Wednesday, August 24th, 2011
23

School for Witch Burners

I have three or four things I want to put together. First is The Social Network which I resisted seeing for a very long time (“You’ll love it. It’s great!” It wasn’t.) And second is The Rite which I’ve wanted to see ever since those previews months back. I finally had my paws on The Rite thanks to Netflix but then I couldn’t find anyone to watch it with me at this artist colony I’ve been at all month and I’m leaving tomorrow. So alone and in the deep of the night I watched The Rite in bed. Third and fourth I think is the current economic crisis in America which has been up for me in a female-related way since mid-July with the non-appointment of Elizabeth Warren to the head of the CFPB (Consumer Fraud Protection Bureau). What an idea! Right? That consumers should be protected in America! It’s so amazing that this brilliant person, Elizabeth Warren, who actually knows more about bankruptcy than anyone else in the country and is not from the ruling class, decided to put her expertise to work, you know, fixing things, helping the system work—mainly by imagining how it could be (like why not create a mortgage contract that people can read!) and then knocking on doors until she got the go-ahead from the White House to form a government agency that actually oversees banks large and small and credit companies and loans to college students—an agency which will make sure that the people who do business with these companies, not other companies, but people—the CFPB is now almost ready to begin overseeing the contingency that these actual people won’t get screwed again… you know, like the song. Oh, I guess I was fooled again. Elizabeth Warren takes a leave from teaching at Harvard to create this agency so naturally she is not appointed to direct it.

Which is horrifying for a number of reasons—the biggest one being that if you’ve been following the arc of women in power positions in relationship to the economy you’ll have observed them to a one getting forced out directly or indirectly, or simply made to leave by default, and also you’ll have noted that in all these situations the problem basically is that each of these women were doing a good job. An exceptional job, in fact. That’s the problem.

I’m thinking about Brooksley Born at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission way back in the 90s. She wanted to regulate derivatives which she saw as being likely to make some big problems for the economy down the road but in response to this realization and that she wouldn’t shut up about it they (Lawrence Summers, that whole crowd) unplugged her commission instead; I’m thinking also about Patricia Small who was in charge of the endowment at the University of California, for years, who made billions of dollars for UC and she was essentially forced out when the Regents decided to reorganize the UC treasury so she would not have the final say on how they made their investments. The Regents (who brought us Arnold, who helped dump Grey Davis, who was actually calling the White House to help him stop those power outages Enron was manipulating) wanted to make more money quicker and basically, very quickly, they broke the bank of the UC endowment with a ton of bad investments right after she left. What’s up with Sheila Bair (a Republican!) who just left the FDIC, who arcanely wanted to protect home-owners, not banks, crazy! And now Elizabeth Warren. I'm sure by lumping all of these superstars together I am suggesting something essentialist about women, perhaps that women often are much more capable of doing a better job of economic planning and managing the purse strings in economic watch-doggie circles than the men who gleefully are pulling the strings around her, showing that old team spirit. When I think of team here I remember the one moment I was a substitute gym teacher in a public school in Boston and a girl was actually standing there in gym class smoking. I said put that cigarette out. She passed it to her right. I said put that cigarette out. She passed it to the right. So in effect nobody was smoking because these girls were a team. This is the kind of team I'm talking about. The problem with these individual women, the economic soothsayers I’m talking about, is that they are effective, which in itself in this world of team management is enough of a reason to get rid of them. In the case of Elizabeth Warren the good news is that she will return to Harvard and to Massachusetts and we anticipate that she will swiftly in the next election unseat the idiot truck-driving Republican Senator Scott Brown. And she will do it with such style and panache that it will be a pleasure for all of us to watch. Often the people who start things don’t wind up running them and in this case in particular I think it’s not always bad.

