The Desperate Decade

The switch flipped back in 1980, maybe the beginning of ’81, it coincided with the election of Reagan, but what really happened back then, what started in the late seventies, was a focus on money.

Baby boomers didn’t care about money. They’d grown up with enough of it. And those who hadn’t didn’t know any better. Flyover country was thus, assuming you ever got in an airplane to begin with. Unless you moved to New York or L.A. you were clueless as to how the other half lived. Sure, there were glamour-pusses on television, but you lived in an Archie/Betty world where the metaphor was high school. You graduated and grew up but everything remained the same, you were tarred with not only your moniker but the impression you made years before, this was you…a bumpkin in the greatest country on earth, where gasoline was cheap, sex was free and happiness reigned.

Until inflation hit double digits and the economy tanked and everybody was wondering what came next. They decided to put their faith in an old man with gravitas but little more behind the facade and then everything truly changed.

1981… An era of CNN and MTV, cable television ruled. We could now see what was going on everywhere else, and sitting at home in the hinterlands we decided we wanted some of that. Suddenly, having a tricked-out Chevy didn’t mean that much, you were now competing against everybody, and it didn’t feel good.

And since competition was now the norm, you might as well win. And we know that rules are just meant to be bent, not only by Michael Milken and his troops at Drexel Burnham Lambert, our first exposure to the riches of finance, but everyone, in order to become wealthy, in order to get ahead.

Taxes were lowered, inflation was under control, the bubble known as the baby boomers had obligations, they needed to feed and house their progeny and this required cash. The sixties went out the window instantly. It was no longer love your brother but screw your neighbor and sleep with one eye open, while you’re snorting Colombia’s finest and parading down the boulevard in German iron, which suddenly replaced Cadillac as the symbol of success.

And we know that ultimately we all prayed at the altar of Apple, except those needing to maintain a renegade identity, seen mostly as a rearguard identity, but it was in the eighties that the populace became stratified, that winners pulled away from the losers, and kicked dust in their eyes while they were at it.

And there was a war, but no draft, and the end result was a baby boomer President who reigned over a prosperity so glorious, we all felt entitled. The deficit got wiped out, Wall Street was burgeoning, and then it all went to hell.

Credit Napster.

Well, Napster was the harbinger. Wherein everything we thought we knew turned out to be wrong. That you got ahead by paying your dues and sure, sharp elbows helped, but you knew your place in the firmament, how did Shawn Fanning decide he was king, never mind take all that property that wasn’t his?

And Shawn had the backing of Silicon Valley. An entity heretofore unknown by the masses, who still didn’t have smartphones, but those who thought they were winning suddenly found out they weren’t, for story after story told them the new tech titans were rich!

Richer than ballplayers.

Richer than bankers.

Even richer than musicians.

And the seeds of desperation were sown.

Now he not busy moving forward was busy falling behind.

But we had an ace in the hole, the internet. It favored merit. If you had the right stuff you could go viral. Happened to PSY, right? He might have been Korean, but he muddled his way through Berklee and had the last laugh and if you were sitting at home with the new tools you too could win, right?


Internet cacophony came along and stole your chance. There was no way to get ahead. You could rant about income inequality, but those with the cash felt entitled to it, they worked hard, they were the job creators, and the fact that you were an honest bloke just didn’t matter in this new winner take all society, which so many titans of yore still don’t understand, the truth is one enterprise gets all the lucre online, it’s just a constant battle, a winnowing-down, until we learn who the victor is.

So children are either on the right track or wrong at age five. I’d say you have to go to the right kindergarten, but the truth is you have to go to the right pre-school. City parents understand this, the desperation starts early. As for those too ignorant to know the game, their fate is sealed soon. Elite colleges are need-blind, be smart enough and you get a free ride. But the valedictorians in the hinterlands don’t know this and go to the state school, where they’re left behind. Oh, you don’t get a better education at the Ivys, you just hang with a better class of PEOPLE! Harvard owns comedy. How do you think Conan O’Brien got there? Although he’s losing today, if you’re just part of the pack, you might as well not exist. And you want a degree from Kellogg, or you can get your MBA from Stanford, where you’ll make connections, establish relationships, which will make sure you don’t fall behind.

While everybody else struggles to impress.

That’s what social media has become. It’s no longer about bonding but impressing. Surf Facebook and Instagram and you’ll feel inadequate. But the truth is those two-dimensional icons known as people are not winning, they’re just on the treadmill of desperation, they got screwed in ways they can’t comprehend and they now want a piece of the rock. And if they can’t get that, they don’t want to fall behind.

And you have so many opportunities to fall behind.

Used to be it was about finding yourself, taking some time off after college to enrich your experience and plot a new direction.

Now everybody starts climbing the ladder immediately. Because if you don’t, your resume has a hole in it. And your LinkedIn profile must be perfect, otherwise you won’t get a job. And a job is everything these days, it’s your entire identity. Unemployment is not only unenjoyment, you’re a pariah, invitations dry up, depression sets in, you grasp for a life preserver but no one’s throwing one, everybody’s too busy protecting their own interest, trying to get ahead.

