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~How to Buy Morals

How to Buy Morals

There’s a reason why people romanticize 1950’s American culture: self-starting businessmen selling encyclopedias and bibles in cheap suits, people going out more, the only milk coffee was served with coming from a cow. In a country whose name was once mainly associated with well-made cherry pie and a cross, I wonder: what was all that nostalgia really about? 

To answer my own rhetorical question: capitalism. If God took a Polaroid of the 50’s, it would show up as a stock market graph rather than a sexy pin-up with perfect, finger waved hair. The cherry pies and hoop skirts function in an economy of taste that result in cold, hard cash. Perhaps the best, most absurd element of this relationship is its arbitrary-ness to the outsider.

Why should I care that a Jackson Pollock is worth hundreds of millions? Because of what he represents (alo ng with his role in the body of abstract expressionism). If these things mean nothing to you, Pollock’s drippy paintings say “i am worth millions, therefore I am important” before they say “I am an integral part of an art movement that challenged figuration.” Both of these statements are true, but unless you have a working knowledge of Pollock, the work is a symbol for money before anything else.

This symbolic capitalism is analogous to our valuation of  recent events. If you’re alive, you’re playing games in the social economy, my friends. For example: a really hot button issue is the Golden Globe nominations. Guaranteed, if you write a pithy, critical tweet about why I May Destroy You was dubbed, your social profitability will be in the positives (thank me later).

still from The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Still from The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Speaking of the economy, our ideas of capitalism are currently being challenged by a group of Redditors who run Wall Street right now. I’m just a dumb woman with no money know-how, but here’s the sitch: Wall Street people have been betting against GameStop forever, then members of r/WallStreetBets collectively raised the value of GameStop which lost those business people betting against it them a lot of dosh. There is an added social incentive too; the social media conversation adds to one’s social capital, where every Reddit bet gains social value as it contributes to memestocking. Redditors pumped up their GameStop shares on such a scale that the company has risen over 14,300% in stock. While various business people chalk the current stock market situation up as “dangerous,” the question remains: how could this happen? Beyond speculation of illegal activity, what we’re seeing is a group of people who leveraged the social economy in order to play the physical one. Not only were there enough Redditors to completely shift the demand of GameStop stock, there was enough prospective social capital in effectively hijacking Wall Street to make that shift possible. More than this situation is about money, it’s about being able to leverage what is the most socially profitable. 

Along with those things that bank on an increase in social profitability, there are the mishaps which threaten those same profits., Tik Tok teen Charli D’amelio made a bold, bad bet on the Twitter hashtag #hereforcharli. In the wake of musician-producer SOPHIE’s accidental death last weekend, several fans took to Twitter to comfort SOPHIE’s fellow pop girl and collaborator, Charli XCX, as she’d  lost a very close friend. Though the situation had absolutely nothing to do with her, Charli D’amelio tweeted the following: 

sourced from Twitter
Sourced from Twitter

Immediately after, fans of SOPHIE and Charli XCX crucified D’amelio for this embarrassing misstep (which has since been deleted). At the end of last year, Charli, 16 and her older sister Dixie, 19, came under fire when a video uploaded to their family channel showed the two teens sneering at food prepared for them by a private chef. After the internet tore both D’amelio girls to shreds for being disrespectful, I can see why Charli would want to change her tune from crying on Tik Tok to gratitude via Twitter – she took a hit of -1 million followers when that video came out. A thank you to her fans could revamp her image and boost the Charli social stock. Note to Charli: fire your research team girl, they didn’t know who SOPHIE or Charli XCX were! Reports to come on how this bet will fare in Twitter’s cultural economy. 

And on that note let’s see what hill PETA invented and then chose to die on this week! Last Tuesday, their Twitter account posted the following: 

from @peta on Twitter
from @peta on Twitter

With conversations mounting against this provocative “ism,” the verdict is still out on whether PETA is trolling us with this one. While this statement is in line with the hyper-specific vegan moralism the organization pioneered, PETA’s trackrecord is not so savory. Regardless of their intentions, PETA gets a lot of engagement with their posts, which is the goal, I guess. They’re positioned among a niche-enough circle of ethical vegans/animal rights activists that they’re able to stay socially relevant, even though us normies might not understand the vision.

While we’re challenging belief systems, apparently we have to wear two or three masks now? Per this statement from Dr. Anthony Fauci, maximum protection from Coronavirus variants comes from the following mask cocktail: two surgical masks (one, if you don’t want to waste) followed up by a cloth covering to act as another filter between your mouth and nose and the COVID-y air. So far, Europe has introduced a medical grade mask mandate, while the US is suggesting multiple masks for multilayer protection. So – what’s tea?

It seems like we live in South Park-level absurdity with masks. We’ve heard, “you don’t need to wear a mask,” then “wear a mask or you’re a bad person,” and now, “you have to wear two or three masks or you’re a bad person.” What we actually know is the CDC switched up the consensus on masks, and it was based on new research showing that novel COVID could be prevented by mask wearing, despite previous studies showing that mask-wearing does not prevent the spread of viral respiratory infections. We also know that Pfizer is a large producer of PPE, and also one of the first companies supported by WHO and the CDC for vaccine research and development. 

Everyone wants to be the social cops as if it will stop us from dying. We have no reliable flow of information, other than a paper trail of potentially huge return investments for companies like Pfizer, meanwhile California governor Gavin Newsom has cancelled stay at home orders, and hoping to open school campuses without vaccinating teachers in what looks like an effort to both stimulate the economy and mask (pun intended) California’s existing COVID numbers. This all comes at the expense of healthcare and essential workers, and those who lack the privilege to avoid large groups of people. Companies are profiting directly off of COVID, both fiscally and socially. Everyone wants to wear a badge that reads “I am doing the right thing” (or two or three of them). When we don’t even know what the right “thing” even is, the emphasis will be on who is profiting, and how. 

People: take precautions against, mask up, and also ask questions. 

So, there are two economies to worry about: the social, and the fiscal – both of which inform each other in ways we can see in the arts, in the news, and most importantly, on Twitter. We evaluate taste as a currency exchanged for clout, in the barest sense. How do you reckon with this? Let us know in the comments!

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