The Poor in America: Friends and Neighbors in the Heartland

The Poor in America: Friends and Neighbors in the Heartland

For some people, our economy may be turning around, but millions of families are at risk of going hungry, in one of the richest nations on earth.  The poorest people in America are those who are the first to feel the downturn, and will be the last to feel the country’s financial recovery.  The hardworking poor in America’s heartland, with their long and deep traditions in mining, manufacturing and military service, are increasingly seen in food pantry lines, feeling ashamed and angry.  Their stories and images push beyond stereotypes and reveal a hidden America of families living in poverty, which is both surprising and haunting.

Friends and Neighbors: The Recession’s Unseen Victims

Poverty in the Hills of Central Appalachia

A Hidden America: Children of the Appalachian Mountains

Kris Kristofferson: This Old Road

Slide Show: The Poor in America/Friends and Neighbors in the Heartland

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

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Subprime: Watching the American Housing Bubble Burst

Subprime: Watching the American Housing Bubble Burst

Subprime by Mike Winkelmann is a musical short film, an isometric 3D animation and a remarkable visual commentary on America’s present socioeconomic situation all in one. The short film allows you to watch the American housing market spiral out of control, in a cool low-poly 3D style and with lovely animations. The gluttonous drive for more, bigger and better becomes no longer sustainable, and the bubble ultimately bursts, as we have recently witnessed. In Subprime, the housing market’s escalating trajectory and collapse is visually played out before our eyes with an animated series of houses building and then suddenly deconstructing.

Subprime: Watching the American Housing Bubble Burst

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AIG Greed Redux: John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

AIG Greed Redux: John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

A national outcry of public outrage has forced the Obama administration to take action on the large bonuses that AIG has given to a group of its executives. The bonuses that AIG has distributed went to the very group of employees whose risky trades brought the company to the brink of collapse. “It’s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay,” Obama said at the outset of an appearance to announce help for small businesses hurt by the deep recession. “How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat,” the president said.

The whole debacle of the greed displayed by AIG, as well as by some large banks that recently received large sums of bailout money from the government, is reminiscent of the simultaneous collapse of both the French trading arm and royal bank in the early 1700s. That collapse has been described as “John Law and the Mississippi Bubble.” John Law was a Scottish economist who believed that money was only a means of exchange that did not constitute wealth in itself and that national wealth depended on trade. During the reign of Louis XIV, John Law set up France’s Banque Générale Privée (“General Private Bank”), which developed the use of paper money. Many have considered Law to be little more than a colorful con man, responsible for the Mississippi Bubble and the chaotic economic collapse in France.

Richard Condie’s 1978 animated short film, John Law and the Mississippi Bubble, offers up a history lesson about that sensational get-rich-quick scheme, which took place in France over 200 years ago. The film won the Best Film Award at the 1980 International Short Film Festival in Tampere, Finland. With economist John Law at the helm, the plan was to open a national French bank and exchange bank notes for gold at wildly inflated share prices to mask the fact that the country’s gold had been depleted in the building of Louis XIV’s palace. In the film, when the inevitable rush to cash in the notes takes place, poor John Law is left broke and broken-hearted.

It was one of the most sensational get-rich-quick schemes heard of in a long time, but it eventually burst over the head of its originator, John Law. This “rags to riches to rags” story, in which the plan was to open a bank and exchange banknotes (paper!) for gold at wildly inflated share prices, ends when John Law, having been cleaned out as a result of a rush to cash in the notes, is left broke and broken-hearted.

John Law and the Mississippi Bubble

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Pure Detroit: When Old Things Get Broken

Pure Detroit: When Old Things Get Broken

Pure Detroit is a short film by Ivan George with gorgeous cinematography, but also one which confronts the viewer with dramatic images of the effects that rapid economic and social change can have upon urban life. The impact of the film has been described as somewhere between heaven, hell and quiet meditation. While Pure Detroit is a beautiful visual mood piece, it’s also incredibly sad. The film reveals so much about the rapid changes we’re encountering in our world right now, how the old things gets broken much faster than new things are put in their place. Pure Detroit serves as a powerful reminder of what the old things breaking down can be like for so many of us.

Pure Detroit: When Old Things Get Broken

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The Horrible Obsession: Today’s Recession for Men

The Horrible Obsession: Today’s Recession for Men

OHMIGOD, what the hell, Jesus Christ, the entire world economy is collapsing all around us at this very moment. And the financial crumbling is worse than it’s ever, ever been. Housing, banks, Wall Street, huge industries….everything is falling down worser than the old Humpty Dumpty story. Everything’s being torn into a shattered heap. Yep, it surely is.

