Monday, March 17, 2008

Nothing Ain't Worth Nothing If It's Free

"The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness." -- Joseph Conrad
I only have one photo for today, so I'll make up for that with many quotations, both appropriate and delightful. Indeed, an allusion in the title should be noted by the keen eyed observer. That the world created by capital trading has only one god, and that being capital, is not news. Capital sets its own rules, its own code of morality, and I can recall T. S. Eliot's lines in Choruses from The Rock that we are in a new world, where people claim to worship nothing at all. Capital is on the pediment and on the mount of our institutions of mind. A publicly traded corporation that misses a chance to increase profits may be sued by its share holders, for example, and so one that passes up a chance to save money and pollute in order to be wise and clean up is acting against capital. In ethics, we have "wrong," and in religion we have "evil," but in capital, we have "waste" and "unprofitable." Since a corporation is a person (click, if you don't believe me), it is a person operating in a separate set of behavioral norms.

I really, really want to rant and rave about the CEO, and I keep promising myself that I will, just as soon as my bile is distilled and my thoughts are sharpened, but I must keep away from that theme for now to talk about something much more timely.

Bertolt Brecht had a lot to say about people who knew the prices of things, but not what they do. It's an interesting problem: the prevalence of price over substance. We have it many places, today. For example, we have had a spate of government as bargain hunting, where this policy or that was debated, not in terms of its public good, but in terms of its price in money. It used to be the Republican by-word, in fact, that the government that costs least governs best.

After the photo, a very strange connection.

"What they do in heaven we are ignorant of; what they do not we are told expressly, that they neither marry nor are given in marriage." -- Jonathan Swift
Well, at the beginning of last week, one of my favorite public figures fell. Elliot Spitzer's name came up in the investigation of an online escort service. Do I need to link to the story? If so, which would be even nearly impartial? The New York Times broke the story, so one can read about it there. By now, every American with a television set, most with a radio, and some residents of other nations, knows that Governor Spitzer appears to have employed a "high cost prostitute." Every comment, every analysis, every report made a point of the fact that "Kristen," Governor Spitzer's liaison, was expensive. She was very expensive.

I have been puzzled by this. Yes, journalists are, in general, stupid. They repeat themselves in preference to thinking. They rephrase the rip-n'-read from the AP 90% of the time. Television producers like to show women's stockings (as that's the best way to say "whore" without words: show an extended leg with stockings being put on). After the first day, the news critters went crawling about to get pictures of "Kristen," as they were interested in making her famous, and they began going through their Rolodexes of prostitutes to put on camera (and they did not seem to have trouble finding these phone numbers). Apparently, one investigative journalist has discovered that Kristen the prostitute lies on MySpace.

So here's what's bugging me: is it better or worse that Mr. Spitzer spent $4,000 on his prostitute instead of some lower sum?
"Most men are in a coma when they are at rest and mad when they act." -- Epicurus
Think about it: Hugh Grant pulled his Porsche over and got an act performed on him for 1% of what the governor spent. Like "Kristen," "Divine Brown" got some celebrity (I won't link, as it's obscene, but she made a pornographic film, and it was, if you can believe it, poorly reviewed even by that industry's standards). The fact that she could barely speak coherent English, barely sustain the male lewd gaze for more than a few seconds, and the fact that she had all of the strength of character of a street walker meant that her fame (like all fame, Aurelius said) was fleeting. Josh Levin did a very amusing piece on the service of Kristen's service and how it was "less a whore house than a whore home," so one supposes there is value added. Was Hugh Grant better than Elliot Spitzer for being frugal, or was Spitzer better for having a prestige brand?

Why is everyone interested in the cost of all things? Are female viewers and listeners thinking, "How can anyone pay that much for that?" and male viewers and listeners thinking, "That must be awesome to get something worth that much?" In fact, there is a mystique about the "high priced call girl." Such creatures are supposed by the public to be the nude models of men's magazines, starlets, and other refined and impossible prey/entrepreneurs who are calculating the cost of access very precisely and driving up the market value by scarcity.

Do we say, "Well, at least the governor gave in to a really excellent temptation," or do we say, "His crimes are worse, because he spent that kind of money on something he could have gotten anywhere?" Do we condemn Hugh Grant more, or do we excuse him more ("He must be really psychologically ill to do that")? Why the focus on the price, and not the thing?

National Public Radio alone tried, and only for a single story, to answer "why do men risk everything and go to a prostitute." Unfortunately, they got an expert on street exchange who could speak only of the Hugh Grant price range customers, and he reassured the listeners that "only 1 in 5 or 1 in 6" men have employed what Terry Pratchett termed "a lady of negotiable affections." 20-30% of men? I think I know quite a few men, and I am absolutely sure that none has ever told me of ever using a prostitute. Either some men are pretty habitual or the professor's statistics rely on some obscure and insane formula.

What's interesting to me about this obsession with the cost is that it doesn't seem to come up when the gay public figures have prostitutes. When "Jeff Gannon," White House friend, turned out to be a gay prostitute, no one mentioned whether he was a cheap or expensive whore. When Barney Frank turned out to have been paying a prostitute, we didn't really get the cost per hour. When the New Jersey governor turned up the same way, the price was not quoted. Of course most of the scandals have been about free gay sex or coerced gay sex. Foley was trying to coerce it from underage boys in Congress. George Michael and Larry Craig were looking for free gay sex from police.

So, the career of Governor Spitzer is over because he spent a great deal of money for Kristen, while Hugh Grant goes on. The incontinent Craig remains in office. Do not ask the public what prostitution means: all that they have learned is the price.

Addendum: In response to comments, which said that I had ended without the usual Cato-like denunciation, let me add this observation.

The constant reference to price is, in fact, the reiteration of the crime of prostitution, over and over again. Every time some news drone mentions how much is spent for what, that person is branding the woman a prostitute and branding the customer a John. Furthermore, every reference to price, and especially every repetition of the price, commits, once more, the actual crime in prostitution: it reduces a person to an organ and an organ to a monetary value and that exchange to rights of possession and use. It is reducing sex to a commodity and a person to a single anatomical feature, demanding particularized gestures and ceremonies of one person, and offering up power for money. Of course that's the bottom line crime capitalism has within it, as everyone from Swift to Jean Luc Godard has made clear: it is symbolic cannibalism. To continue to fixate on the price is to continue to buy a woman's sex.

1 comment:

The Geogre said...

That's a frog in the photo. It's a candle holder with a frog "leaping" out of it. Yes, I agree with you about how wrong it is, but do not accuse me of anything. It's a frog.