And then there are those who deny the above. It’s a badge of honor, they’re good people with good values and that’s what it’s all about, right?

Wrong. You can’t get a seat at the restaurant, the winners buy all the tickets on StubHub and you’re left behind with like-minded people wondering how this all happened, how you got screwed without knowing it.

It permeates all walks of life. The internet is riddled with networking shenanigans. You’ve got to have a lot of friends, a lot of likes, if you don’t you’re a loser, you’re never going to get ahead. Everything is quantified, everything can be counted, data rules, if it’s fuzzy, we don’t care.

So complaining rules.

That’s the story in music. The enemy is Daniel Ek. Or maybe the public. Because it used to be you could survive but now you can’t. You’re living with your parents, you’re living off your spouse, you’re desperate.

As are those who bought the mantra that ownership was king. If you had your own home, you ruled. Until the banks failed, you lost your job and it was all taken away from you.

And the CEOs are desperate too. That’s why they insist on making so much dough. Because it could end at any time, and they want to be prepared. Or maybe we should blame the corporate boards, who desperately believe they have to have a winner at the helm, to promote from within is anathema. Better to poach talent and brag about compensation, then you’re immune to criticism.

We all believe paying top dollar generates a get out of jail free card. A BMW won’t break. Louis Vuitton is better than the no-name brands. And if you brandish an iPhone, you’re a winner.

Yup, that changed too. Used to be you were proud of your Galaxy, now it just illustrates you haven’t gotten the memo, Samsung is so 2013, before Apple ended up with all the profits and if you don’t iMessage you’re nobody.

We’re all hopping from island to island, as the Whac-A-Mole hammer comes down hard in pursuit. We look for someone to blame. The easiest target is the government, which wastes the money which would make us whole, that we worked so hard for. And the corporations are the enemy.

But the truth is the enemy is us. We’ve lost all perspective. We’ve thrown our values out the window. The baby boomers lost touch with everything they believed in, they no longer remember Jesse Colin Young, never mind getting together. And they imparted these dash for cash and status values to their progeny, who are throwing the tech long ball like an inner city denizen lobs a basketball in pursuit of an NBA career, despite odds being so low. I mean somebody wins, it might as well be me, right?

Wrong. The game is rigged. But you can’t stop playing. You’re addicted to free, not knowing that you’re the product, you’re being bought and sold to advertisers. And that few are paying attention to you.
And every couple of years they wipe the slate clean. MySpace gave way to Facebook. Twitter is fading. And it always happens the same way, when the old site is riddled with self-promotion, desperation in camouflage, people gravitate to a new platform believing it will be different.

But it’s not.

Snapchat is just a way for another twentysomething to become a billionaire.

Nothing lasts. Your BlackBerry sits in a drawer, with your iPods and maybe an old laptop or two. You’re desperate for something to hold on to, to believe in, so you pay for experiences, which don’t count unless you document them online. With selfies. Selfie stick? That’s right, another manufacturer profiting off your narcissism, which is just desperation in disguise.

Some have opted out. But since they’re not bragging about it, not employing the online microphone to tell you they’re right and you’re wrong, they garner little attention. Because the media is desperate too, it’s been disrupted by the same twentysomething techies and all it knows is gossip sells, isn’t Kim Kardashian rich?

Of course.

Used to be she was ridiculed for being famous for nothing. Now she’s seen as a phenomenal businessperson. Because that’s all the matters today, your business. Identity and values are irrelevant, unless they can be distilled to money and image, what we truly pay fealty to in America.

That’s right, religion is dying. Forget the blowhards yelling loudly, statistics tell us millennials don’t have a God complex, unless it involves themselves. Their parents told them they were deities and they’re entitled to win and if that means steamrolling over you, so be it, because it’s a dog eat dog world and no one likes to be eaten.

So build that resume, post away. Count your likes. Buy your followers. Be a denizen of the twenty first century, wherein we all desperately play online roulette but the game is rigged, only a tiny core of usual suspects can win, oftentimes by putting their thumb on the wheel.

We want out, we want someone to believe in, but everywhere we turn we find false idols. Musicians selling out to corporations who can’t be trusted. If Volkswagen cheats on emissions tests why should you walk the line? No one got arrested after the banks crashed and no one’s giving back their salary at VW.

So it’s back to the salt mines. Where you toil away on your mobile, playing the game of life, wherein you constantly seek status.


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  1. Pingback by Football, politics and the zero-sum game – SaportaReport | 2016/01/05 at 06:28:15

    […] blogger who at times last year was also the nation’s most discerning social critic (check out “The Desperate Decade” and “Trump Is the New Hit Single“). “Hear anybody championing their Samsung Galaxy […]

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  1. Pingback by Football, politics and the zero-sum game – SaportaReport | 2016/01/05 at 06:28:15

    […] blogger who at times last year was also the nation’s most discerning social critic (check out “The Desperate Decade” and “Trump Is the New Hit Single“). “Hear anybody championing their Samsung Galaxy […]

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