The simple fact that many people find this cartoon of Mr Burns holding up a placard with the words “I am the 1%. Smithers, release the hounds” amusing is because Mr Burns is a well-known character of the long-running animated sitcom The Simpsons where he embodies what the “Occupy Wall Street” protestors consider to be the â€œenemyâ€. In The Simpsons, Mr Burns is the shrewd and ruthless industrialist who owns the nuclear power plant that is the pillar of the economy of Springfield, the fictitious small working class town that is the setting of the show. Whenever Mr Burns suspects that the “little people” (most often among whom can be counted the sitcom’s main character, Homer) are encroaching into his personal interests and that of his vast enterprise, he gives the order to his loyal personal assistant Smithers: “Release the hounds” — literally.
In finding the humour behind this simple image, we reveal the irony of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. We’ve long been aware of the reality of people like Mr Burns and we’ve long known how we’ve all played a part in creating people like him. We were just too busy enjoying the good times to really see him as the bad guy these protesters now make him out to be.
People like Mr Burns became rich and powerful simply by responding to what we want:
We want things that we haven’t earned yet, and we want them now.
Simple, isn’t it?
It is this simple want that created the economic order we lament today where wars are fought over energy-dense minerals, work is broken down to meaningless tasks and parceled out to lesser and lesser skilled workers, and people (many of whom are children) in Third World countries are conscripted into the be-all-end-all effort to keep prices of goods and services down. Meanwhile, a big chunk of the capital accumulated from the immense profits generated by this approach to “progress” is re-channeled back to us in the form of credit.
The formula is, indeed, simple when seen this way. Make a lot of cheap stuff by employing resources in an extractive and exploitative manner and use part of the profits to lend money to those who want to buy them.
So I’m not really sure what it is exactly that makes “Occupy Wall Street” such an “in” thing today. To me, it is just a quaint too-little-too-late response to a problem we all had a part in creating; a half-baked attempt to demonise a sector of a society that is a creation of our own addiction to instant gratification.
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