Monday, May 25, 2009

Indices Of Doom (2001)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, May 25 - This originally appeared in Punk Planet 42, spring 2001.

INDICES OF DOOM

Around the time this issue hits the stands, the US economy will be chugging into its tenth year of unprecedented economic growth. Obviously, many people have a stake in predicting when the good times will finally end. Major economic indicators (unemployment data, orders for consumer goods, housing construction, etc.) are subject to intense scrutiny. Minor economic indicators (Christmas tree sales, rising hemlines, etc.) have been granted new significance. In order to spare readers of this magazine any further agonizing, I now submit five top secret and highly reliable economic indicators to help us wade through the mass of data. Act accordingly.

USED PANTY SALES INDEX

Ebay recently eliminated their entire used underwear division as part of a general smut flush. They're cleaning house to present a more family friendly auction site. A few sullied undie sales can still be found on the space, but it's certainly not the good old days of November 2000 when one could riffle through page after page of corrupted undergarments in alternating contractions of horror and awe. Who sells this stuff? Who buys this stuff? Could the plainly pedestrian prose ("used pair of cotton panties - high bidder pays $2 shipping and handling") really serve the needs of an extreme fetishist-niche market, or has a larger cultural shift been taking place? Did the technology create a new market, or have the used panty hoarders always been with our species, suffering through silent millennia? Underwear is, after all, heady stuff. Traffic in the fragrances of the human nether regions is a major gauge of Americans' fears and hopes. If you're like me, the mere thought of casting your intimates into the void triggers the most primal of fears - loss, death, fear of the unknown. But the money's not bad. A Mrs. C____ of Pekin IL. reported in the Dec. 11 issue of Industry Standard that she'd raised $4,000 in the last year off panty auctions. Another couple, retirees in Montana (think about this for a moment), inform that they simply haven't been able to meet customer demand, and have resorted to outsourcing fresh unmentionables to friends and neighbors. This could be the market to watch.

There is hope among the exiled that such sites as "usedprasandpanties.com" will fill the vacuum left by Ebay. But, last I checked, their virtual bidding floors were virtually empty. I'd thought about posting some 7" records I was unable to unload on Ebay (in the same spirit of renting hardcore porn videos and dubbing Burl Ives' singing snowman over the juicy bits) but, really; who would get the joke? Ebay's shakeup may have a profound psychological undertow on consumer confidence for years to come. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Possible market downturn by 2nd quarter '01.

PEOPLE GETTING CLOCKED ON THE HEAD INDEX

Years ago, when I lived in New York, an acquaintance managed to drastically lower my quality of life with just one photograph. The picture appeared in NY's Newsday and featured the acquaintance gazing heavenward as an anonymous man in the street. At his feet lay the smashed ruins of an air conditioner, a fatality to the previous man in the street. Walking down the sidewalks of Manhattan was never the same. The possibility exists that, at any given moment, just one of at least ten vertically aligned apartment dwellers have improperly secured their AC units to their windowsills, resulting in instantaneous and most humiliating death. Reality! Although I think my open air conversations grew more thoughtful and introspective in direct proportion to my escalating fear (certainly I didn't want to get clobbered while making some random rude mouth noise), my confidence in the "New York" brand name had been forever shattered.

Wal-Mart, Sam's Club & Home Depot are all facing this issue now with a series of recent high-profile merchandise topplings and smooshings. OK, so the odds of getting crushed by falling consumer goods in a Home Depot are still one in ten million. But mass psychology is everything in economics. "Sky Shelving", as the practice of stowing overstock thirty feet overhead is known in the retail world, makes good economic sense when pitted against warehouse costs. It looks more like depraved indifference to human life when your shopping cart drifts under these buckling behemoths. Consumer confidence nose dives where issues of cranial integrity are involved. What could be more humiliating than to exit this world under a 2,000 pound pallet of drywall screws? (A: perishing under a pallet of Soft Touch fabric softener?)

