There is no mystery, no comedy, only the constant reminder that Rebecca Black the respiratory entity intends to turn Rebecca Black the meme into a thriving industry of self, and the rest of the world can go fuck. It can’t help but crescendo in that most cardinal of late-capitalist symbols turned farce: the limousine — Marshall McLuhan’s tidy-chrome womb, bulletproof and full of booze. — Rebecca Black and the Death of a Meme
Counting Her Money shared CC by moriza
Reading that characterization of the limousine in a piece about silly pop music, I’m reminded of an article I encountered thirteen years ago in Harper’s magazine. David Quammen’s “Planet of weeds: Tallying the losses of Earth’s animals and plants”, with its dreary vision of the mid-term future as “a crummier place, a lonelier and uglier place”, stuck with me. Not least due to a metaphor posed by Thomas Homer-Dixon:
In conversation with the journalist Robert D. Kaplan, as quoted in Kaplan’s book The Ends of the Earth, Homer-Dixon said it more vividly: “Think of a stretch limo in the potholed streets of New York City, where homeless beggars live. Inside the limo are the air-conditioned post-industrial regions of North America, Europe, the emerging Pacific Rim, and a few other isolated places, with their trade summitry and computer information highways. Outside is the rest of mankind, going in a completely different direction.”
That direction, necessarily, will be toward ever more desperate exploitation of landscape. When you think of Homer-Dixon’s stretch limo on those potholed urban streets, don’t assume there will be room inside for tropical forests. Even Noah’s ark only managed to rescue paired animals, not large parcels of habitat. The jeopardy of the ecological fragments that we presently cherish as parks, refuges, and reserves is already severe, due to both internal and external forces: internal, because insularity itself leads to ecological unraveling; and external, because those areas are still under siege by needy and covetous people. Projected forward into a future of 10.8 billion humans, of which perhaps 2 billion are starving at the periphery of those areas, while another 2 billion are living in a fool’s paradise maintained by unremitting exploitation of whatever resources remain, that jeopardy increases to the point of impossibility.
…So the world’s privileged class — that’s your class and my class — will probably still manage to maintain themselves inside Homer-Dixon’s stretch limo, drinking bottled water and breathing bottled air and eating reasonably healthy food that has become incredibly precious, while the potholes on the road outside grow ever deeper. Eventually the limo will look more like a lunar rover. Rag-tag mobs of desperate souls will cling to its bumpers, like groupies on Elvis’s final Cadillac. The absolute poor will suffer their lack of ecological privilege in the form of lowered life expectancy, bad health, absence of education, corrosive want, and anger. Maybe in time they’ll find ways to gather themselves in localized revolt against the affluent class. Not likely, though, as long as affluence buys guns. In any case, well before that they will have burned the last stick of Bornean dipterocarp for firewood and roasted the last lemur, the last grizzlybear, the last elephant left unprotected outside a zoo.
Rereading this passage after some years of it percolating in my fevered enfeebled subconscious, if anything this vision of the future seems overly generous, at least from the perspective of a citizen of North America or Europe (“your class and my class”). There is room for ever-fewer people in that limo, and groupies clinging to the bumper strikes me as an apt metaphor for the North American vox populi these days… (A few brave and eloquent exceptions, offering some solace and inspiration.)
Related flashback: Call it a moment of zen