I've never eaten at a McDonald's. Never a fry, never a nibble, never a sip. I don't know if this principled (or eccentric) stand of mine has anything at all to do with what the protesters in Seattle have against McDonald's. But when, the morning after the Seattle riots, the bookers started to call seeking punditry expertise, and I said I had never eaten in a McDonald's (and added, for that matter, that I don't have a driver's license), I saw the clear opportunity for a career as a leading pundit for this new rejectionist movement (my tag, but feel free to adopt it).
Indeed, having written about the rise of the e-decade -- that triumph of technology and capitalism -- just days before, now I was being eagerly sought to judge whether the protesters in Seattle were foreshadowing its end. I was wondering myself.
The challenge for media people, bookers, producers, editors, columnists, and pundits last week was to go from zero awareness and understanding of free trade and its malcontents to entertaining the possibility that what we had witnessed, that garbage can through the Gap's plate-glass window, represented a major cultural moment, that this could be a Zeitgeist-moving event.
The first day, it had seemed, through the media eye, to be just an instance of the Seattle police's screwing up -- shooting weakling professors with rubber bullets, for goodness' sake. What we were seeing in Seattle were nostalgists: all those former sixties people who, when the world turned, had tipped into the Northwest. Then there followed a lot of scoffing: An economic protest in a time of economic splendor! Making a stand against globalism in the middle of one of the greatest global trading cities of the age! Right.
But then, characters came into focus: The Times described one participant in the mêlée, straight-faced, as a teacher of protest tactics at Berkeley; and the head of the anarchist movement in Eugene, Oregon, turned out to be in regular touch with Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber (it is something to consider that Ted Kaczynski could gain a share of immortality, that one of my children might come home with a free kaczynski button).
"This could be a revolt against branding, which is a revolution I would join. Sort of One more logo and I'm going postal."
At a company called Working Assets in San Francisco, a long-distance-telephone-service provider with a do-good philosophy (sort of a Ben & Jerry's telco), members of the staff headed up to join the protests, as if on cue. (In my mind's eye, I saw them as sleepers suddenly activated by their controllers in Moscow, or as some new kind of Boys from Brazil -- left-wing clones now grown up and ready for duty.)
The targets were vivid enough: McDonald's, Starbucks, Nike, the Gap. Fuck culinary and fashion imperialism!
All of a sudden there seemed to be enough weird details to suggest, possibly, there was a good story here -- young people living lives that were (a) awfully peculiar, (b) heretofore invisible to the national media, and (c) impassioned enough to entice others to follow them.
Many mass movements and cultural watersheds have begun with less.
In other words, the next big new new thing might turn out to be not some technology enhancement or entrepreneurial scheme or megacorporate combination, but a rejection of all of the above. The next big new new thing could actually be a previously unrecognized sense of meaninglessness (what if everybody doesn't want to be an entrepreneur? Is that possible?), which, by the by, naturally leads to rage and rebellion.
What if the nineties are actually the fifties, and here, as the decade turns, we are looking at the first sign of the sixties, the turn against prosperity and mindless commerciality (mindless e-commerciality) and anti-intellectuality and the endless stupefying banality and conformity of fast food and malls and dot-coms (and just when you were thinking prosperity was fun)?
Mediawise, of course, we are always looking for such forks in the road. That's what many of us are paid to do: wake up in the morning and check the Zeitgeist indicators (I just checked zeitgeist.com on the off chance I could grab the domain name -- taken!). This time a year ago, with the Russians defaulting and Asia shuddering, we were writing a different sort of end to the era. Many of us were, briefly, envious of Esquire's entirely incorrect cover story of last October about the impending economic collapse: "What Did You Do After the Crash, Daddy?" (How could they have known? What timing! What prescience! What luck!)
It is the big story, of course: How will the bubble burst? Part of the fun of this (it's fun at least before the bubble bursts) is trying to predict not only when the pop will occur but what will be the rude cause of it. Or perhaps the bubble won't burst at all, but large numbers of people will come to hate its dominance, its protuberance, its unremitting expansion. At any rate, what will happen will very likely be a perfect surprise (although later, seem perfectly inevitable). Bubbles, after all, burst, or countertrends begin, just when you're most convinced they won't -- ever.