August 13, 2009
Elites Speak, Masses Laugh: Frankie Valli Fights BackBy Stuart Schwartz
The stranglehold the media and government elites have had on this country is beginning to break. And the proof comes not just in the pudding that is resistance to Obama health care, but at a Frankie Valli concert in Brooklyn just a few short weeks ago.
Ten thousand fans sit in the twilight in the park on Surf Avenue in Coney Island. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons wait with Connie Francis behind the stage. Neither the crowd nor Frankie nor Connie care that The New York Times, which praised the performance of the New York Philharmonic in North Korea as vibrantly "full-bodied," had let its readers know that Frankie Valli signifies the "precarious state" of modern music.
This is a New York Post, not a Times crowd, Fox News and not NBC, and they are about to enjoy an evening of fun, romance, and reminiscing -- spare us the nose-in-the-air reviews. The mood was to be summarized by the aging, cheerful Paisan from Newark, New Jersey who would later sing to adoring cheers:
And then, before Connie Stevens could open, Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn Borough president whose celebration of his Jewish Heritage includes heaping helpings of Democratic pork, strides out and quiets the crowd. To the murmur of the waves gently rolling in from the Atlantic, he announces "We have a celebrity in the house!" He stops for dramatic effect -- and then introduces Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times.
Ten thousand people pause, and then look at each other. Silence. Then boos. Hundreds of boos, scattered at first, then thousands, reaching a crescendo and, finally, ending with laughter. And then the crowd settles down, ignoring the politician and the so-called celebrity because they are enjoying themselves, because the music to come would be a joyful mingling of past and present, and because Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is as relevant to them as the Donna Karan fall collection just introduced by Saks Fifth Avenue in the newspaper he inherited.
This is a herald of victory in the class war: The elites speak, the masses laugh. Social class in the US today is, at its heart, a modern version of the Three-Fifths Compromise of 1787 when the states agreed that, for purposes of representation in the new republic, slaves were not worth as much as others. Our media, political, academic and entertainment elites are defined by a basic arrogance: They count more than us.
Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. ducked into his limousine before the concert ended, avoiding the crowds surging toward the subways and busses, and headed home on the Belt Parkway to his multi-million dollar shack on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Back to the grandees.
In doing so, he would again, as Vanity Fair magazine characterized him, choose "privilege and opportunity." He counts more than us. Privilege and opportunity is what Pinch has systematically pursued with his inheritance and his life, beginning at the age of 14 when he abandoned his divorced mother, who had little to offer besides love, to live with the wealthy father from whom he would inherit his dynasty. Thanks but no thanks, Mom -- anyone can love. But Dad owns The New York Times, and -- in the sage words of Yogi Berra -- "when you come to a fork in the road, take it." Arrivederci momma.
Privilege and opportunity. Sulzberger, who is unaccustomed to being booed, occupies the top ranks of elite media. He knows best, and is out to remake the world for "the rest of us" so that the "stingy elites" (us) will not succeed at pulling off the new Nazi uprising described by his compatriot in arms, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a millionaire Democrat from San Francisco.
You can't fool Pinch. In his view, the boos at the concert, the opposition to health care by those (us) seeking to destroy "fundamental human rights" are right out of the National Socialist German Workers Party playbook of 1930s Germany. And so, while the Democratic elite excoriate health care opponents as fascist, he has compared himself to Winston Churchill in 1941, standing resolute against "Sherry Baby" tyranny.
The masses laugh when Pinch talks revolution, and Pinch is puzzled. This is a not uncommon state for the man whom observers labeled the " idiot child" who has "squandered billions" and single-handedly wrecked a media empire five generations in the making. Gay Talese, the author who got his start on the Times, says about Pinch "You get a bad king every once in a while."
Elite means exclusivity, power and privilege because of a mix of wealth, lucky genes, the right schools and friends; it does not necessarily mean competence. Elitism also breeds arrogance, lack of self-awareness, and the inability to comprehend what is intuitive to the average citizen clinging to guns, religion, and Frankie Valli: sooner or later, you reap what you sow.
The fork in the road that Pinch took did not come with wisdom or perspective. The Pinch view of opportunity, for example, does not extend to the riff-raff he insisted be locked out by lease of the Manhattan headquarters he built with taxpayer subsidies. No common retailers, government offices, employment service, or enterprises that attract "people who arrive without appointment." The Village Voice summarized his message in this way: "Times' to Commoners: Go Elsewhere."
But when the city of New York would not listen to his neighbors, fashion designer and princess Diane von Furstenberg and Kevin Bacon, actor and Manhattan social scene staple, who dreamed of a ritzy new playground...Pinch channeled Winston Churchill, swinging into action for their "vision for the West Side" of Manhattan.
And so he stood in his offices in the 52-story Manhattan tower he built with public subsidies and designed by the architect who planned the headquarters for Daimler-Benz (Mercedes) in Germany, shaking his fist at the sky beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows of his luxury abode. No bombs, no smoke -- but still, the heavy haze of injustice hung in those brilliant clouds over Manhattan, no less a threat than the Luftwaffe planes menacing wartime London.
"Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never" is the spirit he shares with Winston Churchill, he told New York state university graduates. And so Pinch Winston Churchill Sulzberger threw his decaying empire behind what the New York Post described as "Project Funway for Manhattan's chicest souls."
Churchill beat the Nazis; Pinch beat New York taxpayers who didn't see the need for $170 million of public debt to pay for what Pinch's newspaper called "the most extraordinary fashion promenade you can imagine" built for the "cool downtown crowd." Generations of debt for the average taxpayer is a small price to pay for a place for actor and park activist Edward Norton to rest his Gucci's while contemplating failed romances with Courtney Love and Salma Hayek.
Take that, Brooklyn! Yes, Winston Churchill had his Nazis, but Pinch has Frankie Valli and New York City taxpayers and government health care opponents. Some may say that the space between his ears is filled by a substance eerily similar to the taxpayer-funded park benches he insisted be built from wood "taken from a managed forest certified by the Forest Stewardship Council."
However, Pinch has Churchillian spirit and wealth and connections and power and a winning number in the gene pool lottery. And a financial empire...sort of.
But, as he circled the Belt Parkway, the boos still ringing in his ears, he missed the most important message that New York City taxpayers were sending, that ordinary Americans from all over are sending to Washington. Frankie Valli put it best that night:
Stuart H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is a former newspaper and retail executive. He is on the faculty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.