And what about all the poor men peoples who are caught up in this nightmare…lost their jobs, losing their homes, pensions suddenly vanished into thin air, savings just disappeared, cars been repossessed. Here our men folks are sposed to stand up so tall through sweaty toil and the worst of troubles, trying to be strong like the Rocks of Gibralter. But they’ve got feelings too, you know, and now they’re just suffering like they’re all bent down, tired and weakened-out by all this stuff. This financial collapse has turned into a bunch of horrendous nightmares for our country’s men folks. Even stolen away their menliness, ’cause now all they have left to do is think and think about this downright Horrible, Stinky Obsession, this Recession for Men calamity. And the short little video below really shows just what I mean about this Recession for Men thingee!

The Horrible Obsession: Today’s Recession for Men

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A Heartbreaking Epic: Hand-Out

A Heartbreaking Epic: Hand-Out

Photography by: Joseph O. Holmes, NYC

This photograph captures an unforgettable moment; it’s a simple image, but one that so strongly conveys of the sorrow of our times. The impact of looking at some brilliant pictures can just make your heart skip a beat. This classically understated, but sublime photograph is certainly one of those rare pictures. The photograph is a heartbreaking epic, which powerfully conveys one of those quiet experiences of sad awe.

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Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

It is only for the sake of those without hope
that hope is given to us
.”

Walter Benjamin

Drux and Flux: Visual Comments on Today’s Deepening Economic Crisis

Drux and Flux won the Canadian Film Institute’s 2008 Award for Best Canadian Animation, as well as an Honorable Mention for Best Experimental/Abstract Animation at the 2008 International Animation Festival in Otowa, Canada. Director Theodore Ushev’s Drux and Flux presents an oppressive and miserable vision of how both the contemporary commitment to an over-arching belief in progress and to the ever-expanding industrialism in society have effected modern life. The five-minute short film opens with shots of a printing press, which are used to present the film’s opening titles. That scene then switches away and shifts, through rapidly choreographed cuts, to an elevated train, a dimly-lit manufacturing city-scape, the interior of a factory, then to the manufacturing building’s inner workings. The cuts are rapid, and the fast pace is maintained throughout the film.

The quickly cut scenes track the rise and fall of industry and are accompanied by increasingly discordant sounds on its background music track. Scenes from Soviet propaganda posters and the clashing of gears and girders are juxtaposed, along with almost subliminal flashes of the words “1932” (the year of Hitler’s first election-run for Chancellor of Germany) and “Juggernaut” (a possible reference to perceptions of WWII Germany as an “unstoppable force”). The latter disturbing associations between ever-increasing industrialization, exponential technological advance and the rise of totalitarian political regimes can be quite unsettling. Drux and Flux culminates with clip-art style images of a human skeleton that is reinforced with building materials, yet it’s still unable to support itself. The overall result for the viewer of this film is a vision of the potential horrors of modern-day industrialization, which has been summoned like a nightmare brought about by watching too many hours of late-night horror films while listening to a constantly-looping off-speed recording of Verdi’s Il Travatore Anvil Chorus.

Ushev drew his inspiration for Drux and Flux from a variety of sources. Sociologist-philosopher-political radical Herbert Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man (1964) is cited as his starting point, a work that presents a wide-ranging critique of both advanced capitalist and communist societies. This book theorized about the inevitable decline of revolutionary potential in capitalist societies and about the development of new and potent forms of social control, especially over the common working person. Marcuse argued that “advanced industrial society” created false needs which fused individuals into homogenized particles that comprised the existing system of production and consumption. Advertising, industrial management, politicians and the mass-media cooperated to brainwash members of the working class, eliminating their potential for effective expressions of negativity, critique, and opposition. The result, according to Marcuse, was a “one-dimensional” universe of thought and behavior, in which the very aptitude and ability for critical thinking and for developing either opposing or alternative social positions was withering away.

As Drux and Flux travels through its series of dismal industrial scenes, one is left with a deeply sad mood about the frightening impressions of the enormous slabs of metal and rust, the smells of rotting death. By the end of this short five-minute journey, the viewer is left to wonder whether this is what things actually might be like when our industrial world finally reaches its end.

Drux and Flux: The Flow of Progress into Tragic Social Decay

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