Then there is the Butterfly Effect. This is the cocktail party theory of global economics.... small actions can have large consequences. The air ripples of a butterfly stretching its wings in Tokyo can, under the right conditions, result in tsunamis ripping down Sunset Boulevard twelve hours later. Guess what, folks - it's no theory! That lady who got clocked by the 72nd street lamppost that was knocked over by a misguided "Cat In The Hat" balloon during New York's 1997 Thanksgiving Parade? I don't think it's any coincidence that the Russian ruble plunged just a few months later. The Butterfly Effect, you see. Confidence Drift. Now NASA has declassified projections that the "de-orbiting" of 66 Iridium mobile phone satellites (as per orders of bankruptcy court... see PP 38) will produce 1 in 250 odds of someone getting struck upside the noggin by the space debris of a failed marketing plan. Could we be on the cusp of the new wave of humiliating head injuries? Markets aren't going to like that. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Steep declines in technology, insurance, manufacturing. Probable recession within a year


LAMENESS OF TOM TOMORROW CARTOONS INDEX

Analysts have been quietly tracking this one since 1993, when Mr. Tomorrow's "This Modern World" accused corporate book chains of not carrying Noam Chomsky titles. Inaccuracy aside, the shrill tone of Tomorrow's work has cast a gloom from which the entire American humorist sector has yet to fully recover. Each installment of this obscenely unfunny comic strip contains more than the minimum lethal dose of pedantic baloneyisms and knee-jerk jerkisms. Foreign investors get an eyeful and simply take their cash elsewhere. Every TMW strip published further pushes down interest in genuinely talented American political cartoonists (Lloyd Dangle, Ted Rall) which in turn dampens market enthusiasm. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Dwindling capital inflows, market panic, spiraling inflation. US dollar bottoms out against Asian currency within six months.

BAD BAND NAME INDEX

It's no secret that Dread Zeppelin's 1989 debut "Whole Lotta Love" 7" on Birdcage Records preceded the US recession of 1990-1992. The Dumbly Named Rock Band Index has been a surprisingly accurate barometer of global economic health ever since. A wave of horrifically named mid-90's indie acts - "Smashmouth" , "Jimmy's Chicken Shack", "Butt Trumpet", "The Smoking Popes" - may very well have set in motion a butterfly effect of background consumer unease that ultimately resulted in the drastic devaluation of the Thai Baht in mid-1997, in turn stimulating a chain of recession that burst the "Asian bubble" in the latter 90's. This is deadly serious business. A brief lull in badly named bands brought on by the recent grunge and punk market collapses probably helped the Hang Seng and Nikkei stocks regain some ground. But new dangers lurk. A much more aggressive strain of musical misnomers looming in the New Metal genre - including "Sevendust", "Papa Roach" and "System Of A Down" - impacts quite badly on consumer expectations in our education system, with trickle down unease disabling savings, home buying and new construction, ultimately infecting monetary supply. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Dire.

WHITE MAN INDEX

Every now and then a rough little character known as The White Man pops out of my mouth and says some very annoying things. Sometimes he makes me do annoying things. Like the time I went through the Taco Bell drive through last month and ordered a 7-layer burrito. Simple enough, right? Only when I got a few blocks away and started digging in, it took at least four generous bites before I realized I was eating a meat grande fiesta or whatever and I'd gotten chunks of beef rot stuck between my molars. I mean, what the fuck? Then there was a scene cut and I suddenly found myself back at the Taco Bell counter, trying to control my voice while demanding to "speak to the manager". Folks; this was the White Man talking, not me. I know full well that the people who work at Taco Bell endure a nightmare existence of caulk-gun guacamole and drive through assishness. The last thing on earth they need is me in my Nike hat (I found it in a parking lot! it's my lucky hat!) spouting off shrilly. But it's a bit beyond my control at this point. One minute I'm sitting quietly with a book, the next minute I'm telling a telemarketer to "put me on with your supervisor". The last time WM popped out (in a Little Italy eatery, offering a loud refrain of "this isn't what I ordered"), the Indonesian Rupiah fell 80 percent. White Man had been in remission through the second and third fiscal quarters of 2000. His strong showing now, starting with the Taco Bell incident and continuing into the Christmas season - when such phrases as "excuse me, but we were actually in line ahead of you" could be plainly overheard by the general public- may bode particularly harsh tidings. ECONOMIC OUTLOOK: Kevlar, canned goods, lots and lots of D batteries.