On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a 43-0ld black man, a father of six, was arrested on suspicion of illegally selling loose cigarettes. In a video of his arrest taking by a witness, the arresting police officer. Mr. Pantaleo, who is white, is seen with his arms wrapped around Garner’s neck as he struggled on the street in Staten Island. You can hear MR. Garner screaming, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” which were the last words that came out of Mr. Garner’s mouth. He later died in the hospital. “I Can’t Breathe” the movement was formed, and protesting police brutality spread around the nation to tell the world that Black Lives really Matter. The history of racism and brutality on the black community is ugly and deep. As James Baldwin said, it is ruining the American dream for white America. The country moved on and Mr. Garner’s last words were forgotten. Now, with the Coronavirus pandemic that devastated and infected millions of people, crossing boarder, nationalities, races, rich and poor, royal families, heads of states, and politicians. Millions of people are quarantined and almost 100,000 dead, mostly drowning in their own lungs, screaming like Mr. Garner was. “I can’t breathe” not because of a racist white police officer’s lack of dignity and compassion. But for corporate greed, and lack of medical equipment and ventilators. America, the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth, spending trillions of dollars on arms and ware, was not spared and desperately asking for help from “Shithole countries.”
The ramifications of the COVID-19 virus are not just affecting the world financial structure and the economy, but, more importantly, our culture structure and values. “Every disaster shakes to lose the old order. What replaced it is up to us”. Rebecca Solnit wrote in the Times. Amid COVID-19, the world is waking up to a new reality and questioning the old orders. President Bush asked us right after 9/11 tragedy to simply go shopping. Now, we are asked to stay home and stop shopping in the market places. Millions are guaranteed, away from everyone, social distancing now the new normalcy. Shops, restaurants, malls, theaters, parks, borders, airports, manufacturing, work, are closed. People forced to stay at home living with the basics and experiencing life without luxuries and favorites brands.
People are redefining what is important in their lives, and what is not. What we need is different than what we want. Staying at home, cooking, and baking bread again, which has been a lost art for years. In our consumer culture, where free-market capitalism was offered to us as our mother milk remedy for all our economic and social problems. We could only express our feelings and identity inside shopping malls by buying stuff. Free-market capitalism now seems inept to cope
with the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our consumer luxury brands seem meaningless and useless. Our smartphones, smart cars, bank, ATM, smart, drinks, refrigerators, can’t help us now.
Karl Marx talked about those who own the means of production, now in our consumer culture, we need to pay attention to those who own the production of meanings. The merchants of capitalism, the Madison Ave persuaders. The advertising industry complex spends billions of dollars on manufacturing fake values and promises that never delivered. The average American is exposed to more than 10000 ads a day. Telling us what to eat, drink, wear, music to listen to, movies we should watch, celebrities we should follow, how much you should weigh, and should look.
Now amid COVID-19 pandemic, we realized that these all meaningless consumer values. We learn that Victoria Secret’s secret is a scam. Coke is not really it, McDonald’s happy meal is depressing; our new BMW won’t make us cool. We can’t jump higher with Nike, and we can’t even take the Pepsi challenge anymore. We are stuck in a lengthy lockdown inside our homes, away from our luxury brands that are stripped down from their meaning and hyped images. In this COVID-19 pandemic, our consumer culture is put under scrutiny. People start asking themselves. What if our cars can go from zero to 100 miles in 30 seconds, and the gas price is 50 cents if no place to go, have thousands of followers on social media, and no one to talk to. What if our large houses have seven bathrooms and four guest-rooms if we can’t have guests over. What if our bank accounts have $$$ millions if we can’t put our money where our mouth is. What if we have the biggest shopping mall in the world and we can’t shop. The capitalist system is in trouble, with its criminal profits before people’s ideology, now they need to be bailed out again by our tax. They don’t mind government interference and Mackenzie economics. Our CEO, our billionaires, our cultural celebrities, hiding in their safe big summer houses, their big boats, while unprotected underpaid workers, now they are our essentials, they are putting their lives on the line to make sure the rest of us live. Looking outside through their closed windows. They can see, the parks are empty, the roads are abandoned, no cars in sight. Wondering; like the rest of us what if the air is fresher and cleaner, but …”we can’t breathe.”. we all are now … Eric Garner!!
A Host of Arab American TV Show, BelAhdan TV
Lives in Minnetonka, MN
Follow him on twitter @ahmediaTV