Saturday, October 11, 2014

Neoliberal Voyeuristic Entertainment, 2014


I won't begrudge these kids this visit to a fancy restaurant. It may well be highly memorable for them, and as an indirect result, one (or more) of them may grow up to become a great chef — or more fittingly, an activist pursuing things that really matter, such as social and economic justice, that have gotten short shrift in recent years at the hands of both major political parties.

Some may see this visit as "charming" — and indeed, in the most literal sense, it is. Still, considering that the tasting menu alone runs $220 per person at this restaurant, and that New York State Education Department data for the 2012-13 school year shows that 81% of students at this school are eligible for a free lunch, an honest look must also see that this arranged restaurant visit filmed for The New York Times delivers a neoliberal/neoconservative-style minimally-beneficial gesture with the usual out-of-proportion attention and laudation, an aura of voyeuristic entertainment from how these out-of-their-environment children will comport themselves, and perhaps even a hint of "My Fair Lady", writ small.


I note this morning that the NYT apparently changed the article's headline subsequent to my first screen grab, with both the original headline and the change revealing their (perhaps subconscious) pro-"1%" outlook, something that had escaped my notice at the time of my original post.

Their headline now reads "What Happens When Second Graders Are Treated to a Seven-Course, $220 Tasting Meal". Previously, it read "Can Second-Graders Appreciate A Seven-Course, $220 Tasting Meal?".

Now, these children are "treated" to the largesse of the upper class. Previously, the focus was on whether they could "appreciate" what they couldn't afford.

(In both cases, the primary photo run by the NYT was the same, a minority child at the restaurant table. My screen grab shows a food plate, because I made the screen capture as the Times' video ran).

Text Copyright: Fred Drumlevitch

Fred Drumlevitch blogs irregularly at
He can be reached at FredDrumlevitch12345(at)


  1. Worse is the emphasis in the NYTimes on reviewing fancy restaurants and what they serve. How people, even with money, can spend such huge sums for a meal without blinking an eyelash proves the inequality rampant in our political system. I watch a TV program about women buying wedding gowns which is most informative. As a former amateur seamstress I enjoy seeing the different kinds of clothing presented. The sad part are the prices of these gowns which obviously even not affluent women or their families are going into hock to purchase in order to impress their wedding guests. And the behavior of some of the women in rudely demanding nothing but the best regardless of cost even appalls the sales personnel. Not a pretty sight.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Yes, we live in a society with an out-sized emphasis on ostentatious consumption, which may well have some origins in biological evolution via sexual selection and social status, but which has gotten completely out of hand as modern advertising has learned to very effectively manipulate people to promote unneeded consumption, and as the populace has internalized that consumption "ethic".

      And with the reality of a U.S. economy significantly dependent on consumer spending — often frivolous and/or ostentatious, without much genuine benefit to either the individual spender or the nation, for much of our more essential production has been moved overseas — it would take some work, national planning, increased (but progressive) taxation, and a reallocation of government spending, in order to readjust the national economy. It would take some concerted critical education to readjust popular desires.

      And that we have moved from a primarily industrial economy to a primarily service one does not preclude a focus on things more essential. People can be employed serving outrageously-expensive meals — or providing medical care and daily living assistance to seniors, education to the young, social services to the mentally ill and substance abusers, to name just a few examples.

      There's a great irony in this country's refusal to do any of that, because an economy more focused on truer needs would be much more immune to recession. The best time to have made some lasting changes would have been at the height of the recession. Instead, both Democrats and Republicans simply tried to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again — and so our economy is more fragile and maladaptive than ever.

  2. To describe our leaders' response to the recession as trying "to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again" let's 'em off the hook way too easy. That sounds like hapless incompetence when the charge should be treason.

    The machine is working just fine for the masters-of-the-universe (still tough to get a reservation at Daniel). The recession was/is a feature of its functionality, not a glitch. Hence no action at a seemingly actionable moment: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Yet one more glaring example of just how badly we-the-people have been betrayed by our so-called representatives on behalf of their paymasters.

    Of course "our economy" is fragile an maladaptive, it was designed that way!

    1. @interesting times:

      You've made some valid points. Perhaps a better metaphor for me to have used would have been "train derailment" --- upon being lifted back up onto the tracks, the train doesn't just sit there, it can continue towards its destination. I do think that, unless they were extraordinarily bright in their finances, most of the wealthy did experience losses in the recession. But unlike the average person severely impacted, the rich had sufficient reserves to weather it fine, and then could invest at rock-bottom prices and garner huge gains when the market later rose. And that indeed seems to be what has happened. And if it looks like that was planned, well perhaps it was.