Last week, writer Kevin Roose published a sensational article in New York Magazine about crashing the party of Wall Street secret society Kappa Beta Phi. If you were not a recipient of the major bailouts in recent years and if you follow the continued train wreck of banking debacles and deregulation, the events discussed in the article will likely enrage you. The flagrant flaunting of obscene wealth and the impunity with which the figures operate goes to show that we are in fact being run by a bunch of sociopaths. However, it’s almost chilling to note the baseness and lack of meaningful cleverness on display. These are not criminal masterminds; they’re just gross jerks.
Two lowlights of the night listed in Roose’s article:
Warren Stephens, an investment banking CEO, took the stage in a Confederate flag hat and sang a song about the financial crisis, set to the tune of “Dixie.” (“In Wall Street land we’ll take our stand, said Morgan and Goldman. But first we better get some loans, so quick, get to the Fed, man.”)
The neophytes—who had changed from their drag outfits into Mormon missionary costumes—broke into their musical finale: a parody version of “I Believe,” the hit ballad from The Book of Mormon, with customized lyrics like “I believe that God has a plan for all of us. I believe my plan involves a seven-figure bonus.”
While for some this will be cause to bring out the pitchforks and guillotines, for others it will at least confirm what we suspect about a lot of secret societies. They are mostly a really, really, really bad joke. When the ghastly abuses of the system can be done with impunity in broad daylight, Kappa Beta Phi and the like are mostly for networking and revelry in mutual crapulence and ego, behavior that must be kept behind close doors because there is an image to maintain—an image that says “we belong in charge.” It was true of the Hellfire Club and many other boys clubs throughout history, some more nefarious than others.
It all reminds me of a video by visual wunderkind Christian J Petersen that was featured at the 2013 group art show Night Terrors at Vermillion on Capitol Hill. The video was titled “Dancer” at the show and is Petersen’s setting of techno track “Skeleton Dirt” by Dro Carey to found footage of an exotic dancer performing for a Masonic group. It’s rather brilliant. The grainy, desaturated scene shows three lead figures seated at back and rows of tottering heads looking to center stage where the woman puts on a show. Petersen rewinds, delays, replays the footage to mesh beautifully with the beat and give the scene an added layer of sinister surrealism, bringing stark attention to the voyeurism.
It is cause to ponder a number of things: Just what do these fellows think they are accomplishing? Is their something ostensibly ceremonial about this display? Has the baseness of it been cloaked in a veil of greater significance to them? One does not doubt that these are men with some influence in the lives of others, and probably of substantial means, so if we want to laugh at the absurdity of it all, we are laughing in the dark. There is no comfort in knowing that those in charge are leches and egoists. To the contrary, it’s deeply demoralizing.
There is yet some cold comfort: The ambiguous face of the woman at the end, looking over her shoulder into the camera, reveals a weary sense of her own power in the situation. For all their apparent power, the men have decided that their secret society’s important business includes leering at an athletic woman. It would be wrong to call this empowering for her; she is still just treated as a sexual object and performer and soon to disappear without having any impact on the situation. However, one can’t help but feel that the power on display has been outed for its own hollowness. The men behind the curtain are there because they know enough to be embarrassed by their animal stupidity. They may be laughing all the way to the bank and fiddling while Rome burns (and probably some even weirder stuff), but they are still just mean little men.
So, basically we are run by gross sociopaths and power is generally a charade anyways. Welcome back to the work week!
Christian J Petersen provides visuals at the debut ambient music event RARE AIR at Q Nightclub on Tuesday, February 25. Check it out.
Vermillion gallery has another group show up at the moment. Read my review of Touch Me: I Am Violent.