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The Royal Flush

by Brandon Edmonds, illustration by Jason Bronkhorst / 29.06.2010

At the woeful England-Algeria game, the excitable woman next to me, insisted I use her binoculars to “see Prince Harry”. It was a pleasure to look away from the football frankly, so I swept the boxes, the designated dignitary zone, hoping to see Diana’s spawn candidly doing lines off a hooker or tucking into slap chips. Not to be. In the drone of devil horns, the great physical (and status) distance between the princes and me, was telling. It felt medieval. There they all were in trussed up FIFA boxes, the elect, flown in, massaged, catered for and gawked at, amongst but not with us. That distance, a provocative sickening distance crucial to revolutionary consciousness, is rubbed in our faces by the increasing arrogance of the elite. An arrogance backed up by cold hard cash.

A recent study claims that in 2009 “the worldwide net assets of private investors in the form of cash, shares, securities or funds increased by 11.5% to a total of $111.5 trillion. This is more than equivalent to the losses to the world economy following the onset of the economic crisis in 2008”. So, “the rich are getting richer worldwide despite the deepest financial and economic crisis since the 1930s”. The number of dollar millionaires keeps on rising: the US has 4.7million, Japan has 1.2 million, China (670,000), only 485,000 in the UK, with 430,000 in Germany and 205,000 in Hong Kong. This coterie of millionaires amounts to less than 1% of households worldwide. It’s the factual basis of a loose term like “elite”.

What’s driving this private wealth creation? It certainly isn’t productive investment to ensure full employment. “A major reason for the increase in net assets of the rich and super rich are the rescue packages totaling several trillion dollars made available to the banks and financial institutions by governments all over the world”. The result is less cash in state budgets for ordinary people, working families and the socially disadvantaged. You know, the “small people”.

This wholesale inversion of Robin Hood: robbing “the poors” and those well on the way to being poor to keep minting millionaires, results in a reigning “class attitude” of extreme arrogance. The rich know they can get away with anything. So we get Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP chairman, saying shit like this: “I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care, but that is not the case with BP. We care about the small people.” Aw, Carl, you shouldn’t have. A New Orleans resident tweeted in response: “We’re not small people. We’re human beings. They’re no greater than us. We don’t bow down to them. We don’t pray to them.”

The deluded arrogance of the elite is perfectly captured by a phrase like “small people”. You imagine Svanberg and his Hugo Boss sporting ilk looking down at us from Lear jets, immaculate lofts and sky bars, from boardrooms and box seats. It sums up how we “small people” seem to them. Such arrogance from a company responsible for the greatest eco disaster in living memory – pumping 200 000 barrels of oil into the Gulf Coast and counting, threatening the health and livelihoods of everyone in the region for generations. A company cynically mustering battalions of lawyers to get out of paying for the mess. It gets better. The chief executive of BP, Tony Hayward, took some time out over the weekend to race his boat in the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race. Why should the fun stop just because you’re at the helm of a total fucking nightmare?

But elite arrogance is all over the show. It isn’t the exclusive preserve of BP. The ongoing World Expo in Shanghai cost $59 billion and around 70 million visitors are expected. That doubles what was spent on the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. It’s a budget that dwarfs the GDP of nations like Ecuador and Bulgaria. Not to mention this World cup. Hundreds of pavilions showcase different countries and products. Most every major corporation will be there. It’s a spectacularly pushy showcase meant to vindicate the Chinese Communist Party’s late 1970s “turn to Capitalism”. The resulting vast pool of cheap Chinese labor pumping out cut-rate goods and services is the real engine behind the fanfare of globalization. They even make vuvuzelas. There were 18,000 forced evictions to make way for the World Expo, small vendors were cleared off the streets, along with more than 6000 of the city’s poor. Again, the “small people” were made to get out of the way, exposing the truth behind China’s “harmonious society”.

The only country with as much civil protest and strike action as China in a given year, is ours. No surprise then that a similar puncturing of admittedly infectious media-fed World Cup ubuntu has just happened closer to home. Protesting stewards in Durban were fired on with rubber bullets and tear gas by riot police after the Germany- Australia game. They wanted the R1500 bucks a day FIFA had promised them, not the paltry R190 they were actually getting. The protest soon spread to Cape Town where over 100 riot cops “forcibly removed” around 80 stewards at Green Point stadium. 1500 national police trainees have been rushed in to patrol the remaining games. Their riot shields and nervous eyes mean a little sliver of South African reality has, at last, crept into the antiseptic FIFA “exclusion zone”. A banner at the Durban protest tellingly read: “We need our money, then we can feel it!”

Back at the match, something magically real happened. I began to float. It’s true. Fans fell silent as I floated into the hazy night air. They all looked up at me. The players on the field, the viewers at home. Everyone watched in eerie quiet as I floated toward the FIFA dignitaries, towards those darling downy princes, William and Harry. I stopped directly above them. They looked up, entranced. Then my bowels rumbled. I could feel a great burning shit coming on. I undid my jeans and slid them over my ass. Both princes recoiled in terror and disgust… then I awoke. The woman next to me prodding my ribs, “Wake up! I want my binoculars back.” Lucky shits.

Illustration © Jason Bronkhorst.

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