America, Strung Out
She's young. She's beautiful. She's famous around the world. She has built an empire of unparalleled wealth. The press is fixated on her, and many have illegally trespassed on her property.
She's also an addict.
She's surrounded and enabled by an entourage who benefit from their connection to her. Her money affords her near-limitless access to her vice. She refuses to acknowledge that her addiction is a problem, even as it threatens her very life. Attempts at intervention by those who love her dearly have been rejected.
She is America, and her drug is spending.
Addiction is pervasive in our country. It is estimated that close to 50 million Americans struggle directly with addictions to tobacco, nicotine, alcohol, porn, drugs, sex, gambling, work, and food -- just to name a few.
Addicts rarely seek recovery until they hit "rock bottom." For the average person, this could mean a rush to the ER, an overdrawn bank account, or a night in jail. Celebrities, however -- equipped to travel much farther down the road to addictive ruin -- find themselves in a special category. Their wealth and connections allow them to reach much deeper, darker places than the average person before recognizing the need for change. Even those of us with only a passive attention to pop culture couldn't avoid reports on the tragic deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, Heath Ledger, and a continued lineage of celebrities cut down by addiction. For too many of them, rock bottom has proven to exist at a depth beyond the limits of their mortality.
For better or for worse, America's wealth, fame, and power make it the celebrity nation of the world, and it's difficult to ignore the parallels.
Two weeks ago, I uploaded a video to YouTube called "Conservatism Is Calling." By election night, the video had received 1.5 million views, hundreds of comments, and a fair amount of criticism.
I suggested in the video that without change, our fiscal destiny mirrored that of Italy, Greece, Spain, and France. A friend wrote, "[T]his is an inaccurate comparison. Our situation isn't nearly as bad, because we're in control of our currency."
And yet, this is exactly what makes our situation more perilous. As the world's reserve currency, the dollar gives us a unique and dangerous power. Foreign nations cannot print currency without seeing its value drop in relation to ours --but Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve have been able to pump trillions of new dollars into the economy with a only a marginal effect on the dollar's value, and interest rates have been kept artificially low. By doing so, the Fed has been able to anesthetize what would otherwise be very painful interest payments and inflation. As we are protected from the immediate consequences, the spending continues.
As a Hollywood professional, I have worked on sets with actors who earn more in one week than the average American earns in several years. Joe Citizen may seek help for his cocaine addiction after wasting his life savings of $60,000 on the habit, but many celebrities could find a year-old $60,000 check under the seat of their car, totally unaware that it hadn't been deposited. What's $60,000 in cocaine and a couple $5,000-per-night prostitutes to Charlie Sheen when he earns $1.8 million per episode? Yet to be mentioned are the publicists, lawyers, and other damage-control professionals there to soften the blow of any fall. If tomorrow's news carried stories of Charlie Sheen's death -- God forbid -- would any of us be surprised?
Conservatives and libertarians in America are still in shock that despite a horrendous record on jobs and very serious questions about the attack in Benghazi, Obama still won re-election -- and won decisively.
When our spending is understood as an addiction, however, this isn't shocking at all. Addicts around the world have been unable to kick their habits even in the face of losing their jobs, homes, life savings, and families. In a clear demonstration of denial on election night, the American people declared that our problem isn't really that bad. We can stop any time.
Unless he follows a different fiscal course from the one he has championed for most of his life, economic principles tell us that Barack Obama's re-election will mean four more years of decline. One can only hope that the pain will finally become great enough to get the attention of America -- clearly it wasn't sufficient this time around.
America will recover and become the shining city on a hill that she's always had the potential to be, or she will fall victim to her compulsion and to those who love her less than they love what she could offer them.
May America find her rock bottom before she perishes.
Time will tell.
Chris Corrado is a 2nd assistant director and freelance director/producer in Los Angeles. His music video work can be found at DirectorChrisCorrado.com.