A Bad Time to Be Alive: America And Sleaze-Centrism

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 at 07:09 PM

In 21st century America, the fix is in. The spin is spun.  The come-on came, the scam is run, the small print now runs rampant down the American page.

Doesn't matter whether we're talking about presidential elections or a public opinion poll on a celebrity actor.  Witness this report from World Entertainment News Network (WENN):

Parade magazine has thrown out the results of a Tom Cruise opinion poll, after they grew suspicious of the surprising landslide majority.  Parade's Web site recently asked online readers if they blamed Cruise or the media for his disastrous public relations last year, and magazine bosses were stunned to find 84 per cent of respondents blamed the press.
Parade publicist Alexis Collado tells Web site PageSix.com, "We at Parade found this a little bit fishy, so we did some investigating. We found out more than 14,000 (of the 18,000-plus votes) that came in were cast from only 10 computers!

"One computer was responsible for nearly 8,400 votes alone, all blaming the media for Tom's troubles.

"We also discovered that at least two other machines were the sources of inordinate numbers of votes. It seems these folks (whoever they may be) resorted to extraordinary measures to try to portray Tom in a positive light for the Parade.com survey.
Cruise's spokesman insists the actor is ignorant of the survey's existence, saying, "I know nothing about the poll, so we have nothing to comment on."

I know Tom Cruise and fan mania are subjects light enough to fly.  But these subjects also exist in the surrounding society, reflecting that society's values and investing the society around them with their values.  And I don't want to make a mountain out of a Cruise shill, but, good grief, is anything on the up and up in 21st century America?  Anything at all?

You can't trust the government to do a reasonable job of ascertaining unemployment, inflation, or outsourcing.

You can't trust the president to tell you the truth about Social Security, the reasons for starting a war, whether and why we torture detainees, the nature and limits of domestic spying, how much a Medicare prescription drug program will cost, what the effect are of his tax cuts, or whether the White House is selectively leaking intelligence info to back up its public relations efforts.

You can't trust corporate executives to tell investors or employees the truth about company performance, no matter how hard you try and how severe a penalty you impose for lying.  You can't trust auditors to find out if the corporate executives are telling the truth.  You can't trust business regulators to do what they can to keep the executives and auditors in check.  You can't trust business analysts to analyze any of this. You can't trust corporations filing for bankruptcy.

You can't trust a doctor elected to the senate to do the medically right thing.

You can't trust our electoral officials to respect the integrity of election laws.

You can't trust our homeland security apparatus to tell a danger from a need.  You can't trust the Attorney General to do that either.

You can't trust a federal agency to do what the federal agency was created to do.  You can't trust the agency head to run the agency.

You can't trust mainstream media to investigate stories that have the potential to drastically alter politics or society.  You can't trust mainstream media to sort out propaganda and spin from actual news.  You can't trust mainstream media to resist the continuous pressure from the right.  You can't trust Fox and its ilk, period.

You can't trust a credit card company, you can't trust credit reports, you can't trust insurance companies, you can't trust banks, you can't trust phone companies, you can't trust internet providers, you can't trust salesmen, you can't trust athletes, you can't trust far too many police officers, you can't trust stockbrokers, you can't trust....hardly any damn one.

There comes a time when the sleaze factor in any society really does reach the tipping point: when there is so much sleaze that efforts to reform or improve are doomed to fail because everyone who must carry out the reform effort is...sleazy.  This is a problem that used to be found largely in "undeveloped" nations, where there was no culture of freedom, no social coherence, no perceived reason for the head of a government agency to send medical supplies to the poor and sick when they could simply be stolen and sold on the black market for enough money to make the agency head a millionaire who could then move to the Riviera.

Are we there now?  Have 26 years of Reagan-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Clinton-Bush-Bush left us bereft of all conscience and sense of obligation to others?  Have we gone all the way from "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" to "screw you, get your own," by way of the intersection of "greed is good" Street and "hands are for grabbing" Avenue?

This is one sick time for America.  I'd feel a lot better if I thought there was someone out there with the medicine to cure what ails us.  But I fear we've reached the point where even that medical shipment would get ripped off, replaced with little bottles of artificial bile bearing the visage of Ann Coulter, bottled by Bill O'Reilly, packaged by Rush Limbaugh, and shipped in a little red-white-blue box with a large cross on the top.

Tom Cruise is a man of his time.  The Tom Cruise poll is a sign of the times.  Do sleazy people produce sleazy times, or is it the opposite?

It's a bad time to be alive.  And a worse time to be dead.