Dominic Mah is a writer, editor, director, and ex-professional gambler. He is also @dommah and @thorhulkcritic (for nerdcore reviews of film and pop culture) on Twitter. Mispronounced in the right way, his name is a strong Vietnamese curse word.
Lately, I’ve been so moved by the events in New York and the #Occupywallst movement. As a native Berkeleyan Californian, I’m all in favor of taking to the streets when the ruling powers are untouchable by conventional means. The Occupiers’ rallying cry/slogan “I am the 99%” shrewdly appropriates a generation’s debilitating tendencies towards narcissism and whining (two things I’m perfectly good at) and redirects them towards an idea that is both unifying and empowering; that is, you are not a “special victim” nor a lonely hero; you are most people, and most people are you.
I can’t say I’ve had a hard existence. As a middle-or-somewhere-around-there-class American I still enjoy vast riches compared to the beleaguered majority of the world. But as far as ticking off to-do items on the Economic Collapse Checklist, I’ve hit a lot of the benchmarks:
– I bought a property I shouldn’t have bought, because I was a delusional greedhead with a vision of owning a garage. Man, was that a bad idea. Along with about a million other folks since 2007, I was one of those guys who walked away from a cute little condo after figuring out too late that I shouldn’t have gone for that cute little predatory loan with the Adjustable Mortgage Rate. Thank Gosh I don’t have any kids for which it had to provide shelter, or it would have been a much more difficult decision. Although I don’t think much about it these days, occasionally a speech by President Obama will namecheck a case study of a “typical American,” and I get to think, hey, I’m kind of like that guy. I’m a former homeowner.
– I got laid off from a job that I didn’t like very much, but now looking back it was a pretty awesome job. My gig with the casino ended in 2009 when the company folded, and we were all dismissed. At the time I thought, “Ah, freedom!” but years later, I realize that for all its mental headache, it was a good paying job with a health plan. I worked there for 8 years and thought that by holding a steady job I was “playing by the rules.”
– Bad health insurance and banking options. It’s a good thing I took care of all my invasive surgeries back in the 90’s, because what I have now amounts to paying Anthem Blue Cross a monthly premium so that they can send me small pieces of paper suggesting that I go paperless to avoid further fees. And, to be sure, I would go paperless, if their website worked in any basic way, say, as a place that explained what my fees are. (None of that has anything to do with health care, and that is entirely the point.) I also shuttered my very very small business account because Chase recently said to themselves, “You know, some of these dudes are pushing three figures in their account balances. We gotta get a piece of that action. How do those HMOs justify all their new fees? Oh, right, by not explaining them. That sounds good…” To deal with these situations I’ve decided that from now on I will never again spend any paper money, or cough.
– I am currently making a wage that would be awesome if only it were 1996. Back in the 90’s, jobs were Falling-Out-Of-Trees.com. You could sit there and feel your net worth increasing with each passing moment, as your venture capitalist masters decided the best way to burn through all this money they had, and you “worked” at your workstation, whilst in fact, you were discovering the unrecoverable joy that was Napster. It was a very good time to be just out of college that probably spoiled many in my generation to the realities of job-hunting. Now I run into unemployed molecular chemists and people who would happily, cheerfully be doing hard labor for a living if only someone would hire them to do so.
These bumps in the road are exacerbated by living in Los Angeles, a place entirely intolerant of self-deprecation. You have to be doing awesome, all the time. You are never allowed to say, “I’m not hugely successful” because you’re supposed to have a 5-year plan to catapult you to success, fueled by your inner raging exceptional super-incandescence.
…Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That, but it’s important to take stock of reality, as well. The Occupy Wall Street people articulated it in stunningly simple fashion: There IS more that unites us than that which divides us. The 1%, whoever they are, hanging out in their Illuminati Cartel Clubmansion, have everything except overwhelming numbers. If worse comes to worse, all our factions muddled together can easily stampede over their faction. In a culture where we’ve been taught that the bottom line is always money, there is a deeper solidarity in not having very much of it. Or, at least, in not having and controlling MOST of it. Odds are, in that simple way, you are also part of the 99%.