Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Last Three Decades of Swag Flag.

In The Sopranos episode, "Luxury Lounge" the morally obscene world of mobsters juxtaposes the meaningless existence of Hollywood swag, when Christopher goes to Hollywood to make a movie. While there, actor Ben Kingsley introduces him to the "goody bags" celebrities receive just for showing up, and he is overcome with envy and mugs Lauren Bacall for her $35,000 swag bag.

In a nutshell, the juxtaposition and intertwining of these two worlds, in this episode, is what America has become in the last three decades. The celebrity "swag bag" — the most prestigious of "bags" can total $100,000 — epitomizes our paradoxical system that rewards greed and punishes need. Showering thousands of dollars of products on people who can afford to buy the items 100 times over makes little sense when over 45 million, mostly working Americans, go without or must ration the essentials, yet this is the way our system is designed to operate.

"Picking through $35,000 gift baskets is disgusting and shameful. My suggestion was to have the Academy commit to [charitable] contributions in the name of the winners." - Edward Norton
The "swag bag" is symbolic of what occurs everywhere in our culture. People who truly need basic necessities - food, shelter and health care - must navigate through an incredibly punitive system just to obtain, what amounts to crumbs, while those of us in society who need the least - working mostly in white-collar environments - have access to free food and stuff on an ongoing basis. Most meetings, seminars, receptions, training, etc. that take place fairly consistently in a white collar atmosphere, usually include at the very least, free food, and the higher up the ladder the more of those type of events one attends, and the better the food and freebies.

On the other hand, lower income areas, many times do not even have access to grocery stores, hence little if no access to fresh produce and healthy food. Not only that, if they do need assistance, they must conquer countless bureaucratic stumbling blocks, making their way through a maze of paperwork and red tape.

While it's true that American hunger - food insecure more accurately describes hunger in America as it refers to the inability of people to obtain sufficient food for their household, and recurring food insecurity and involuntary lack of access to food can lead to malnutrition - is not on the scale of third world countries, many Americans often times must choose between food and rent; food and health care, etc. If healthy food is available, and that's a big if in some areas, it's more costly, forcing many to purchase highly fattening food with very little nutrition, if any, hence the obesity problem so prevalent in lower income areas. Of the 36.4 million Americans, including 12.4 million children, only 10% of that total are on welfare.

As actions speak louder than words, we believe Paris Hilton deserves the 30 swag bags of bling she supposedly took from Sundance more than children deserve to eat healthy food. Why? Because she's entitled, as are so many undeserving Americans who are either born into the right family, or are ruthless enough to climb to the top, or just plain lucky. Obviously, there are many talented and deserving Americans who have "made it" to the top, who understand that they did not get there all by themselves, as well.

Overall, our society punishes the truly needy, as if they deserve their plight, and until deep structual change takes place, the rich will keep getting richer and the poor, poorer because our system is designed to make it happen that way.

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