After The Social Network I felt sick. Was it the scene of the girls having coke snorted off their abs, or all the other girls who threw themselves at the inadequate boys who invented Facebook, if you believe this account, because they wanted to get girls. The film was set in a boy world emanating from Harvard and with some exceptions (Elizabeth Warren and a few others) I basically think of Harvard as the school started for and by witch-burners and that’s what it remains. It is the club. I am always haunted by the line in Susan Sontag’s diary: Don’t say anything bad in public about anyone from Harvard. Cause then they would leave you out here, I guess. I think the people in there who are not in favor of witch-burning don’t stick around long and the ones who stay are actually quite into it. Witch burning has always been the fast track to success in America. I thought The Social Network was a bad film because I simply think that no story is surrounded by nothing but itself. If it is, it isn’t a story. The filmmakers seemed willing to suggest that Mark Zuckerberg was and indeed always will be a lonely nerd, but the last words we read on the vanishing film were this: Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in the world. That’s the meaning of the film, cause it’s the end. The gleaming white text on black looks us right in the eye and says: good for him. Like family. The kid’s smart. He’s laughing all the way to the bank (to meet other men?). And meanwhile girls are idiots and fools. You think it says something else. I think it’s quietly genocidal. I mean in a spiritual sense. Instead of pole dancing you can be a pleasure rug. Just lie down! The money will come.

Why did I like The Rite so much. Is film viewing pleasure patently narcissistic. I do believe that’s true for a large part. I wanted to see The Rite because I miss my simple beliefs in exorcism. I believed in exorcism as a child and I also feared that I would tip unwittingly towards the side of Satan. Consuming The Rite the other night in my artist colony single bed I thought to myself quietly that perhaps I am Satan. I have lazily and simply made room for him and this is my life. Placidly evil. Eating peanuts, farting and drinking tea in bed. The role of the young priest (full of doubt but winding up somehow in Rome witnessing and later actually performing an exorcism on Anthony Hopkins, who has been making his living for a long while now being possessed and saying the most evil and spot-on shit in the world, to men, to women, to everybody, castrating the whole damn tribe of humans and don’t we deserve it!) that role is played handsomely and slightly foolishly by Colin O’Donoghue. He’s smug when he should be a little nervous, he plays it broadly when he should be calmed and changed by his experience, in short he is not a great actor, or is even trying, but he is the ideal character for all of us to glom onto as the stand-in for our own awkward and badly-played lives. At the end he is going home to Chicago where, the post-titles tell us, he is working as a successful exorcist today. Put these two moments together. One man is a billionaire, the other is an exorcist. What a world. By implication it seems the young seminarian has found faith. Yet his last line in the movie is “cool,” delivered inexactly, which confirms The Rite as an utterly flawed and weirdly satisfying film. In the pre-titles we are told that the film was suggested by real events, so is this or is this not true? He lives? A slacker exorcist? Maybe? Now that seems to me to be unbelievably cool. And even better is the hard fact that exorcisms being performed widely across America today got to the big screen through a suggestion—that is so gentle, even feminist, well feminist-man, in its quiet way of coming to power. Is it true that today even the Catholic Church is only auditioning for its own reality. That’s the implication, a very leveling one, so times they are a-changing. But through all this hoop-de-doo The Rite steadfastly claims to know about evil and this film is frank about the reality of its existence.

The Social Network is not frank about evil. It really doesn’t know. Do you? Is there evil in the world. Well just watch a government divided between those who want to heap more opportunity on the rich and openly sabotage the middle class, the “working people” (is any one? Working, I mean) in America and the poor—and the poor and the working people by and large do not know their true names. Most of them except for the most frankly indigent and drug dealers will proudly call themselves middle class—isn’t that in fact a big part of the problem. So bear in mind that in The Rite we learn that to destroy evil—and Satan, we must learn his name. The Catholics still have that down at least.

Here’s my point. (I think this is four.) Washington is divided today between those who passionately support a widespread not-knowing in order to continue to develop and grow the greatest economic split between the haves and the have-nots in the history of our country, that’s what one side has grown (not jobs but that), and the other—well they are all confused at best. Maybe a handful are asserting that we ought to more heavily tax that increasingly wealthy class (to which our Congressmen and President all belong, yay, team!) and not cut back from the legions of suffering Americans for whom the original social network—medicare, social security, education—constitute the single thing (well jobs and unions too…) that might still be keeping them from truly becoming the poor, and of course the social network directly helps the poor too.

Some people in our government think that this is probably the right thing to do—maybe even including our President but he doesn’t know how or where to make his point. This is the man who came into office on a wave of charm. Where did that charming man go. Barack Obama! Come back and talk to us. The women in The Rite were not so much stupid as possessed. They’re rolling on the floor and acting crazy, biting and snarling, because Satan’s got a hold on them. And why not. If they acted like they knew what they were doing, or what the rest of us should do, they’d probably get fired. Better to twitch on the floor and eventually go to hell, don’t you think. Least you have a job. Least you know who and where your boss is. He’s not some sad little pig sitting on top of the world, shrugging and getting blown, while it blows up. Bring Satan back. His name we know.



