Thursday, May 23, 2019

Give Me Your Bored, Your Rich, Your Coddled Asses

Jeff Bezos may have left the Big Apple in a huff because the huddled masses balked at building him a private helipad and paying him billions of dollars for the privilege of having a new Amazon headquarters in their neighborhood. But that snub didn't stop the world's richest man from returning to the Big Apple last week to mingle with his plutocratic peers at the exclusive star-studded gala opening of the new $100 million Statue of Liberty museum. 

When you're the colossal Jeff Bezos, simply mingling with your fellow billionaires and corporate donors is not enough. What do you give the man who already has everything? It was a dilemma, for sure. But they finally came up with the nifty idea of getting Oprah herself to award him his own Special Star, to be permanently affixed to a mural in the museum. It will vie with the 1883 Emma Lazarus sonnet ("The New Colossus") for millions of pairs of tourist eyes, yearning to be free to buy stuff on the Internet.

Well, not quite. It turns out that Bezos actually paid $2 million for his star, and it's ostensibly in honor of his immigrant father Miguel (pictured above). The wealthy may not only buy stars, they can also purchase stripes forged from the iron bars of the statue's original armature.

Oh, and since you're Oprah, you also got your own award, for your unspecified "contributions to freedoms, both domestic and abroad." It didn't cost her a dime, because freedoms are free and states of mind are priceless.

Hillary Clinton, wearing one of her signature Chairman Mao jackets, was also there. You might remember Hillary as the former Secretary of State who in 2014 warned "irresponsible" Central American parents not to send their endangered children north of the border. The US government would immediately deport them right back to the gang violence and poverty they had fled, at great risk to their lives and limbs, as a direct result of US-sponsored regime change coups. Hillary herself had been instrumental in forging the military coup that toppled the democratically-elected president of Honduras in 2009. Her decision to not welcome Central American refugees was not due to Trump-style racism and xenophobia, but simply in order to "send a message" to future incipient migrants.

Ha Ha, I Got a Star and You Didn't!

Former New York City billionaire Mayor Michael "Stop and Frisk" Bloomberg was also on hand, champagne in hand, to celebrate all the classy tempest-tossed freedom. 

Entertainment was provided by, among other stars, Gloria Estefan. She covered the old Kate Smith standard "God Bless America." I guess the plutocrats at the glitzy gala hadn't gotten the message that this song is newly acknowledged to be "tainted with racist lyrics" in much the same way that the Statue of Liberty itself is historically tainted with racism. The monument of freedom was never exactly viewed as a beacon of hope or welcome to Black people, despite the "emancipation" proclamation.

But, as Oprah's own "O" magazine hastened to glowingly report, Oprah herself offered such "moving words" about letting freedom ring and so forth on her very first visit to Liberty Island that racism was all but forgotten as everybody wined and dined and schmoozed. "America is about an ideal, and that ideal is for everybody" was her facile and reassuring message to her fellow plutocrats. 

Although the gentrification of Liberty Island and nearby Ellis Island has been creeping along for many decades, if not forever, the event which truly transformed this national park from a premier global public tourist destination to a Disneyfied pleasure palace and private corporate event venue was The Day That Changed Everything: Sept. 11, 2001.

The ritual trek by millions of the modern "wretched refuse of your teeming shore" up to the Statue's crown is now pretty much a thing of the past. Tickets to the top are very expensive and severely limited, ostensibly due to perpetual terror threats. Less than 20 percent of the island's annual 4 million visitors are ever allowed to enter even the base of the statue, let alone the pedestal and the crown.

Obviously, the traveling hoi polloi of the world need something besides the Jeff Bezos Star to attract them to this all-but-shuttered iconic site  As museum designer Edwin Schlossberg, the husband of heiress, political dynast and Boeing Director Caroline Kennedy, explained it to Forbes magazine:
“While the Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognizable icons in the world, few people ever get to climb to its crown or get to see Lady Liberty’s face up close. Our goal for the design of the museum experience is to immerse visitors in not just the grandeur and sweeping history of the statue but also the very idea of liberty itself. We want them to leave with a deeper understanding of what liberty means to them and the active role required to uphold it.”
To help ordinary people arrive at the nirvana of a deeper understanding of freedom, they will be allowed to watch an "immersive film"  about climbing up to the crown as a substitute for actually doing it. No active role will be required of them. They will be able soak up all that magical liberty without ever breaking a sweat.

