Who’s in Control?

This is the tenth in a series of 12 posts expounding on the 2011 forecasts in the annual trends report from Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR and an internationally respected trendspotter.

Remember “The Gong Show,” where there was the loud bonnnnnng to save contestants from catastrophe’s bottomless pit? Hello, Central Casting…. Has anybody seen the gong?

Our 24/7 news cycle with daily cascades of worsening news has become enough to blanch even an egg. State pension funds are coming up $1 trillion short. The FDIC’s list of failed banks, a parade of former stalwarts, numbered 140 in 2009 and 149 through Nov. 19 of this year. Yes, Virginia, sometimes facades really do hide blank vessels.

The ire at home, though, pales lately against the anger in Great Britain over Ireland’s required $110 billion IMF bailout. The Guardian says, “the western world teeters on the edge of calamity caused by the bank-lending extravaganza that fuelled the great property bubble.” (Echo, anyone?) Ireland’s house price index dropped almost 19 percent in 2009, to April 2003 levels—but, more shockingly, amid Flickr feeds of abandoned Irish houses, one learned that house prices would have to come down 57 percent more for the average household income to afford one. Irish government officials, meanwhile, expanded from fat cats to “morbidly obese cats”—after disclosures that 66 public servants receive more than €500,000 each (about U.S.$662,000; David Cameron’s salary, by comparison, equals about $225,800). And Bono has apparently abandoned his home shores for the Netherlands, where business tax rates are much lower.

Investors dumped Spanish and Portuguese bonds in a panic sell-off; Iceland is in a cash crisis; and this week, Ireland announced $8 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts to secure its IMF loan. Prime ministers and world leaders at the G-20 meeting in Seoul, contemporaneously, denied it was just Ireland on their minds, but how to deal with a future of restabilizing the shared currency, without country-by-country costs far outweighing the benefits to the union?

Who’s in control? If we could find somebody, what possible line would be drawn around their responsibilities? (And what would Jean Monnet have said? He who thought up the EU in the 1950s, revolutionized industry for unparalleled European postwar prosperity and constantly repeated, “Continue, continue, there is no future for the people of Europe other than in union.)

But, continue, continue this way? Is it any wonder that we the people of the U.S. might feel a great longing for some old way? A strong nostalgia for, yes indeed, the repressive but sedate 1950s, when the idea of union was so positive? A Norman Rockwell magazine cover, “Home for Thanksgiving,” showed a heartwarming mom and uniformed son joined to peel the taters, after a war of huge sacrifices. By 1957, tune in to June Cleaver issuing forth maternal clucking—seen through Beaver’s eyes, the Tom Sawyer of the television age. Barbara Billingsley (the real-life June Cleaver) died earlier this year, and I found all the buzz around that very significant.

Did we mourn her together because June Cleaver’s death stands for the end of ideals that appeared to be collective, ideals around motherhood, gender roles, knowing and keeping your place because society itself was orderly? The flip side—and arguably more apropos to the insane volatility we’ve experienced in the last couple of years—lies in Dennis Hopper’s death this May. As Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, Hopper inhabited the dark side of the American dream. Whether you vote for pathos or horror, what can’t be argued is how finally the curtain has rung down over a simpler epoch, long-gone as the age of Lassie or silly love songs about blue velvet or blue suede shoes.

One would need more than a weatherman to call out the rogue winds that have unmoored whole continents and sent stock and sterling swirling. It used to be that the things lamented as cultural fall-offs had to do with mores. Conservative parents in the ’60s responding to problems of a post-Cleaver decade blamed Dr. Spock and the Beatles. Meanwhile, in France, where new philosophies were being written, Simone de Beauvoir described Brigitte Bardot—the opposite of mommy figure—in a 1959 essay as a “locomotive of women’s history.”

Lately, it strikes me as fitting to recall Peter Fonda’s warning to Hopper, as Billy, in Easy Rider: “We blew it.” That could well be the underscore of the last few years. These massive failures go straight to what mental health professionals call family systems. The effect of unsettling losses of control, where you realize you have none, is called ambiguity. In literature, ambiguity underpins terror. The less you know, the more you fear the evil behind the curtain, the unforeseen Frankenstein born of hope.

As I’ve written in earlier trends in this series, we’ve all been experiencing the many effects of our loss-of-faith crisis. Stepping right up to the fear-filled plate, the Tea Party has tapped into widespread anxieties Americans have of losing control, being overwhelmed by vast, inhumane systems. The market phrase “wild swings” applies, too, to human life.

In uncertain, ambiguous times, it does and should give anybody concerned about addictive and compulsive behaviors plenty to worry about. From ADHD in kids to eating disorders, suicide attempts and miscellaneous substance addictions that have parents and spouses shaking their heads over what that new thing is called, much less what it is, our wired society makes our worst impulses as easily accessible as borrowing a cup of sugar from neighbors used to be. Shopping addictions are said to affect 6 percent of Americans. Gambling is especially risky for teens.

Next year, we’ll see mass-scale demands for greater control, but how will they be expressed? From the home to the boardroom, no doubt, with outcomes possibly short-term and private but longer-term socially disruptive.

What precisely should be controlled, and by whom? Such queries promise to expose new schisms and widen already appearing cracks in the social network. There are those who consider addiction issues morality issues, and even sexuality an arena for legislating self-control. (But who wins a hormonal battle? Not even Christine O’Donnell could read a crystal ball on that score.) There are others who think regulatory control is the answer to corporations spinning out of control. Then there’s the issue of who controls the airwaves, the broadband, the Internet and the media, where all this gets endlessly dissected for effect, not meaning. Conservatives complain about liberal media, and liberals berate conservative agendas thinly veiled. On both sides of the aisle, election laws permit shadowy nonprofits to make contributions—and control us without ever being seen.

In 2011, we’ll all be looking for more control in answer to being sick at heart, sick to busting, of unpredictability. Like “riders on the storm” (as the recently pardoned Jim Morrison sang), “into this house we’re born/into this world we’re thrown.” But we’ll be looking to redress our vertigo with greater control.

“Mad as Hell—and Only Getting Madder”

“Talk to the Hands”

“Net Gain”

“Public Mycasting System”

“Booting Up”

“Yes, We Can…Reinvent Ourselves”

“Reinvention, Part II”

“Separated at Worth”

“Gender Bender”

On Monday:
“Tapping Minitrends”

Dec 10, 2010 | Posted by in American Life, Politics, The Economy, Trends | 2 comments

Comments (2 Responses)

  1. […] Who’s in Control? » December 13, 2010, 5:00 […]

  2. bill wade says:

    toward the end of your letter you said;
    their are others who think regulatory control
    is the answer to Corporate spinning out of control.
    should not the word Goverment have been used in stead of Corporate

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