews Network and then 2) get into an elevator with a small screen that broadcasts the most aptly named network in history – Captivate – which streams idiot tidbits and survey results about office life and celebrity news. 

The celebrity news I was enlightened with last week was that Gérard Depardieu had become a Russian citizen so that he wouldn’t have to pay the newly-raised French income tax on annual income of over one million Euros.  He was so disgusted with President Hollande’s plan to pillage the rich in France that he upped and moved.  So it turns out that being righteous about being rich is not unique to US capitalists.  Something about a famous movie star pulling a stunt like this made me even more nauseated than when I hear the same crap from some twenty-something banker type.  Actors who happen to be one of the one in ten million who make it and manage to become rich have done so based on support from the unwashed masses.  Their fortunes come from all the poor peasants who have managed to squirrel away a few Shekels to buy two hours of silver screen escapism from their squalid workaday lives.  For a successful actor like that to effectively say to the huddled masses that he deserves to foot even less of the bill for the infrastructure of a civil first world society is beyond despicable.  That, in my book, buys Mr. Depardieu the title of King Douchebag or, as they say in France, Maître du Sac à Douche. 

So now what?  I’ve called you a slave owner and pointed out that there’s no way to live a modern life without standing mercilessly on the backs of the children of the world who work 16 hours a day do cobble together the Roomba you depend on.  And now I’m just going to leave you hanging?  No way.  I’ve got action items.  Follow these easy steps and you’re off the hook.  We’re good.

1) Boycott Gérard Depardieu.  If you feel the need to see a heart-warming rom com or a moving re-telling of an epic traditional French legend, go see something by another French actor like, well, I can’t think of any.  Maybe support Hugh Grant. 

2) If you ever make a statement to the effect of “something something something, but I’m not rich,” recall that the real translation of said statement is, “compared to almost all other human beings on earth, I am stinking, filthy, parasitic capitalist-ly in your face RICH.” 

3) Do not ever ever use the word “comfortable” / “uncomfortable” to describe a psychological or emotional state.  “Comfortable” means lying in a hammock sipping lemonade on a breezy summer afternoon.  Comfortable is not supposed to be the natural state of things.  Remember that your not-so-distant ancestors were happy playing with dirt and that the rest of the beasts on earth still have to worry about having their flesh ripped off by a lion while they’re still alive.  As we have discussed, “comfortable” also has the same meaning as “rich.”  See item #2 above. 

4) If you overhear someone else making statements like those described in aforementioned items 2 and 3 above, pay this blog forward and relay the message to the speaker.  They will almost surely appreciate being enlightened.  If not, have them call me. 

5) Pay your taxes, appreciate what you have, enjoy your life, and try not to shit all over the poor.  

There are few things more disgusting than a parasitic
Front of House capitalist playing Back of House worker. 
“Ooh.  Look at me.  I can pass out chips just like a
$17,000 a year-making flight attendant!”


Unknown said...


Great to have you back, putting the world to rights. Few thoughts:

1.should it not be (I'm attempting this on a b/v) monsuier du sac a douche?

2.I would offer Audrey Tautou as a delightful French romcom alternative. French with English subtitles only

3.the greed of the rich/powerful can only lead to riots/anarchy and rightly so

Right I'm off to my jacuzzi to watch some candlelit football while sipping champagne. I hope Katie has some chilled... Ciao

Leslie said...

I'm confused. Gerard Depardieu currently works? And actually earns more than $1M Euro per year? The world has clearly gone mad!