You will not trudge. You will not plod. You will fly to the very top in only eight to ten minutes!
Weaving through this soaring theater space, museum-goers will learn the rich story of the Statue’s origins and be captivated by a virtual fly-through ascending the Statue that recreates interior views and sounds. Visitors will be invited to contemplate liberty today and its measures around the world, such as access to education, free elections, and a free press. 
Please remember as you wallow in all this simulated freedom that "access" to a human right is not the same thing as actually achieving it. Freedom comes at great monetary cost. Unless, of course, your name is Jeff Bezos and your corporate kingdom of Amazon not only pays no income taxes but is entitled to tax refunds. And a star on the Statue of Liberty mural.

The most important thing you can do to enhance your virtual freedom experience, though, is to bring your neoliberal state of mind (but no outside food or beverages!) with you to the Statue of Liberty Simulacrum. 

First, you need to believe that you still have as much "access" to the original statue as you have to the health care marketplace and a college education in the Land of the Free. You can roam around at will and gawk all you want.

And despite the United States being home to whole new lost generations of refugees from the middle class and indebted college graduates with few decent job prospects, the museum's corporate sponsors still aim to give their visitors all the liberal education they can handle in one truncated day. 

But you're not done yet, because the last stop before leaving the museum is the Inspiration Gallery.
In this awe-inspiring space, visitors can reflect upon what they have seen and experienced in the museum. Guests will be invited to document their visit and express their views by adding a self-portrait and collage of inspirational images to an ever-growing digital experience called Becoming Liberty. The tour culminates with an up-close view of Liberty’s most iconic symbol – her original torch – held high for nearly 100 years and still a touchstone of the light Liberty shines from generation to generation. Rescued from the elements and replaced in 1986, the torch will be the most powerful artifact visitors encounter as they reach the end of their museum experience. A model of the Statue's face offers another tactile moment, and the glass walls afford magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty herself set against a stunning backdrop of the New York City skyline. 
Finally, as much as the oligarchs and celebrities who partied hearty at the museum's glitzy grand opening might scoff at a Green New Deal to save the planet, they still want you to know that the Lady Liberty Simulacrum is as "sustainable" a construction project as any modern construction project can possibly be.
The museum embodies an environmentally responsible design and best practices for sustainability. It features material reuse of the existing Administration Building, a green roof-scape, and bird-safe glass exteriors. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, it is set above 500-year flood levels and built to withstand hurricane force winds. 
So even though the Liberty museum brochure promises that you'll be blown away, if not drown in all that immersive experience, you won't actually be blown away or drown. If you can withstand the commercial Disneyfication of a great national monument, you'll probably be able to withstand anything.

Speaking of withstanding stuff, I would now like to reminisce about my own experience at the Statue of Liberty with my two young children back in the late spring of 1993.

The gala fun began way ahead of schedule, as we were driving to our town recreation center to catch a chartered bus down to the city and the ferry. As I was signalling for a left turn into the parking lot, our car was violently rear-ended by a motorist who said he was blinded by the early morning sun. Luckily for us, a town cop and a whole crowd full of fellow liberty-seeking day trippers witnessed the entire accident. Still in a daze, and so as not to disappoint the kids, I decided to go ahead with our trip after the police officer kindly arranged for our damaged car to be towed to a body shop.

On the way to the ferry, we passed the World Trade Center, still encased in yellow crime scene tape from the recent first bombing of the site. On reaching Liberty Island, we ate our brown-bag lunches on the pedestal (still allowed!) before trudging up the hundreds of narrow stairs to the Crown (at no extra cost!) to peer out at the New York skyline for a minute, all crammed together like wretched but hopeful refuse in immigrant steerage class.

Of course, the combination of the delayed whiplash symptoms from our rear-end car crash and the climb to the top left the three of us with extremely sore bodies by the following morning. But at least we can still humble-brag to anybody who will listen that we were among the last, lost decade of people ever to have climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty at no extra charge. We had a completely immersible and tactile experience that my mind and body will never forget, right down to my aching arthritic vertebrae.

As Oprah plagiarized in her Liberty Pleasure Island keynote speech to the Leisure Class: "Let freedom ring!" 

But as the far wiser and far more original John Donne wrote a long time ago: "No man is an island, entire of itself.... And therefore never send for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."


George Thorpe said...

We must, somehow, change all this.

Erik Roth said...

Amen, George.

BelmontTwinsDad said...

This is excellent, very well said in all respects! Sharing with many friends....

John Merryman said...

When the wave crests, it's foam and bubbles.

Karl Kolchak said...

@George--we won't. The deck is too heavily stacked, I'm afraid. The difference between Biden and Trumps is, um, wait a second let me think...actually, on the whole the former has done far more damage to the country than the latter. And he's the Democratic front runner.