Eileen Myles is the author, most recently, of Inferno: A Poet's Novel, available from OR Books. Her books of poetry include Not Me, School of Fish and Sorry, Tree; other books include Chelsea Girls and Cool for You.

23 Comments / Post A Comment

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I wish I were nearly as confident in Elizabeth Warren's chances.

LondonLee (#922)

Me too, she's great but I have a sneaking suspicion she's just a liberal wet dream candidate like Martin Sheen in the West Wing. We like to think smart, accomplished people who use actual sentences will win elections but they don't usually.

@LondonLee B-b-b-but it's Massachusetts!

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@antarcticastartshere Ted Kennedy's old seat, to boot!

LondonLee (#922)

I have a sense of Martha Coakley-inspired deja vu about the whole thing. But Warren couldn't be that bad, could she?

@LondonLee Well, presumedly Warren will actually have a campaign.

An interesting little factoid you learn when studying developing economies: a vast, vast majority of people in these economies, when asked, will tell you they are "middle class." Very often, in fact, those of us in the first world would label them "mind-blowingly destitute." They are frequently still poor by their own country's standards (rapidly changing as they may be). I find it pretty interesting that it seems to be happening here as well.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@antarcticastartshere This reminds me of the chart that was going around last month about the dissonance between government program use and knowledge of government program use. It seems reasonable that you wouldn't want to attach the stigma of "poor/government program beneficiary" to yourself, but the consequence is that you're just not aware that policies that hurt the poor are policies that hurt you. It's so pernicious that I'm having a hard time believing that the whole thing wasn't cooked up by some shady Pentavirate.

@antarcticastartshere : Remember, you're always middle-class as long as there's someone poorer than you. (cf "last-place aversion")

@boyofdestiny On top of that is this article that argues that people have an inherent fear/dislike of being considered "bottom rung" and therefore counter-intuitively argue/vote against the expansion of social programs that would benefit them (e.g., expanding Medicaid eligibility will make me eligible for Medicaid, which will make me one of the "poorest people"). Combine that with the widespread belief that social mobility in the US is MUCH MUCH easier than it actually is (there's another study I don't have bookmarked that shows that it takes generations to achieve).

That chart is pretty mind-blowing (43% of recipients don't realize that UI is a government benefit????).

@Gef the Talking Mongoose JINX.

@antarcticastartshere : Ha! I'd buy you a beer but then you'd have more beer than me.

@antarcticastartshere and that people would rather give money to those above them than those below them just to ensure that they at least better off than someone.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

As a longtime advocate for an Eileen Myles column here, I just want to say thanks.

Also, how are Elizabeth Warren's poll numbers, anyway? Or do I direct that question to Nate Silver.

SeanP (#4,058)

@dntsqzthchrmn Yes. This was awesome.

deepomega (#1,720)

This was lovely, although I disagree with a lot of it! (E.g. why aren't homeowners considered "private" owners? Is it only private ownership if a bank does it? And then also, are you cool with treating all homes as "shelter" when it's pretty clear that a bunch of them are much more than that?) But still wonderfully written and thoughtful.

Oh and The Social Network was great, basically for the reasons you hated it. I refuse to believe that the "youngest billionaire" was intended as anything other than an undermining of the entire system of goals and values that drove the characters.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@deepomega By goals and values you mean burning witches, right?

deepomega (#1,720)

@dntsqzthchrmn Also fucking.

macartney (#1,889)

"the biggest one being that if you’ve been following the arc of women in power positions in relationship to the economy you’ll have observed them to a one getting forced out directly or indirectly"

Mary Schapiro, head of the SEC?

D.@twitter (#17,605)

While I liked the content of this article, reaaallllly felt it could have used some more editing. The first paragraph in particular was hard to read.

kitchenwitchin (#32,069)

Not to completely derail the point of this post (or miss it entirely), but The Rite (which I also enjoyed despite its many flaws) was based on a book called The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist. I read the book after seeing the movie and was fascinated, even though I'm not a Catholic or really religious in any way. I'd recommend it for sure — even from an outsider's point of view it poses some interesting questions about faith, etc.

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