Emblazoned on the cover of a July '99 Newsweek were the words "They're Rich (and You're Not.)" Inside was the question "The economy's booming. So why do so many of us feel we're missing out on the party?" For many Americans that seemed a very apt question, and Newsweek's answer was, in effect, some people are luckier than others. In November of '99 a Wall Street Journal headline proclaimed, "Believe Your Eyes. The New Economy Is Real." Everywhere one found experts proclaiming that the "new economy" leveled the playing field; that the "old money" rich were losing their monopoly on wealth; and that the great problems of class struggle and the business cycle had finally been solved. As we know, it didn't happen. The "party" was about to go very, very bad.
So why did so many people feel they were "missing out on the party?" Certainly a lot of it was thinking it would be nice to be rich, but might something more have been at work, a suspicion that there was something amiss on a deeper level? That feeling, writ large and clear, is what Boob Jubilee is all about. Most of the essays in this volume were published prior to the bust by cultural critics who were at the very least puzzled and often horrified by what they saw going on around them. All originally appeared in The Baffler, a magazine that was almost alone in offering incisive commentary on the intersection between the pervasive "business" and "American" cultures of the 90s.
Unabashedly populist and decidedly liberal, this generous selection represents a viewpoint many did not find during the dot.com boom. Paul Maliszewski's tale of his ability to get a New York business journal to publish entirely fabricated stories is simultaneously funny and disheartening. An essay on the economic forces that led a California town to harness its future first to a new convention center and, when that failed, to a new prison, sheds new light on economic development questions and adds a scathing look at how good intentions can lead to horrific results. Ben Metcalf's uproarious and backhanded critique of the American dream takes flight as an all-out attack on that "shallow and putrid trough we call the Mississippi River." Several essays, under the rubric "Interns Built the Pyramids," wax eloquent, sarcastic and poignant in turn on value of work. "Give the Millionaire a Drink" will confirm your worst suspicions about the super rich.
Boob Jubilee is not always an easy read; a showy style of writing is often indulged, but persistence is repaid with serious insight. Again and again policies and practices once hailed as visionary-and which still have a certain resonance in today's political and corporate discourse-are picked apart by critics who perceive their real impact on society at large, and who wonder why others do not see the same thing. Together, the essays in Boob Jubilee can be seen to pose the question of what happened to lively political discourse and cultural criticism in the U.S., and then provide an answer by example. As Stud's Terkel notes in his introduction to the collection, that's what makes this "…a hell of an important book."
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