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Lords of Finance vs. Lord of the Flies

Nov 28, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 11 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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If you’re not already sitting down, you may want to steady yourself before reading further. Recent polls show that the Occupy Wall Street movement is unpopular with voters! Not only that, it appears—gasp—that the Tea Party is actually more popular than Occupy Wall Street. 

Lords of Finance vs. Lord of the Flies

Liberal bloggers think they have figured out why. Blogger Digby, a perennial source of quotes for the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, is outraged by the media’s portrayal of the movement, especially that of the New York Post and other outlets said to toe the conservative line: “It’s always gratifying to see the press defend the right of the authorities to restrict the First Amendment. The right wing has been pushing this theme of the occupy people being anti-social sub-humans defecating on the sidewalks from the beginning.”

We seem to recall that there’s another newspaper aside from the Post in New York, and it’s considered a bit more influential. Just last week, the New York Times ran an article by famous Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs proclaiming Occupy Wall Street as the birth of a new progressive movement.

However, if the public is more inclined to see Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of antisocial people defecating on sidewalks than effective champions of the downtrodden and oppressed, that’s not because they’re being misinformed. It might be because the occupiers are actually defecating in public (video findable by Google, if you have a strong stomach and a masochistic streak). Despite what the occupiers would have you believe, there are precious few issues on which you will find “99 percent” aligned in agreement, but condemnation of dropping trou in public remains one of them.

Now imagine how the public feels about the accompanying murder, riots, arson, suicide, overdoses, lice and tuberculosis outbreaks, and, perhaps most damning, the shockingly high incidence of sexual assault. The dreaded New York Post reported last week that one woman at Occupy Wall Street was the victim of two separate incidents of sexual assault over the last two months. Who knew protests that proudly advertise rape-free zones and encourage victims of sexual assault not to go to the police would prove so uncongenial to the wider public? When it comes to rape, again, we find 99 percent of America is down twinkles. 

Then came word last week that a disturbed man who fired bullets into the White House may have been hiding out at the Occupy D.C. encampment. While it’s unfair to say that one mentally ill man with an itchy trigger finger is the personification of the Occupy Wall Street movement, dare we suggest it was not a stroke of public relations genius for Occupy San Diego to hold a moment of silence on behalf of the deranged would-be assassin after his arrest? 

Finally, we would note that the police crackdowns on various Occupy movement encampments last week were not exactly at the behest of right-wing Übermenschen. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Portland mayor Sam Adams, and Oakland mayor Jean Quan are among the most liberal elected officials in the country—and even they had finally had enough of being occupied and belatedly called on police to clear out their respective city parks.

The lesson here is not that Americans are easily misled by a yellow press into dismissing populist uprisings so the Lords of Finance can continue purchasing solid gold sock garters. The moral of the story is much simpler than that: If you don’t want people to think you’re a bunch of antisocial subhumans, do something about the criminals in your midst and learn to occupy a toilet stall.

Occupy Tehran

As the NYPD moved to dismantle the Zuccotti Park tent city last week, a few tears may have been shed in the Islamic Republic of Iran. After all, if some of Occupy Wall Street’s organizers and cheerleaders see the two-month-long protest movement/street theater as the testing ground for new political and cultural forms, the Iranians have dared to dream even bigger: Officials in Tehran believe the Occupy movement portends the demise of the Great Satan.

Occupy Wall Street, said Ayatollah Mohsen Heydari, heralded the advent of the mahdi, the hidden imam whose return will signal the beginning of an age of justice, and was “a coup de grâce against the capitalist regime.” Indeed, some Iranian officials cribbed their critical lexicon from the same Marxist and poststructuralist theorists—Gramsci, the Frankfurt School, Slavoj Zizek—that inspired OWS’s intellectual cadre. The movement “is a symbolical warning against the accumulated threats of capitalism, making democracy ineffective,” wrote a columnist in Sharq, one of Iran’s “reformist” newspapers. If the “movement persists and spreads,” one of the conservative outlets, Khorasan, argued, it will result in “the collapse of the capitalist and liberal-democratic systems.” In the regime organ Kayhan, Hossein Shariatmadari explained that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had foreseen it all. And so had his successor Ali Khamenei, for whom, incidentally, Shariatmadari serves as a de facto spokesman. “Our supreme leader once said astutely,” wrote Shariatmadari: “ ‘Today, the United States is at its weakest point in history, while Islamic Iran is approaching its golden years.’ ”

Of course, what we have here is an information campaign directed at an internal audience that knows just how difficult the present moment is for most Iranians, who are isolated from the community of nations and wondering when their long national nightmare will come to an end. But the clue to bringing down the Islamic Republic is right here; Iran’s rulers have unwittingly revealed it for all to see.

The clerical regime believed that Occupy Wall Street posed an existential threat to American free enterprise and liberal democracy. What’s noteworthy is not simply that Tehran’s rulers are incapable of accurately reckoning our real strengths, of understanding that disputation, for instance, is the lifeblood of our politics.More than that, the Islamic Republic’s conviction that the United States was about to be toppled from within is a classic case of mirror imaging. The Iranian regime has foreseen its own end in the image of citizens taking to the streets. Occupy Wall Street is no real threat to American power. But for the Islamic Republic, a revival of its Green Movement could well spell the end of the mullahs’ rule.

End of an Itsy Bitsy Era

Statistically, the Baby Boom is supposed to have begun in 1945. But biologically, The Scrapbook has always believed it should be dated from nine months after the end of World War II, which would place it somewhere in 1946. This being the 65th anniversary of the birth of the first Boomer, by The Scrapbook’s reckoning, we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the phenomenon: retiring Baby Boomers.

Accordingly, The Scrapbook couldn’t help but note the death last week of Lee Pockriss in Bridgewater, Conn. Pockriss was neither a household name nor, at 87, a Baby Boomer. But he was a prolific composer who wrote the music for a number of popular hits of the 1950s and ’60s, notably “Catch a Falling Star” (a giant hit for Perry Como in 1957) and the novelty song that probably best captures the pop-music valley between the mountains of Elvis and the Beatles: “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” (1960). It is also worth mentioning, for readers of a certain age, that Brian Hyland, the squeaky-voiced 16-year-old who recorded “Itsy Bitsy,” is now 68 years old.

We were amused by the New York Times obit, which suggested that the popularity of the song “has been credited with helping [bikinis] gain acceptance.” This seems highly unlikely, and is a little like saying that “Catch a Falling Star” encouraged public support for the space program. Bikinis were very much a part of the swimsuit scene by 1960, and “Itsy Bitsy” is one of those songs that, for reasons best left to doctoral dissertations, inexplicably catches on and (as we would now say) goes viral. Lest we forget, “Macarena” was released in 1995 and “Who Let the Dogs Out” as recently as 2000.

But The Scrapbook attaches a certain significance to “Itsy Bitsy” in the never-ending debate about the definition of the Baby Boom. In our view, you cannot qualify as a Boomer unless you were somewhere in school when it was first released, or think of it not so much as an artifact of a vanished epoch but an instantly familiar, if cringe-inducing, tune. This same principle applies to Davy Crockett, the hula hoop, the Kennedy assassination, and Sgt. Pepper—not necessarily in that order.

Somewhere in the collective unconscious of the Baby Boom generation there is room for particles like “Itsy Bitsy” which may be summoned from memory by the right stimulus: the sound of cap guns, gear shifts, and the Mickey Mouse Club, or the statement of the Council on Dental Therapeutics of the American Dental Association (“Crest has been shown to be an effective decay-preventive dentifrice .  .  . ”). Now that the Boomers are eligible for Medicare, those particles are slowly beginning to evaporate.

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