Island Life


I have been sick lately. It is one of those maladies that has chosen to remain undefined. No energy, coughing, sometimes sneezing, that weird body hypersensitivity that often comes with fever, but there is no fever. There are of course things that I should be and need to be doing while this is controlling my existence, but for the most part I can’t do anything. For the first couple of days all I could do was sleep, and so that’s what I did, being too tired to even turn on the TV. The exhaustion combined with a low tolerance for being sold crap in those spaces provided between network or channel content kept the idiot box at bay. It was also during this time of not feeling well that plugging in any number of dvd discs of films in my collection remained unappealing, mostly because I just couldn’t sit upright and grant any film the attention it deserves.

When it came to the point that I could assume the sitting rather than fetal position on the couch, the option of viewing a film selection became open- then there came the dilemma of choosing what it was that might properly occupy my time during this slow and tedious slog back from relative incapacitation. Recently, the Comedy Channel has been airing reruns of “the Office” after Trevor Noah and the Daily Show. I was never a fan or even occasional viewer of this series during its original run. As a rule I do not follow any sitcom or drama series shows for the most part, just because I just more often than not forget when they are showing. I do now own all three disc sets of all three seasons of Mr. Robot, and am eagerly awaiting the escapades of Elliot in Season IV, but for some reason when it is currently scrolling in real time through each new season I just can’t keep it straight to be a regular viewer. So it goes.

I do, however, keep somewhat regular tabs on the Daily Show( mostly because it is not hard to remember the four nights a week it is on), and in doing that it becomes easier to just leave the TV on and watch what comes next, which as I’ve said right now happens to be reruns of “the Office”. Part of my reason for doing this is just a general curiosity about taking the opportunity to see what made this show popular at the time. What I have seen is that there is a quirky, intra-office set of relationships  going on here that alternate between funny to awkward to uncomfortable viewing. Many times I turn it off part way through, not willing to see where the evening’s situation might take the characters. But I will also admit to a curiosity about Steve Carell and how his character navigates the various plot twists and turns. This in turn is driven by the fact that I have found Steve Carell to be a fascinating actor in full length feature films. Most recently, his role in the 2017 film “Last Flag Flying”  as a Vietnam Vet and father of a soldier killed in the Iraq War. This is an unexpectedly brilliant film about war, bonds formed in war and hidden truths, but it wasn’t what I was looking for this day.

Instead, I went with a different film where Mr. Carell plays a character from real life. Mark Baum was a hedge fund operator back during the crash of the housing bubble. He was apparently one of the few traders at the time who recognized what was happening in time to bet against the crumbling mortgage industry and cash in through a newly devised financial instrument known as the credit default swap. The film follows Carell/Baum and his small band of hedgers, along with a few other investors who happen to also see what potentially might be exploited in the grandest of somewhat legal Ponzi schemes, as they all sweat their ways to millions and billions. Why I find this view of a slice of this American life worthy of viewing is because of its tell, which is best summarized by the character here played by Brad Pitt and the two words he utters: “Don’t dance.”

Mr. Pitt plays a former Wallstreeter who left the game years ago in disgust of what it stood for, but he agrees to help two young traders who have spotted this potential for cashing in on the crash, and he succeeds in assisting with their plan and the realization, eventually,  of their resulting, handsome payout. It is when these neophyte traders see that they have indeed hit it big through this arrangement that they start to celebrate with their version of the white man victory dance. It is then that Pitt’s Ben Rickert confronts the two with the no dancing admonition, the reason being, as he explains, is that their profiteering comes indirectly at the expense of millions of peoples’ jobs, homes and pensions. The theme that there is something inherently wrong with exploiting what will obviously become a total disaster for multitudes of others if their plan is to work to their benefit is explored here, but ultimately what one is left with is that the cleverness of their vision in their ability to turn it around to their advantage is what is ultimately most important.

After re-experiencing this part of the 2008 crash here for one more time, I decided to visit with Charles Ferguson’s 2010 documentary, Inside Job, which takes a factual and in depth look at how and why the 2008  housing and mortgage crash happened. The answer on one level at this point is: yes, I do have a peculiar way of entertaining myself. But what I see in this doc, which won the Oscar for best American documentary in 2010, is perhaps the best evidence out there that a brilliant exposé about a timely and critical subject can get substantial exposure to little or no effect as far as results in the real world. What seems to come out of this work is that in spite of the fact the government and the regulators had a pretty good idea of what was going on in the financial and mortgage industries, there was no will to do anything about it, before or after the crash, at least in these United States.

In the mean time, what is running concurrently with all of this, besides my being sick, is the latest in contemporaneous revelations about the actions of the current occupant of the White House. It almost doesn’t really matter what those revelations might be, because as we have seen so far, what has been revealed up to now has had little effect on the resident status of president 45*. It doesn’t seem to matter that in a book and in a New York Times op-ed piece, the current president is described as having the equivalent to a fifth- or sixth-grader’s knowledge and awareness of how our government works, along with the sub par ability to run it. That same president is termed a moron and an idiot by some of those who work for him and yet he is given carte blanche to name a judge to the highest court in this land. Hot off the presses or fresh out of the can, in his newly released documentary we now hear that Michael Moore goes as far as calling Mr. Trump an “Evil Genius” while Mr. Obama- fresh onto the campaign trail for others- against past precedent and tradition- has referred to his predecessor as a symptom, not a cause. While this is not necessarily a revelation, it should be troubling to whomever is looking for a way out of our current dilemma. From the pussy tape to the Nazi rally in Charlottesville and Trump’s claim that there were bad people on both sides of that, the fact remains that a statistically significant number of voting age Americans seem to find nothing wrong with Trump’s daily metaphorical murders, whether they have occurred on Main Street or Fifth Avenue. In spite of his eloquence, Barack Obama failed to mention in his most recent stump musings that his administration failed to prosecute any Wall Street CEO’s for the wrongdoings that caused worldwide financial turmoil and strife, or that under his watch, terror rained down from remote controlled skies in a number of foreign countries in ever increasing numbers. The ball was already in motion on a number of levels- the only thing Donald Trump has done is to normalize the reality of the ugly American and to justify that which allows whatever actions that perpetuate its resilience. There is no genius to that- it is just sad.