Tag Archives: Business

Babbitt in Mean-mugging American Values

29 Aug

For the past week or two, I’ve been reading Babbitt, by good ol American author Sinclair Lewis (who had a wonderfully ugly mug. Check it out).

This Yale literati published Babbitt in 1922. The book is a scathing satire on the Modern American (Wo)Man of 1920, strongly criticizing the value placed on consumerism and the desire to belong to High Society. Though the Great Depression came between us and the publishing of Babbitt, it seems that the two American Gods have been once more safely adopted into our 21st century homes. Consumerism and Class are worshiped by the masses.

The similarities between the 1920 socioeconomic conditions Lewis so heartily mocks and the conditions of today are eerie: the promotion of business at the expense of the people. The busting of strikes and organized labor. Corrupted relationships between business and government. There’s even a theme of TEACHER BASHING.

That’s right. It looks like the Good Fellows of 1920 were doing the same thing as the Good Fellows of 2011, or rather, the Good Fellows have simply never changed.

“Before I close I must call your attention to a problem we have to face, this coming year. The worst menace to sound government is not the avowed socialists but a lot of cowards who work undercover – the long-haired gentry who call themselves “liberals” and “radicals” and “non-partisan” and “intelligentsia” and God only knows how many other trick names! Irresponsible teachers and professors constitute the worst of this whole gang… Those profs are the snakes to be scotched – they and all their milk-and-water ilk! The American business man is generous to a fault, but one thing he does demand of all teachers and lecturers and journalists: if we’re going to pay them our good money, they’ve got to help us by selling efficiency and whooping it up for rational prosperity! And when it comes to these blab-mouth, fault-finding, pessimistic, cynical University teachers, let me tell you that during this golden coming year it’s just as much our duty to bring influence to have those cusses fired as it is to sell all the real estate and gather in all the good shekels we can.”

– Babbitt, 187/88

Bring influence to have those cusses fired? That paragraph reminds me a bit of Scott Walker’s attitude toward teachers. Remember when he got punked by a journalist pretending to be David Koch? Teachers are not the enemies of Business nor are they they ones stealing all the money from the middle class. Let’s recall that the top 10% of households in the United States own 83% of the wealth.

We the people need to check our government and large-scale business. We need to set our minds on what matters, and take the focus off consumerism. We need to figure out a system that invites change, and then we need to change. If we refuse, we may face a disaster on par with the Depression. The rich cannot keep getting richer. Remember this gal?

"Let them eat cake!"

Let’s stop history from repeating itself.